Category Archives: Philosophy
A little more than a month ago, physicist Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe From Nothing, was in a debate at University College, London with Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a Muslim apologist and lecturer.
In the debate, which I was recently listening to, Tzortzis asked Krauss, “Why is incest wrong?”
With an honest response, Krauss said, “It’s not clear to me that it’s wrong,” which resulted in an uproar from the crowd.
Realizing that being blunt is sometimes not the best policy in a debate, Krauss immediately followed with, “The point is most societies have a taboo on incest, and it’s an empirical one. Generally incest produces genetic defects. So in general there’s a physiological reason and a societal one why incest is wrong.”
When we apply logic to our laws and try to determine what is alright and what is not, we generally consider incest to be one of those things that is not okay. This is because of the fact that incest can (and most often does) result in the passing on of genetic disorders from the parents to the offspring.
It’s true, incest does result in that for the most part. However, incest is not necessary for genetic disorders to be passed on. It is merely a lacking of genetic diversity that causes that. Ashkenazi Jews are highly susceptible to passing on the Tay-Sachs disease to their children.
About 1 in 30 Ashkenazi Jews are recessive carriers and about 1 in every 3,500 child will develop it. For those of you who don’t know what Tay-Sachs does, it causes brain degeneration that will lead to a slow, painful death at the age of four. No incest required.
African-Americans are more likely to have heart problems or Sickle-Cell Anemia. Is it wrong for Ashkenazi Jews or blacks to have children with each other though? Do we recoil in disgust when we find out two Ashkenazi Jews are having children like we do with incestuous relationships?
Any relationship that causes children can also cause the inheritance of genetic disorders. If there is a lacking of genetic diversity, then it is more likely. Incest is simply the severe lacking of genetic diversity. There is nothing inherently wrong or immoral about it, just like there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral with premarital sex or homosexuality.
What about homosexual incest though? That will never produce children, therefore no genetic disorders. So what problem is there with that?
Homosexual acts though, whether incestuous or not, have a higher chance of causing the spread of STD’s if safe sex is not practiced. This is why during the debate, Krauss emphasized the importance of safe sex, especially for incestuous relationships.
Our society is accepting of homosexuality and gay marriage though (at least, we are making great strides in that field). If Krauss has said the same thing about homosexuality fifty years ago, he probably would have gotten the same reaction from the audience.
Yes, I would advise highly against incestuous relationships, but I would also advise against having children. There is still the fear of genetic defects; the pregnancy could kill both the mother and child; children are expensive and messy. Children are just… *shudder* Yes, I realize that I have a stepdaughter.
If one is going to have an incestuous relationship, take the proper precautions. Do I recommend having an incestuous relationship? No.
If one is going to have a homosexual relationship, take the proper precautions. Do I recommend having a homosexual relationship? No.
If one is going to have children, take the proper precautions. Do I recommend having children? No.
If one is going to have a heterosexual relationship, take the proper precautions. Do I recommend having a heterosexual relationship? No.
Then again, I don’t really recommend much of anything. Pretty much everything will kill you and everything gives you cancer nowadays.
There is nothing inherently wrong with incest, homosexuality, premarital sex, polygamy, or anything else. There is nothing wrong with Krauss’ remark, and he did qualify his statement with the advise of being safe with sex. I honestly don’t see the problem that people are still having over this one comment out of an entire debate that, frankly, I think Krauss lost.
I don’t know why I do it, but I keep tuning into 91.3 FM KDKR, one of the local Christian radio stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The stuff that is said infuriates me to the point where I feel the need to bash my head up against the steering wheel. Luckily, I have not yet.
I don’t remember what exactly was being said, but I do remember when I was recently listening to it, the host of the show was talking about how people blame God for all of the bad things that happen to them.
The host just kept saying that it was the Devil’s fault, that it was Adam and Eve’s fault for eating from that damn tree, that it was the fault of humanity’s free will (that God gave us no less).
He specifically said that these things are not the fault of God.
Apparently, this guy doesn’t know his own Bible. Isaiah 45:7 says explicitly, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
So tornadoes (something the Christian radio host brought up), hurricanes, earthquakes, rape, disease, famine, murder, war, genocide, and every other evil thing in the world are actually God’s fault, so we can blame God for these things.
Gnostic and agnostic are qualifiers too often latched onto atheism. If someone claims to know that a god does not exist, then they are a “gnostic atheist.” If someone claims to not know, then they are an “agnostic atheist.” There seems to be this unwarranted emphasis on if someone claims to know something or not. It all just seems so unnecessary, but gnostic and agnostic, although the most prominent (and irritating), are not the only (unnecessary) qualifiers of atheism.
PZ Myers of the blog Pharyngula, and this is not an attack on or response to PZ, wrote a few weeks ago a post called “What kind of atheist are you?” In it, he describes four different groups of atheists: scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists. I suggest reading the post. It actually is an interesting read about the different brands, so to speak, of atheists. He details the strengths and weaknesses of all these groups and why they are vital to the secular and atheist movements.
Then there is Theodore M. Drange of the site Infidels.org, who wrote a piece called “Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism,” where in part of it he describes different types of atheists and agnostics (because agnostic is a separate category from atheist, no matter what others would like to say) and their reasons and mindset behind being an atheist or agnostic. They are: disproof atheists, methodological atheists, mystical atheists, faith atheists, unknowability agnostics, zero-data agnostics, data-vs.-data agnostics, and data-vs.-principle agnostics.
At the end of it all, they are all still atheists though (except for the agnostics). They all do not believe in a god. Why the unnecessary qualifiers that really say nothing of importance about them? Why must there be these divisions within atheism and nit-picking at people’s personalities, what they think, and their motives for thinking that way?
Do atheists go around calling themselves “philosophical atheists” or “mystical atheists” when asked what their thoughts are on the (non)existence of a god? No. They just say that they are atheists, that they do not believe in a god, and they leave it at that.
Why then must we divide atheists between agnostics and gnostics? It doesn’t say anything about these people other than some of them claim to know something and others claim to not know. Okay. So what? Why is there so much importance put on those two qualifiers and not the several others that have been listed?
If people are going to use gnostic and agnostic as qualifiers to their atheism, then they must also qualify their atheism with disproof or methodological or political or scientific or any of the others. If people are going to put so much emphasis on whether or not someone claims to know that a god does not exist, then why not put the same amount of emphasis on why they are atheists or what it is about atheism they like or are most proficient with? To me they all seem just as important and relevant to atheism. Why not use them all? Why not call yourself a methodological agnostic philosophical atheist when asked if you believe in a god?
If they are not going to use those particular qualifiers, then don’t use any qualifiers, as they are nothing but unnecessary and do nothing but divide atheists into little sects and groups that are pitted against each other. I know many self-proclaimed “agnostic atheists” who won’t have anything to do with the so-called “gnostic atheists,” as they view them as just as irrational as theists for some reason.
Whether that is true or not (I personally don’t think it is) doesn’t matter. What matters is that atheists are fighting each other because they see one another as different from them. Not like scientists do where they respectively argue and debate in the peer-review process to find the truth. No. They argue and attack each other in a way we would usually only reserve for fundamentalists. That is not healthy for this movement. It divides and disenfranchises many atheists who have differing viewpoints on certain things or for different reasons.
I would probably consider myself as mostly a “political atheist” out of any of the four categories PZ describes and a “disproof atheist” of the categories Drange gives, but I’m not going to call myself a “political atheist” or “disproof atheist” when asked if I believe in a god or not. I especially would not call myself The Barking Political Atheist or The Barking Disproof Atheist (or The Barking Disproof Political Atheist). Nor would I call myself The Barking [insert any other unnecessary qualifier here] Atheist. Whether or not I claim to know that a god does not exist or if there is proof against a god or if I like politics the most about atheism, I am simply The Barking Atheist. Don’t wear it out.
I used to believe in the idea of free will when I was a Christian (more specifically a Jehovah’s Witness). I believed that Jehovah God had given us the ability to choose our paths: if we wanted to be saved and pass God’s test to be rewarded with eternal life or turn our backs on Him and His son Jesus Christ and face the consequences of it. Do I want to be a career military man or a politician (both of which are forbidden in the Witness faith)? Do I want to marry her or leave her in hopes of finding someone else? Do I want to die from old age or should I take it into my own hands when I feel I am ready?
I also believed He had given us the ability to not only choose our paths, but to directly choose our individual and everyday actions. Do I want tea or pop for lunch (anyone who calls it soda gets banned)? Do I want to go to class or not? Do I want to take that route or another one which may be quicker?
This contradicted the idea of God having a “plan.” If God has a plan that was setup from day one do I really have a choice in the matter or am I just a puppet on a string being thrown around by the marionette of God? After much soul searching, (biblical) research, and uncertainty as to what I believed I eventually began believing that everything had a bigger purpose as was part of God’s plan for humanity.
I did not find it more fulfilling to believe this. I wanted to believe that I had control over my own fate, at least to some extent within God’s creation. This is one of the reason’s I began questioning God and Christianity. If God has a plan for us all where He knows the outcome for everyone on Earth, then can it really be called a test? One could call it theistic determinism or predestination. I just called it “God’s plan.”
When I finally became an atheist, I had scrapped God and the Bible, but what of the other philosophical and ethical questions that came with those things, such as free will vs. determinism (among other such examples)? I had scrapped my idea of theistic determinism/predestination, but I still did not know what I believed or where I stood on the question.
If someone were to ask me at that time if I were a libertarian (someone who believes in free will) or determinist, my response would be, “I don’t know. I’m still searching for answers on that question.” Even compatibilism, the idea that libertarianism and determinism can both be part of the answer, did not describe me. I simply did not know where I was or what I believed.
After more “soul” searching, such as watching YouTube videos and reading blogs and books about the debate, I decided I was a determinist. A secular form of determinism that does not rely upon God and His angels moving the heavens and cosmos, but the laws of physics. I latched onto the idea, not because of any lasting legacies to my theistic days, but because it made sense to me and I truly believed it was correct.
For the longest time I had called myself a determinist. I had encountered many people, theist and atheist alike, who disagreed with me and what I believed, and I had beaten their arguments into the dust for the longest time. They were easy objections to handle. Some easier than others.
It was not until very recently had some started asking questions and poking holes that I could not answer or refute. Even after finding many others and sources who agreed with me, such as Sam Harris’ new book Free Will, which I thought at the time had dealt a deathblow to the idea of free will and had justified myself in the things I could not respond to, some things kept me questioning if I really were right.
As it stands, I do not believe in what people call “free will.” Many people have called that term as ill defined as “god,” and I agreed even before this entire debacle.
I also do not believe in determinism. I think.
If people were to ask me right now at this very instance if I believed in libertarianism or determinism, my honest response would be, “I don’t know. I’m still searching for answers…again.” I don’t think I even believe in compatibilism. I just don’t know where I stand on this issue anymore.
Now does anyone have a problem with me saying that I don’t know what I believe when it comes to determinism or free will?
Then why do people have such a problem with people saying they don’t know when it comes to a god? If someone is asked, “Do you believe in God?” why does their answer have to be yes or no? Why can it not be that they just don’t know?
And before anyone says it, “I don’t know” does not automatically classify them as an atheist (nor a theist). “I don’t know” is not a lack of belief. It is neither a belief or a lack of one. Am I automatically classified as a libertarian since I do not believe in determinism (or vice versa)?
This graphic seems to epitomise the idea that agnostics don’t exist or that agnosticism is simply a qualifier to atheism and theism.
This false dichotomy of atheist vs. theist just does not work. The third choice can legitimately be, “I don’t know.” If “Do you believe God Exists?” is replaced with “Do you believe in free will or determinism (or even compatibilism)?” then why is it acceptable to say “I don’t know” in that instance?
That right there is called an agnostic. Not an agnostic atheist. An agnostic. Plain and simple. They do not claim to have a belief or a lack of belief. They don’t know what they believe. They are going through a transition, much like I am when it comes to determinism and free will. I do not latch onto either of them or their labels. Maybe one day I will be a determinist or a libertarian, but maybe not, and maybe agnostics will be either atheists or theists one day, but right now we are neither.
In an earlier post “The God Question,” I said that the question “Do you believe in God?” only allowed for the answers of yes or no. In case anyone was confused, I only said that because it does seem like this kind of a question only allows two answers. It does not. Just because it seems that way does not make it so, and this might be why many people have bought into the notion of a false dichotomy when it comes to a god and what people think of it, and this is why the question should instead be “What are your thoughts on a god?” This paradigm needs to shift.
As much as it seems like I defend agnostics, I would like to add that I find permanent agnosticism, whether or not one wants to use it as a qualifier to atheism, to be intellectually lazy. Saying that we will never know something is a cop out to avoid thinking about something and looking further into a certain subject. I am temporary, I think, in my search for answers when it comes to determinism and the like. I don’t know though, and that’s alright.
I asked a while back on my Facebook and Twitter if we could prove a god does not exist. The general response was, “We don’t need to. The burden of proof is on the theists.” A few said, “It’s an unfalsifiable hypothesis,” or that we cannot prove a negative. Some went a little further and said, “We can prove theistic gods do not exist, such as that of the Bible, but we cannot prove a deistic god does not exist.”
It is often asked of atheists to prove the nonexistence of a god, specifically the god(s) that the theist believes in. We will respond with, of course, that the burden of proof is on the believer, not the nonbeliever, and we usually leave it at that. That is a proper response. The person who makes the claim is responsible for proving such a thing. So far, nothing has been found that would even suggest the existence of a deity, whatever that actually is, so there is no reason to believe in one. However, ignoring that it is not our job to do so, could we actually disprove the existence of a god? I believe we can.
The burden of proof I will deal with first, as it will be the quickest to handle, but possibly the most important. Atheists will say that there is no reason to try to disprove a god, since it is the job of theists to provide proof for their god and the claims that surround him/her/them/it. Others say that there is no point in trying to even argue with theists or creationists, since they are just delusional people and nothing will change their minds. These people either do not remember being theists or never were them. I was a Jehovah’s Witness. I am sure all of my atheist friends of the time would have thought it utterly pointless to try to reason with me, but look where I am now. Doing nothing solves exactly that.
If we keep saying that we do not have to do anything until proof is given or because the believers will not change their minds, these false ideas will continue to spread while we twiddle our thumbs and do absolutely nothing about them. Yes, we do not have to disprove any claims, but unless the claims are disproved, people who are ignorant of the truth and how vacuous these claims really are will continue to believe in them. Even when they are proven to be absolutely false, such as Creationism, people still believe in them, because scientists and science advocates refuse to go after the sacred cow of religion.
Ideas are dangerous, especially when they are wrong ideas. Just because they do not have evidence does not mean anything to the people who seriously believe in them, because they believe they are right, and they are going to cause change that will affect the rest of us, such is clear with the Intelligent Design movement of the United States. Chapman Cohen, a British secular activist and atheist from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries, had this to say on the subject in his 1921 book Theism or Atheism: The Great Alternative (emphasis mine):
It is not, then, because I believe the question of the existence of God to be of intrinsic importance that an examination of its validity is here undertaken. Its importance to-day is of a purely contingent character. The valid ground for now discussing its truth is that it is at present allowed to obstruct the practical conduct of life. And under similar circumstances it would be important to investigate the historical accuracy of Old Mother Hubbard or Jack and the Beanstalk. Any belief, no matter what its nature, must be dealt with as a fact of some social importance, so long as it is believed by large numbers to be essential to the right ordering of life. Whether true or false, beliefs are facts mental and social facts, and the scheme of things which leaves them out of account is making a blunder of the most serious kind.
Yes, the burden of proof is still on the believers, but the burden of the believers, and the consequences thereof, are on the nonbelievers and the people who think they do not have to do anything.
Many people simply give up on the existence or nonexistence of a god and say that it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis and unscientific. The same is said of Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot and a whole host of other claims and imaginary things. People say that it is not science, therefore there is no reason to even consider it, but that we cannot prove or disprove the claim (even if they claim to not believe, such is the case with “agnostic atheists”).
Calling something not science in order to avoid having to answer or think about difficult questions is intellectual laziness. Like it or not, things like Creationism, homeopathy, aliens, Leprechauns, etc. are scientific questions that must be solved, not simply disregarded because the question might be hard to answer for some or we find the notion to be idiotic. Richard Dawkins in his famous book The God Delusion said, “…the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other. Even if hard to test in practice, it belongs in the same TAP or temporary agnosticism box as the controversies over the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions.”
However, people will continue to say that it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis, therefore we cannot test it, therefore it cannot be proven either way, true or false. The interesting thing is that the very idea of falsifiability may be a mistaken. Karl Popper, the philosopher of science who popularised falsifiability, said in 1976 that evolution “is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme.”
He did recant this statement a few years later, but this makes one question falsifiability itself. If the man who got falsifiability off the ground once applied his most notable philosophy to the scientific theory that has over 200,000 scientific papers concerning its validity, saying that it is not science, can it really be applied to a god or anything at all? Is it nothing more than a shaky philosophy that simply happened to get popular with some people?
The next most common thing that people say is that we cannot prove a negative. Philosopher Steven Hales argues that we can indeed do such a thing. I suggest reading his entire work on the subject to get a better grasp of what he is saying, as I only give tiny excerpts from it here:
…any claim can be expressed as a negative, thanks to the rule of double negation. This rule states that any proposition P is logically equivalent to not-not-P. So pick anything you think you can prove. Think you can prove your own existence? At least to your own satisfaction? Then, using the exact same reasoning, plus the little step of double negation, you can prove that you aren’t nonexistent. Congratulations, you’ve just proven a negative. The beautiful part is that you can do this trick with absolutely any proposition whatsoever. Prove P is true and you can prove that P is not false.
We prove negatives all the time. By proving that I am on a Macintosh, I am also proving that I am not on a Dell, HP, Acer, or any other kind of PC. We can prove that Creationism is not true by proving evolution true. In fact, we do not even need to prove that evolution is true in order to prove Creationism false. If the claim is made that the Earth is 10,000 years old, which is a key aspect of Young-Earth Creationism, with radiometric dating on certain things such as meteors, fossils, or even man-made artifacts, we can prove that the Earth is actually more around 4.5 billion years old. This does not prove evolution necessarily, but it most certainly proves that Creationism is false.
Maybe when people say, “You can’t prove a negative,” they are saying that we cannot prove that something does not exist, such as a god or Santa Clause, as James Randi likes to use as an example. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” as Carl Sagan put it. Not only would Steven Hales disagree, but so would particle physicist and philosopher Victor J. Stenger, author of such books as The New Atheism: Taking a Stand For Science and Reason and God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist.
The example that Hales gives is alien abductions:
So why is it that people insist that you can’t prove a negative? I think it is the result of two things. (1) an acknowledgement that induction is not bulletproof, airtight, and infallible, and (2) a desperate desire to keep believing whatever one believes, even if all the evidence is against it. That’s why people keep believing in alien abductions, even when flying saucers always turn out to be weather balloons, stealth jets, comets, or too much alcohol. You can’t prove a negative! You can’t prove that there are no alien abductions! Meaning: your argument against aliens is inductive, therefore not incontrovertible, and since I want to believe in aliens, I’m going to dismiss the argument no matter how overwhelming the evidence against aliens, and no matter how vanishingly small the chance of extraterrestrial abduction.
The example that Stenger uses often to show that we can prove negatives is a favourite of mine, which is elephants in Yellowstone:
Elephants have never been seen roaming Yellowstone National Park. If they were, they would not have escaped notice. No matter how secretive, the presence of such huge animals would have been marked by ample physical signs — droppings, crushed vegetation, bones of dead elephants. So we can safely conclude from the absence of evidence that elephants are absent from the park.
If there were evidence for elephants in Yellowstone, then some kind, any kind, of evidence would have been found. The person claiming that there are elephants in Yellowstone may try to make excuses and add on ad hoc hypotheses like, “There is evidence; it just hasn’t been found. They’re in the places you didn’t look. They’re hiding. They’re invisible. They’re very complex and are not able to be detected by human or animal senses or technology.” Does anyone see a similarity between this and theists when they push the goal post further and further back to avoid having their deities proven false as science pushes forward?
We can reasonably say that there are no elephants in Yellowstone, that we know there are no elephants in Yellowstone, and that we have proven that there are no elephants in Yellowstone, even with the unnecessary, unreasonable, and unintelligible ad hoc hypotheses that try to avoid the axe of disproof for as long as possible. The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Can this be applied to a god though? Some might say, “Yellowstone is far different from the Universe. Maybe somewhere there is a god. We do not have full knowledge of the entire Universe, so you cannot say definitively that there is no god. You might as well say definitively that alien life does not exist, when it most probably does.” The idea that we need knowledge of everything in order to know one thing is ridiculous, and the equivocation of a god to alien life is just as ridiculous. The problem is that life does most certainly exist in the Universe. It’s here on our planet Earth, and with that we can predict that life similar to what we may define as alien probably does exist somewhere else in this vast Universe. The same cannot be said for a “god.”
I digress though. If a criteria of existence is set, we do not need to know everything of the Universe in order to know something about it. Looking at the criteria for the claim, it can be answered. Some of the gods may be answered by simple logic. The second law of thought is the law of non-contradiction. Aristotle put it as, “[One] cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.” Most gods, by their own criteria, are self-refuting. Some are said to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, among other things, and these characteristics simply do not work together.
If the criteria for a god is that they made the Earth 10,000 years ago, we can test that as we did earlier to prove Creationism false, thereby proving false this specific god. If the criteria for a god is that they made the Universe, which is the criteria set for the deistic god that people say is unfalsifiable, that one might be a little trickier to answer for some. This is why people will say that while we can prove that Jehovah, Vishnu, Ra, etc. do not exist, we cannot prove that a deistic god does not exist. The problem with this line of reasoning, other than the fallacy within it which I will get to soon, is that it is not up to date with contemporary thought.
Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss recently came out with a book called A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, where in it he uses modern cosmology and physics to show that things do just come into and out of existence, apparently from nothing, all the time and that the Universe came from a structureless void that he dubs, just that, “Nothing,” which he admits is difficult to define in it of itself. Despite the semantic complications, there are reasonable explanations for the existence of the Universe that do not require a god or designer or “unmoved mover.” If falsifiability is correct, then these are the tests and observations that can be made in order to falsify gods, even if certain ones may seem like they cannot be tested, which many people state.
I said earlier that there was a fallacy contained within stating that we can prove theistic gods do not exist, but we cannot prove a deistic god does not exist. Another way it is worded is, “We know the theistic gods do not exist, such as those of the world’s holy books. The origins of the Universe are still unexplained though, so we, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’ too, do not know that a deistic god does not exist,” which I just showed how they are not unexplained. Anyone catch the fallacy? Anyone see how this is similar to what theists say? It’s the God of the Gaps Fallacy, only it is atheists who are using it now. X is unexplained, therefore it could be a god. Am I supposed to take anyone who says this anymore seriously than I would a theist who asks how the tides go in and out, then claims in their ignorance that it could be a god (specifically the god that they believe in)?
Everything about human history and progress dictates that what once was the field of religion, superstition, and ignorance will one day be the realm of science and knowledge. In Theism or Atheism, Chapman Cohen said something very similar, “…one may safely predict that just as the advance of scientific knowledge has taken over one department after another that was formerly regarded as within the province of religion, so one day it will be borne in upon all that an hypothesis such as that of theism, which does nothing and explains nothing, may be profitably dispensed with.”
What is left now of “god”? We know that the gods of theism most certainly do not exist, and we now have reasonable certainty that the god(s) of deism, which are merely theistic gods watered down by philosophy and science, also do not exist. So what is left of the claims made by believers? Richard Dawkins said it best in the afterword to Krauss’ book, “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages.” The very concept of “god” at this point is a meaningless word, an “unintelligible proposition,” as Chapman Cohen put it.
For some this may not be satisfactory. This is not enough for some people to say that a god does not exist. Chapman Cohen, who I have mentioned and quoted multiple times now, said this following his comment about the importance of examining all claims that affect people’s lives in Theism or Atheism (emphasis mine):
Certainly, conditions were never before so favourable for the delivery of a considered judgment on the question of the belief in God. On the one side we have from natural science an account of the universe which rules the operations of deity out of court. And on the other side we have a knowledge of the mode of origin of the belief which should leave us in no doubt as to its real value. We hope to show later that the question of origin is really decisive; that in reaching conclusions concerning the origin of the god-idea we are passing judgment as to its value. That the masters of this form of investigation have not usually, and in so many words, pushed their researches to their logical conclusions is no reason why we should refrain from doing so. Facts are in themselves of no great value. It is the conclusions to which they point that are the important things.
If the conclusions to which we refer are sound, then the whole basis of theism crumbles away. If we are to regard the god-idea as an evolution which began in misunderstandings of nature that were rooted in the ignorance of primitive man, it would seem clear that no matter how refined or developed the idea may become, it can rest on no other or sounder basis than that which is presented to us in the psychology of primitive man. Each stage of theistic belief grows out of the preceding stage, and if it can be shown that the beginning of this evolution arose in a huge blunder I quite fail to see how any subsequent development can convert this unmistakable blunder into a demonstrable truth. To take a case in point. When it was shown that so far as witchcraft rested on observed facts these could be explained on grounds other than those of the malevolent activities of certain old women, the belief in witchcraft was not “purified,” neither did it advance to any so-called higher stage; it was simply abandoned as a useless and mischievous explanation of facts that could be otherwise accounted for. Are we logically justified in dealing with the belief in God on any other principle? We cannot logically discard the world of the savage and still retain his interpretation of it. If the grounds upon which the savage constructed his theory of the world, and from which grew all the ghosts and gods with which he believed himself to be surrounded, if these grounds are false, how can we still keep in substance to conclusions that are admittedly based on false premises? We can say with tolerable certainty that had primitive man known what we know about nature the gods would never have been born. Civilised man does not discover gods, he discards them. It was a profound remark of Feurbach’s, that religion is ultimately anthropology, and it is anthropology that gives to all forms of theism the death blow.
This next part comes from the next chapter in his book:
Finally, the suspicious feature must be pointed out that the belief in God owes its existence, not to the trained and educated observation of civilised times, but to the uncritical reflection of the primitive mind. It has its origin there, and it would indeed be remarkable if, while in almost every other direction the primitive mind showed itself to be hopelessly wrong, in its interpretation of the world in this particular respect it has proved itself to be altogether right. As a matter of fact, this primitive assumption is going the way of the others, the only difference being that it is passing through more phases than some. But the decay is plain to all save those who refuse to see. The process of refinement cannot go on for ever. In other matters knowledge passes from a nebulous and indefinite stage to a precise and definite one. In the case of theism it pursues an opposite course. From the very definite god, or gods, of primitive mankind we advance to the vague and indefinite god of the modern theist a God who, apparently, means nothing and does nothing, and at most stands as a symbol for our irremovable ignorance. Clearly this process cannot go on for ever. The work of attenuation must stop at some point. And one may safely predict that just as the advance of scientific knowledge has taken over one department after another that was formerly regarded as within the province of religion, so one day it will be borne in upon all that an hypothesis such as that of theism, which does nothing and explains nothing, may be profitably dispensed with.
The first part I really wish to point out is in the second paragraph of the first excerpt. “If we are to regard the god-idea as an evolution which began in misunderstandings of nature that were rooted in the ignorance of primitive man, it would seem clear that no matter how refined or developed the idea may become, it can rest on no other or sounder basis than that which is presented to us in the psychology of primitive man. Each stage of theistic belief grows out of the preceding stage, and if it can be shown that the beginning of this evolution arose in a huge blunder I quite fail to see how any subsequent development can convert this unmistakable blunder into a demonstrable truth.”
The next part I want to bring further attention to is from the second excerpt given, “In other matters knowledge passes from a nebulous and indefinite stage to a precise and definite one. In the case of theism it pursues an opposite course. From the very definite god, or gods, of primitive mankind we advance to the vague and indefinite god of the modern theist a God who, apparently, means nothing and does nothing, and at most stands as a symbol for our irremovable ignorance.”
I recently discovered this book, and its author, only a few days prior to publishing this post, but I have been saying the exact same thing for months now! Apparently, Cohen has been saying it for a nearly a century, and his works go unnoticed by most atheists.
If it were not for these primitive peoples and their fears and misunderstandings of the world, no one on Earth would even understand the word “god,” and the labels that divide us and that some people kill over like Christian, Muslim, Hindu, theist, atheist, agnostic, and all others would not even exist (sure, we would still kill each other over other things). There would be no one fighting over who has the best god or if there is a god or not, because the word “god” would mean absolutely nothing to us.
It does not matter what definitions or criteria or ad hoc excuses are given to a god. It does not matter how vague and nonsensical the definitions of “god” become as science progresses, whether they be Odin, Jehovah, or a deistic god. The simple fact of the matter remains that the very concept of “god” originated from primitive men who knew absolutely nothing of the world and tacked on a meaningless word to explain the things around them that they could not at the time that we now can. All claims of a god that stem from this “huge blunder” are just as blundering and just as primitive in thought.
With this, the question must be asked again: can we disprove god?
Yes. We just did.
The question of a god is usually asked of people like this, “Do you believe in a god?” People take from this that one can only say yes or no, that it’s a black and white question with no alternatives. From there, they think that one is either an atheist or a theist. There is no middle ground on the question.
This is why many people assert that agnostics do not exist, that they are really just atheists who are afraid of using the label because of the negative connotations with it. Most of these people say that since atheism is defined as not believing in a god, that anyone who is not a theist is automatically lumped into the label of atheist, including agnostics and anyone else who does not claim belief in a god.
Okay. Let’s start with the end of that.
First, atheism is indeed defined as the lack of belief in a god. That doesn’t matter, because an agnostic is defined as, “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” They do not have belief or a lack of a belief, making them neither atheists or theists. This makes them the middle ground between the two.
“But but but…what about the question, ‘Do you believe in a god?’ The only possible answers are yes or no!” That is true. With that question, the only answers are that. The question is a strawman and the conclusions that come from it are the same. It doesn’t accurately represent how people feel and think. The question should be, “What are your thoughts on the existence or nonexistence of a god?” People should be able to answer the question however they like, not be forced into two false dichotomous categories, because some people cannot handle gray areas.
The god question should not be a yes or no. It should be free response. Sure, it’s harder to answer, but it gives insight into individuality and personal attitudes. Some might say they believe, they do not believe, they don’t know, they don’t care, they won’t answer until that word is better defined, or anything else they want to say or not say at all.
We have all said it at one point or another, that we will let our kids make up their own minds, come to their own conclusions, on religion and the god question. That seems like the reasonable thing to do. We don’t want to force our beliefs down children’s throats. That would make us no better than fundamentalist parents, right? Wrong. The equivocation of religious indoctrination to teaching kids about reality cannot be made, as much as it wrongfully is by both atheists and theists.
Is it forcing your kid to believe something when you teach them properly about mathematics, science, history, language, or any other subject out there? How is that the same as teaching them that the Earth is 10,000 years old and there’s a magic man in the sky who is watching every move they make and will send them to a place of eternal torment if they disobey?
Will you let your child make up their own mind about what 2+2 equals, or who the Founding Fathers were, or would you teach them the truth? How about homeopathy or other “alternative medicines”? Would you let your child refuse cancer treatment in place of things that do not work? Would you similarly let your child make up their own mind about things like the diversity of life on Earth? It’s nonsense to suggest that we should not teach kids that there is absolutely no evidence for, in fact there is evidence against, creationism, intelligent design, fine-tuning, and a “god.” Teaching your children these things is not the same as brainwashing them to blindly accept the claim that there is a god.
Of course, always teach children to question what they are taught. Always teach children to have an open mind and to accept new information. However, make sure it’s not so open that it falls out and they start writhing on floor, because they think the Holy Ghost entered them, since we never taught them that there was no such thing as a god, that Jesus never existed, that the Bible and assorted holy books are false, and that ghosts and spirits do not exist; we just told them to make up their own minds.
Professors are told to do similar things. Not give their own opinions, but only to teach students, give them the facts and the reasoning skills, and let them make up their own minds with that. In theory, that should work. Students should be able to come to the right conclusions from that, but sometimes they don’t. Would we rather let them live in ignorance and delusion, which if left unchecked could change public policy and change school curriculum for everyone else, or make them feel a little uncomfortable when their beliefs about the Book of Genesis are challenged by their biology professors?
However, the main point here is about parents, not professors. It’s not enough to say to kids, “These are my beliefs about the subject, but you are free to make up your mind.” Would you let your child come to their own conclusions and believe in demons or monsters that are out to get them, or would you just tell them that there are no monsters under their bed? Why would you do the same thing with a god or anything else?
I recently ran across this photo.
Now as most people know, one does not simply wake up in the morning (feeling like P. Diddy) and all of their feelings for a partner are all suddenly gone. Feeling like there are no more feelings for this person is not an overnight experience or event. It is not something that happens just like that. It is something that can take weeks, months, or years. One cannot just say at a random moment, “I no longer love this person,” for no reason whatsoever and mean it.
Take your most recent relationship where you were the one who initiated the breaking up. Did you just wake up one morning (I will not make a Ke$ha joke again, I promise) and feel like you no longer loved or cared about that person? No, of course not. You started to feel doubts about the relationship months beforehand, and you may or may not have tried to ignore them, but at that moment you did not lose all feelings for this person, nor would anyone call you someone who does not love them.
Despite your doubts, however small or large, you still loved or cared about this person to some extent. As the months went on, more and more things may have led to more doubts about the relationship, such as fights or broken promises, but you still loved them, even if that love was dwindling. At some point during this time you did not go from loving to not loving this person in an instant. There is a time when you may just not know if you love them or not. Believe me, I have had many instances where this has happened to me during my past relationships.
The same can be said for and applied to deconversions. One does not wake up and say one day to themselves that they are now an atheist. It takes months or even years of uncertainty to finally become one. A person does not go from theist to atheist in an instant, with or without doubts. There is a time when you just do not know if you believe or not, a time when you are agnostic.
I have run into many people who think that agnostics do not exist, that one is either an atheist or a theist. When it is pointed out to them how deconversions work, when someone usually does not have belief and does not lack belief in a god or does not know if they believe in a god or not, people tend to say something like, “They were switching back and forth from theist to atheist.”
There just seems to be no middle-ground with these people. It is obviously a false dichotomy that they are promoting. This proposition is merely absurd. That tiny amount of doubt, that split second of asking yourself if a god exists or not, does not make you an atheist in any way. Everyone has doubts at some point or another, but they are not atheists. If I doubt if evolution is real, does that make me a Creationist, even for that split second of doubt? No. Even if I were to severely doubt evolution, that does not make me a Creationist. It makes me someone who does not know and does not know if I believe in evolution or not.
The people who say these things are also the same people who scoff at the lousy childhood actor turned fundamentalist Christian Kirk Cameron when he says that he once was an atheist. Yes, it is preposterous to think that he honestly was an atheist at any point in time, but if people can switch from atheist to theist and back again when they question things, however slightly, then Kirk Cameron was an atheist along with everyone else who has ever questioned the existence of a god, even if it were only for a split second.
In one of my other posts, I showed this picture that is actually an example for evolution and how small changes over time can become one really large change. I would like to show that picture again here.
Theist will be red, atheist blue, and agnostic purple.
So where is the first atheist word in this paragraph? Where is the first agnostic word? Did red (theist) just jump over into blue (atheist)? No. It took time. It took months or years of doubt building up inside someone’s mind.
It is hard to say when someone is an agnostic, but if they look at where they are themselves and want to call themselves an agnostic, that is up to them. Sure they may be very close to blue (atheist), but if they want to say that they are purple (agnostic), let them.
At one point, someone may be far enough in the blue to call themselves an atheist, but do not force them. Do not belittle them or call them cowards. So many atheists want to say that agnostics are just atheists without balls or that all agnostics are really atheists who just will not admit it. As has been shown numerous times over my most recent posts, agnostics do exist, and they are their own category that does not need to pushed into the false dichotomy that people set up.
What is even worse is trying to belittle atheists who are in the closet about it.
The person who might want to breakup with their partner may just not be able to. Maybe they have too much financially entwined. Maybe they have a child together. Maybe they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. There are atheists who deeply care for their theist friends and family. Some are involved heavily with their church. They cannot just get up and yell to everyone and to the heavens, “I’m an atheist! I knew all along it was a myth and a scam and you know it too!” Yes, we should encourage them to come out and to not be afraid of being ostracised, even when they very well could be, but telling them that they are cowards or insulting their family is not the way to get them to come out. It is entirely counterproductive and just makes atheists look bad.
PS: I know many people are tired of this subject about agnostics and false dichotomies, not just from me but in general. I apologise, but I continue to hear people making these fallacious arguments, so I tried to make this as brief as possible.
In one of my latest blog posts on here, “Belief, Knowledge, and Ignosticism,” I said that I know that a god does not exist (even a deistic god). I do not simply lack belief in a god like most atheists claim; I know that one does not exist.
The entire post was in response to several claims and arguments ranging from the false dichotomous people who think it’s either atheist or theist and that one cannot be simply agnostic, to the people that think I cannot say I know a god does not exist if I claim ignosticism.
One argument I sort of forgot to tackle was when some people say, “One simply cannot know that a god does not exist. One can only have faith that a god does not exist,” or that I do not know X, that I only have faith in X, whatever X may be. These arguments do not come from theists; they come from fellow atheists (I’m serious).
I would like to take this time to go further into that common argument that people seem to keep making in all sorts of situations, not just in a god debate.
A recent example of this kind of objection I ran into on my Facebook went along the lines of, “You do not know that the sun will rise tomorrow. You have faith that it will.” Again, these were coming from atheists.
I would respond with, of course, that I do know that the sun will rise tomorrow. I have evidence that it will. There is no reason to seriously think that the sun will not come up tomorrow (or more so, that we will stop going around it). However, I could always be wrong in that. The Earth could just stop going around it. The sun could blow up in the next few hours. There is no evidence from what we have gathered about stellar evolution or orbital physics to suggest that such things will happen, but they could very well happen for no reason whatsoever. Just because something could happen does not mean that we should seriously consider it though.
I could jump from here (Texas) to Alaska. There is no evidence whatsoever that would even remotely suggest that, and there is even evidence against that happening, but it still could happen. I know that it will not though. I am not 100% certain of that though, because as I stated near the end of “Belief, Knowledge, and Ignosticism,” some people’s definitions of knowledge and certainty would basically make it so that one cannot be 100% of anything, even their own existence.
The common rebuttal to that goes like this, “If you know something, then you can’t be wrong about it. In order to know something you must be 100% certain, but you say that you aren’t 100% certain the sun will rise tomorrow/that god does not exist, therefore you have faith in such things.”
No. Just no. I do not have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow. I know that it will. I cannot be 100% certain, because again, something could happen, but I still know. I do not have to be 100% certain to know things. If I have to 100% certain to know something, then we just cannot know anything, because we cannot be 100% certain of anything by some people’s definitions certainty. Right now, 2+2=4, but we could find out someday that 2+2=5. However, we all know that this will not happen, but we still cannot be 100% in that either.
Simply because someone states 99.99999999999999…99999% certainty does mean that they have faith or that they do not know. We know so many things about the world around us (however, in the grand scheme of things we hardly know anything, but we still know certain things). We know 2+2=4. We know water boils at 212°F (100°C). We know the Earth is an oblate ellipsoid. We know of over a hundred elements in the Periodic Table, and we know how to make some of them. We know that evolution is real. We know that the Bible and all other holy books from the world’s religions are complete bunk.
We know these things. We do not have faith that these statements are true simply because we are not 100% certain though. We could all just be in a dream or some other possibility that is proposed, which is that 0.0000000000000000000000…000001% chance that we may be wrong, though it is not faith in any way, shape, or form. There is no need to even seriously consider that 0.0000000000000000000…000001%. It is so unlikely that it is indistinguishable from something that will never happen.
At 99.99999999999999…99999%, we might as well round up to 100% certainty, but we do not in case of any possible, however extremely unlikely, evidence may pop up to prove us wrong. Saying we know does not mean that we cannot be wrong. I know my computer is a Macbook Pro.
I could be wrong though. I might be completely delusional; my senses might be lying to me, and I could actually be typing this up on an old Compaq desktop with the Millennium OS (I use that specific of a computer as an example merely because I used to have one; it was a piece of shit), or I could be in the Matrix inside a computer.
However, I know that I am not. I can be reasonably certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am on my laptop, that 2+2=4, that evolution is real, that a god does not exist, and much more. I know these things. There are mountains of evidence supporting them and no evidence whatsoever to the contrary. There is no faith involved, nor is there any need for it, because I know it to be true.