Parenting Beyond Belief

I have the privilege tonight of telling my readers about a wonderful project that’s gotten me feeling very excited. The author Dale McGowan has edited a book of essays for parents on the topic of raising a child without religion, titled Parenting Beyond Belief, to be released next month.

This is a particularly important gap in atheist literature, which is why I’m so glad to see a serious effort being made to bridge it. Although some books, like the FFRF’s Just Pretend, have addressed this topic, we badly need more of them. And this book looks to be of superlative scope and quality, covering a wide range of important topics: religiously mixed marriages, secular education, humanist ceremonies, moral instruction, teaching children about death, and more.

In terms of laying the philosophical foundation for our position, atheists have done more than enough. In terms of creating an effective media presence and political organization, we still have a long way to go, but encouraging progress has been made. Now, books like this may well be at the forefront of the “third wave” of atheist activism – atheists moving into society, living alongside everyone else in openness and honesty, establishing a set of social structures that can directly compete with and provide an alternative to religion.

But what’s really grabbed my interest is that Mr. McGowan has lined up a truly amazing array of atheist celebrities and luminaries to be his contributors. The book features original essays by Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Michael Shermer, and more! With a cast of contributors like this, how could you possibly go wrong?

I recently had an opportunity to interview Mr. McGowan, and he graciously consented to answer my questions:

Daylight Atheism: What gave you the inspiration for this book?

Dale McGowan: There was a bright light, and a fluttering of wings…

Actually, the idea occurred to me four years ago when I was editor of the Family Issues section of the Atheist Alliance WebCenter. I wanted to post a monthly review of books on parenting without religion and was stunned to find almost nothing out there, and certainly nothing comprehensive. There’s Anne Stone’s Living in the Light, a beautiful piece of work, and Jane Wynne Willson’s Parenting Without God, also an excellent book. But both had limited releases by small presses – so limited that I didn’t even find them until recently.

This was no fault of their own, of course, and no reflection on the quality of the books. Mainstream publishers simply wouldn’t touch the topic, as I learned from two years of trying to get a contract. If there’s no competition, they said, it means there’s no market. Finally I convinced one very mainstream publisher otherwise – Amacom Books of New York. Now we’ll see if I was right…

Daylight Atheism: You’ve lined up an impressive array of celebrity contributors, including Dan Barker, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins and Julia Sweeney. How did you get all these people to agree to participate?

Dale McGowan: The project sold itself. They all responded enthusiastically to the very idea right from the start. The only obstacle was that these are very, very busy people, and I showed an unfortunate talent for contacting them at the worst possible times. My request hit Richard’s desk the very day that his documentary “The Root of All Evil?” aired in Britain. I contacted Penn the week his new daily radio talk show went on the air while he was doing eight live shows a week in Vegas with Teller and wrapping the season of Bullshit. Julia was between an off-Broadway run of Letting Go of God and a Hollywood Bowl performance, and Dan and Annie Laurie were doing what they always do – twelve things at once. But they all agreed that the project was too attractive to pass up, and I’m grateful for that.

And once they were on board, I had very little trouble convincing anyone else to jump in the pool.

Daylight Atheism: Out of all the essays in the book, is there one that significantly impacted the way you raise your own family?

Dale McGowan: Not one, no – I think the impact for me is collective. There is something so powerful in reading one piece after another by these articulate and thoughtful people who are all juggling the same issues I am. Seeing them all gathered together like this takes secular parenting out of the isolation that’s all too common.

Daylight Atheism: Children raised without religion may well face prejudice or ostracism from their peers or even from adults who are hostile to atheism. Does this book give advice on how a non-religious parent should handle this situation? What if someone tries to frighten children by telling them their parents are going to Hell or something similar?

Dale McGowan: This is a prominent thread in several of the essays. Though the contributors don’t speak with a single voice, several contributors advocate the simple and powerful act of challenging assumptions by modeling the opposite. Meeting a reasonable, intelligent atheist who firmly but politely insists on being treated like anyone else can seriously challenge the simplistic caricature of atheism that is so common. And it’s best to do this proactively rather than reactively by being an out-of-the-closet example of friendly neighborhood atheism every day of the week.

I make an exception to the Nice-Guy approach (as do several other contributors) for the grotesque idea of Hell. If anyone puts that nonsensical poison in my children’s heads, they’ll hear from me in no uncertain terms. It’s child abuse, pure and simple, and I won’t permit it.

Daylight Atheism: How should a non-religious parent explain their decision on how they intend to raise their children to religious in-laws or relatives?

Dale McGowan: This is an enormously complicated topic with so many variables. Are the in-laws Quakers—or Southern Baptists? Are you and your spouse on the same page belief-wise? Did you leave the church, or were you never in it? Have your religious views changed since you married? Is your relationship with your in-laws strong?

The answers to these and a hundred other questions will dictate how you proceed, but a few bits of advice seem solid no matter what:

• Don’t do it in passing. Sit them down to address it directly.

• Reassure the in-laws that the truly important human values are shared by religious and non-religious parents. Like people of religious faith, nonbelievers value love, honesty, kindness and generosity, are captivated by wonder and moved by the mysterious, seek consolation in times of loss, and treasure the companionship of others. We want to raise children who are ethical and caring. Our shared dreams for our children show that we are far more alike than unalike. Simply pointing this out can have tremendous power.

• Show that your intention is to trust the children to ultimately come to their own conclusions – that you will no more indoctrinate them into disbelief than you would into belief.

• Get them to admit that God is unlikely to be so petty and egotistical as to punish a good person who is honestly wrong about him. This is one of the most untenable of all religious propositions, after all. I like to picture God in his heaven smacking his head at the purely stupid attributes religious people have dreamed up for him.

• Depending on their variety of belief, you might invite the in-laws to share their religious convictions with the kids, with the single caveat that the invocation of hell and all other wrath-of-god type elements are forbidden. This open invitation will often be appreciated, will defuse the accusation that you are hiding religion from the kids – and most importantly, keep the evangelizing above the table.

Daylight Atheism: I notice the book contains a chapter on humanist ceremonies as an alternative to religious holidays. What advice does it give non-religious parents?

Dale McGowan: Actually it handles ceremonies (rites of passage, etc) separately from holidays. Jane Wynne Willson wrote a marvelous introduction to secular alternatives for religious ceremonies. Regarding holidays, we have a lively mix of opinion. Tom Flynn and I did a point-counterpoint on the Santa question, while other essays address Easter and present a whole range of non-religious holiday options, from the solstices to Darwin Day to Festivus to Christmas (What’s that you say? Christmas has a religious version, too?).

Overall, the book presents a wide range of options and invites secular parents to mix and match as they see fit. Every family has its own unique traditions. There’s no need for one-size-fits-all when it comes to ceremonies and holidays.

Daylight Atheism: What do you most hope to achieve with this book?

Dale McGowan: If the book achieves nothing more than normalizing secular parenting, I’ll be perfectly happy.

Although I’m not a parent at this point in my life, this looks to be a fantastic book and I’m very much looking forward to its release. Let’s all thank Dale for agreeing to speak with me about it! (He was also recently interviewed by Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, which may also interest my readers.) If anyone has any additional questions, please post them in the comments; I’ll see if I can get him to answer.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Glo

    JMHO …

    Are there not some materials available from “The Society for Ethical Culture” that address this topic?

    Many years ago (1960s) I had some contact with the NY branch. They may have had some stuff back then to address the issue. At the time I was trying to find reasonable, non-religious methods to teach ethics to my kids. … I must have been successful somehow. Both turned out quite well with sharp critical minds and successful lives.

    Keep up the good work.
    Glo

  • Josh

    Wow, what an excellent and much-needed subject matter for a book. My wife and I have no children and are still unsure if we want any but this is definitely something I’ve given much thought to. I was raised in a moderately religious household/family and don’t have much to fall back on regarding secular parenthood (though I must say I think my parents did an excellent job, but they could’ve done without the “God” stuff).

    I’m definitely going to have to pick this up. Thanks for the info.

  • reader

    Here’s one reason:

    From Penn & Teller websight:

    “That godless parenting book is not really my writing. I wrote
    something that had some guts to it, and they were scared of it. I
    guess they didn’t want to anger xtians by having an Atheist
    perspective in their book on atheist parenting. When I write, I
    usually have control over the final product and editors are very
    respectful. I did this for free because I thought it was a good
    cause. They used that against me, and edited it in ways I don’t
    approve of. It might be a good book, but please don’t buy it for my
    essay, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they edited other stuff badly
    as well.

  • J

    The problem with atheism is, very simple and very cliche, the truth.

    The atheist truth that is, I’m not here to argue for any religion (though I “like” whatever that may mean, Christianity).

    The atheist truth :
    1) there is no purpose in life, except perhaps procreation, but procreation will only forward the “meme” and will do nothing for the individual person, in fact it will hurt him/her. Any satisfaction any individual may receive from procreation is purely biological, and wanes away after a few days
    2) life is fragile, and, in the end, you are alone, when you die, and you will die, life ends
    3) there is no-one to count on except perhaps those with very close biological relations with you
    4) the world is just a ticking clock. Perhaps more complex, but not really different in principle

    Obviously, since the conversion rate to atheism, despite an impressive start, converges towards zero (and atheists are not exactly known for their … euhm … procreation rate), these ideas will, if they reside solely in humans, die.

    Why would anyone believe in this ? It may be the truth, but it brings you nothing, and greatly increases the chance that you die alone, in pain.

    It must be clear to even the most convinced atheist, that, for a society, atheism doesn’t work. People need to sacrifice themselves for the community, and to a certain extent, they’re programmed to do so (you see the same in many animals, where all males will sacrifice themselves for their leader, apparently completely contradicting darwinism).

    People NEED to sacrifice themselves, in order to defend against the more violent faiths (such as, let’s skip denying it for once, islam, but by no means limited to that one alone, hinduism and shinto are just waiting to start making trouble).

    Just a few thoughts of mine :

    Atheism sounds nice, but
    1) it results in self-destructive individuals who tear society apart
    2) it discourages procreation, especially when compared against other faiths
    3) it discourages solidarity, putting the enjoyment of the individual up front
    4) it discourages defense, which is necesaary, by not just creating internal conflicts at an astounding rate, but also forcing everyone to fend for themselves individually, or in very small groups

    Capitalism stimulates Atheism and individuality, I can see that, but, as Jesus said, you will know false prophets by their products, and I must say, I don’t much like the products of atheism, even if I do like the prophets of it to a certain extent, fortunately, I can most likely just sit back and wait for it to self-destruct.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    “That godless parenting book is not really my writing. I wrote something that had some guts to it, and they were scared of it. I guess they didn’t want to anger xtians by having an Atheist perspective in their book on atheist parenting.

    I’ll let Dale answer this in more detail if he chooses to, but based on this thread from the Parenting Beyond Belief forum, Penn’s complaint stems from the changing of one single word in an 1100-word essay, and the claim that he wrote this essay “for free” is not true. If Dale has presented this story accurately, then I side with him without hesitation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    A longer response to “J”:

    1) there is no purpose in life, except perhaps procreation…

    This claim is unequivocally false. As opposed to theists who think the purpose of life is endless hollow recitals of ancient and outdated religious creeds, to an atheist life is a wide-open horizon, and its purpose is anything you want it to be. Whatever gives you happiness and imbues your existence with meaning, that is your decision to make. See, for example, my essay “Life Without Superstition“.

    2) life is fragile, and, in the end, you are alone, when you die, and you will die, life ends

    Yes, that is true: physical death is the end of consciousness. So what? Are you saying atheism must be false because you don’t like the way it makes you feel? Do you think reality is obligated to arrange itself so as not to distress you? Or are you just saying we should lie to ourselves and believe falsehoods if they make us feel good?

    In reality, the fact of life’s fragility makes it more valuable and meaningful, not less. Because life ends, that makes it infinitely more important that we seek happiness and fulfillment and help others to do the same. This is our only chance, so we’d better make the most of it. By contrast, there is little reason for an afterlife-believing theist to think that anything they do, or fail to do, truly matters in the long run.

    3) there is no-one to count on except perhaps those with very close biological relations with you

    This is just wrong. Why on earth do you think atheism tells us this?

    4) the world is just a ticking clock. Perhaps more complex, but not really different in principle

    If the world is indeed a “ticking clock”, it is not because of atheists, but because of the vast number of religious fanatics who
    believe the apocalypse will occur any day now and are willing to act accordingly.

    Obviously, since the conversion rate to atheism, despite an impressive start, converges towards zero (and atheists are not exactly known for their … euhm … procreation rate), these ideas will, if they reside solely in humans, die.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. The conversion rate to atheism is not decreasing, but increasing. In fact, as a recent Pew survey found, atheism is growing generationally, “with each new generation displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding one.” And your assertion about procreation rates is just bizarre considering you posted it in a thread specifically about non-religious parenting.

    Why would anyone believe in this ? It may be the truth, but it brings you nothing, and greatly increases the chance that you die alone, in pain.

    On the contrary: atheism tears down the cramped, stifling walls of primitive and barbaric creeds, and in their place, it brings us the entire vast universe to explore. See, for example, my essay “The Cathedral and the Garden“.

    It must be clear to even the most convinced atheist, that, for a society, atheism doesn’t work. People need to sacrifice themselves for the community, and to a certain extent, they’re programmed to do so (you see the same in many animals, where all males will sacrifice themselves for their leader, apparently completely contradicting darwinism).

    Clearly, you don’t know much about evolution either. There is a well-studied phenomenon called kin selection that explains why some living things will perform apparently altruistic acts of self-sacrifice. I suggest you go read and educate yourself about it.

    Atheism sounds nice, but
    1) it results in self-destructive individuals who tear society apart
    2) it discourages procreation, especially when compared against other faiths
    3) it discourages solidarity, putting the enjoyment of the individual up front
    4) it discourages defense, which is necesaary, by not just creating internal conflicts at an astounding rate, but also forcing everyone to fend for themselves individually, or in very small groups

    Every one of these claims of yours is utterly unsupported by evidence, and your overall comment shows clearly that your knowledge of atheism is practically non-existent. There are many good atheist sites out there; I suggest you go browse them for a while and familiarize yourself with what atheism is actually all about, before you embarrass yourself by making more claims that you cannot support.

  • Josh

    Behold, a troll! I’m surprised we don’t see more of ‘em around here.

  • Alex Weaver
    4) the world is just a ticking clock. Perhaps more complex, but not really different in principle

    If the world is indeed a “ticking clock”, it is not because of atheists, but because of the vast number of religious fanatics who
    believe the apocalypse will occur any day now and are willing to act accordingly.

    To be fair, I think what he was getting at was that atheists see the universe as “mechanical” rather than comparing the world to a time bomb. …I think. x.x

  • Alex Weaver

    More:

    Obviously, since the conversion rate to atheism, despite an impressive start, converges towards zero (and atheists are not exactly known for their … euhm … procreation rate), these ideas will, if they reside solely in humans, die.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. The conversion rate to atheism is not decreasing, but increasing. In fact, as a recent Pew survey found, atheism is growing generationally, “with each new generation displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding one.” And your assertion about procreation rates is just bizarre considering you posted it in a thread specifically about non-religious parenting.

    Well, he does have a point that atheists have neither a religious objection to birth control nor a religious belief that a god wants them to have as many kids as possible, so a number of related reasons for having five times as many kids as they can support emotionally or financially is removed. Which is a bad thing, because sheer number of offspring, not providing for the well-being of those offspring, is what matters, I guess. Jesus Mythical Christ–and they accuse atheists of treating humans as “‘just’ animals”?!

    Either that or he’s bought into the “atheists are nihilists” lie and assumes that we don’t enjoy anything, including sex.

    It must be clear to even the most convinced atheist, that, for a society, atheism doesn’t work. People need to sacrifice themselves for the community, and to a certain extent, they’re programmed to do so (you see the same in many animals, where all males will sacrifice themselves for their leader, apparently completely contradicting darwinism).

    I thought you were talking about atheism. Why has the conversation suddenly shifted to “Darwinism,” which you apparently think is a meaningful term. Make up your mind.

  • schemanista

    J:

    1) it results in self-destructive individuals who tear society apart

    Puffery and bluster. Back it up with a single shred of proof, I dare ya.

    2) it discourages procreation, especially when compared against other faiths

    Which would explain why birth rates are declining fastest in Western, nominally Christianized, cultures.

    More wind.

    3) it discourages solidarity, putting the enjoyment of the individual up front

    Add a whiff of ass. As in “I just pulled this out of my…”

    Atheists are everywhere. We’re active in charities, in political campaigns, we volunteer in and give back to our communities not through blind obedience but because we’ve reasoned things out and we know that these are good things to do.

    4) it discourages defense, which is necesaary, by not just creating internal conflicts at an astounding rate, but also forcing everyone to fend for themselves individually, or in very small groups

    Number of known denominations of Christianity: 1,700. Number of wars attributable to atheism: 0. Number of minds changed through concern troll ministry: 0. Building arguments out of wind and fantasy: priceless.

    You remind me a bit of the LDS missionary who tried to minister to me and my 3 year-old daughter as we walked home from daycare. I let him fumble about for a couple of minutes then I just patted him on the shoulder and said: “Sorry kid, they didn’t teach you about me in missionary school. Come back when you’re ready.”

  • schemanista

    J:

    1) it results in self-destructive individuals who tear society apart

    Puffery and bluster. Back it up with a single shred of proof, I dare ya.

    2) it discourages procreation, especially when compared against other faiths

    Which would explain why birth rates are declining fastest in Western, nominally Christianized, cultures.

    More wind.

    3) it discourages solidarity, putting the enjoyment of the individual up front

    Add a whiff of ass. As in “I just pulled this out of my…”

    Atheists are everywhere. We’re active in charities, in political campaigns, we volunteer in and give back to our communities not through blind obedience but because we’ve reasoned things out and we know that these are good things to do.

    4) it discourages defense, which is necesaary, by not just creating internal conflicts at an astounding rate, but also forcing everyone to fend for themselves individually, or in very small groups

    Number of known denominations of Christianity: 1,700. Number of wars attributable to atheism: 0. Number of minds changed through concern troll ministry: 0. Building arguments out of wind and fantasy: priceless.

    You remind me a bit of the LDS missionary who tried to minister to me and my 3 year-old daughter as we walked home from daycare. I let him fumble about for a couple of minutes then I just patted him on the shoulder and said: “Sorry kid, they didn’t teach you about me in missionary school. Come back when you’re ready.”

  • anti-nonsense

    Why would anyone believe in this ? It may be the truth, but it brings you nothing, and greatly increases the chance that you die alone, in pain.

    Because I consider the truth to be very important. I’d rather know the truth, even if it hurts, then live a lie. Also, it means I can think freely and explore the amazing world that exists out there, it’s even more amazing when you know that it’s all the result of simple, knowable natural laws and not some supreme being waving his hands and poofing everything into existence.

    1) there is no purpose in life, except perhaps procreation, but procreation will only forward the “meme” and will do nothing for the individual person, in fact it will hurt him/her. Any satisfaction any individual may receive from procreation is purely biological, and wanes away after a few days

    I don’t know anybody that believes that, I do not believe that there is any pre-determined purpose to my being here, but I do believe that life’s joys come from making a free choice as to what you want your purpose in life to be. And I don’t have to restrict myself based on what will supposedly please an imaginary sky daddy. The only one I really have to please is me (although I try not to do anything that would upset people I care about, or interfere with somebody else’s right to peacefully and non-harmfully pursue their purposes in life.).

    I think that you have misunderstood the fact that most atheists accept the theory of evolution as a biological reality, to mean that we accept survival of the fittest as a moral value. This is untrue, the biological theory of evolution is a DESCRIPTION of how new species arise, it is not intended, and should not be taken, as a PERSCRIPTION of morality. Some people in the first half of the 20th century missed that point, and some very unpleasant things were the result (forced eugenics, the Holocaust, etc).

  • J

    I see a number of comments replying to my message. Thanks a lot ! It’s been most informative to read your responses.

    I think we can basically conclude that atheists agree with the absense of purpose.
    So points 1,2, and 4 do not really seem to be in dispute when talking about atheist beliefs.

    (absence of purpose, end of life is a final “black hole”, and purely mechanical nature of the universe without help without warmth where love is just a man-made delusion)

    Why do I say atheism believes that there is no-one to count on except those who are biologically close to you ? Because Darwin states this. The “reasonableness” for someone to help you is inversely proportial with the number of genes you share. It may be worth risking your life to save your sister (and it most defineately is worth it to risk your life to save your child), it is not, darwinically speaking, worth it to risk your life 50-50 to save an aunt. It is worth, again according to Darwinism, to accept certain risks (1-2% chance of getting caught and killed I believe) in order to kill people who are absolutely not related to you, preferably before they have any children.

    This is, cold and blatantly stated, what Darwinism predicts. It matches the behavior of animals in the wild reasonably well (or at least better than other theories). This is also not seriously under discussion, but plainly calculateable using combination theory and the concepts of Darwinism. The “acceptable risk of death” for helping others escape death, is clearly calculateable in Darwinism, it is a function of your age, the number of genes you share with the victim, and how many children you’ve had (although it doesn’t matter much). When the number of genes you share with the victim diminishes, the acceptable risk goes down very very fast. You can also postulate the “acceptable risk of death” for killing someone. That is a function that rises when the number of genes between killer and victim diminishes. For a white American, who shares very few genes with “true” indians, will not have that many children wether he gets killed or not, the acceptable risk for killing a native indian will be a few percent, according to darwin.

    These numbers exist. And they are what they are.

    Tell me, do you really want to follow these mathematical functions ? Do you really want to act on them ?

    What you present as atheism, denying these functions, is a dogma that killing is wrong, which is, surprise surprise, the central tenet of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism (note that Shinto, Islam and Hinduism are missing in that list, those clearly state that offensive killing is acceptable in certain circumstances, or in islam’s case that offensive killing is mandatory in certain circumstances), I do not see how you can really present these dogma as parts of atheism.

    If you want atheism to survive, again according to darwin, you will need a good answer to the following question : why would anyone die (and/or kill) for atheism ? The central tenet of Darwinism is that this is necessary. Christianity answers this question by love : people should be willing to die for others out of love for them. Islam answers this by the generally known 72 virgins and rivers of wine “argument” if people kill and die to spread islam. Why would anyone die, or kill, to protect atheism ?

  • J

    I see a number of comments replying to my message. Thanks a lot ! It’s been most informative to read your responses.

    I think we can basically conclude that atheists agree with the absense of purpose.
    So points 1,2, and 4 do not really seem to be in dispute when talking about atheist beliefs.

    (absence of purpose, end of life is a final “black hole”, and purely mechanical nature of the universe without help without warmth where love is just a man-made delusion)

    Why do I say atheism believes that there is no-one to count on except those who are biologically close to you ? Because Darwin states this. The “reasonableness” for someone to help you is inversely proportial with the number of genes you share. It may be worth risking your life to save your sister (and it most defineately is worth it to risk your life to save your child), it is not, darwinically speaking, worth it to risk your life 50-50 to save an aunt. It is worth, again according to Darwinism, to accept certain risks (1-2% chance of getting caught and killed I believe) in order to kill people who are absolutely not related to you, preferably before they have any children.

    This is, cold and blatantly stated, what Darwinism predicts. It matches the behavior of animals in the wild reasonably well (or at least better than other theories). This is also not seriously under discussion, but plainly calculateable using combination theory and the concepts of Darwinism. The “acceptable risk of death” for helping others escape death, is clearly calculateable in Darwinism, it is a function of your age, the number of genes you share with the victim, and how many children you’ve had (although it doesn’t matter much). When the number of genes you share with the victim diminishes, the acceptable risk goes down very very fast. You can also postulate the “acceptable risk of death” for killing someone. That is a function that rises when the number of genes between killer and victim diminishes. For a white American, who shares very few genes with “true” indians, will not have that many children wether he gets killed or not, the acceptable risk for killing a native indian will be a few percent, according to darwin.

    These numbers exist. And they are what they are.

    Tell me, do you really want to follow these mathematical functions ? Do you really want to act on them ?

    What you present as atheism, denying these functions, is a dogma that killing is wrong, which is, surprise surprise, the central tenet of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism (note that Shinto, Islam and Hinduism are missing in that list, those clearly state that offensive killing is acceptable in certain circumstances, or in islam’s case that offensive killing is mandatory in certain circumstances), I do not see how you can really present these dogma as parts of atheism.

    If you want atheism to survive, again according to darwin, you will need a good answer to the following question : why would anyone die (and/or kill) for atheism ? The central tenet of Darwinism is that this is necessary. Christianity answers this question by love : people should be willing to die for others out of love for them. Islam answers this by the generally known 72 virgins and rivers of wine “argument” if people kill and die to spread islam. Why would anyone die, or kill, to protect atheism ?

  • Freeyourmind

    Looks like some long responses above. I haven’t gone through them yet but I’d just like to say that I was raised without belief in any God my entire life. In fact, it wasn’t discussed at all which led to a small amount of confusion for me early on. But once I became slightly older, I already found Religion as a whole to be a ridiculous notion.

    But having said that, I was raised with no belief in any religion and I can easily say that I’m a more moral, likeable, open-minded, and intelligent person than nearly anyone I met who claims to be “religious”. Although, I’m sure that will come as no surprise to anyone here.

  • schemanista

    I think we can basically conclude that atheists agree with the absense of purpose.

    You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    I don’t know any atheist who holds to the “tenets” of “Darwinism”. Darwinism is a straw man created by the religious, and the obvious way in which you try build a mousetrap into your argument just shouts that you don’t know what you’re talking about. The entire paragraph where you attempt to link individual survival issues with genetic inheritance does nothing more than demonstrate your apalling ignorance.

    You’re still only discussing what you think atheists “believe”, because it’s rhetorically convenient for you. No one will be swayed by that and after a few disinterested attempts to correct your misunderstandings, most will probably get bored with you and ignore you. I’m pretty much there already.

    If you’re serious about entering into discussion with atheists, particularly the online community which has coalesced at this blog, then you need to do your homework.
    Ebon’s essays are a good place to start. Why not read them and respond to his specific arguments?

    That is something I’d like to see. I’ll cross my fingers, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • valhar2000

    J, do what Ebonmuse suggests, please.

    We have all heard all these things many times before; they did not convince anyone before, and they will not do so now.

    If you intention, on the other hand, is to compare conclusions you have arrived at on your own with reality (a noble pursuit), you need go no further than this blog’s sister site, http://www.ebonmusings.org, to see clear, comprehensive and extensive essays on the points you raise.

    You must understand that what you say is very old news to us, and by now very tiring, however new and cutting edge it may seem to you.

  • valhar2000

    Oh, and, by the way, don’t talk about “Darwinism” again until you learn enough about it not to call it “Darwinism”.

  • valhar2000

    Oh, and, by the way, don’t talk about “Darwinism” again until you learn enough about it not to call it “Darwinism”.

  • valhar2000

    Reader, see this link: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=371&sid=c5c2eb6deba0d9fde82007c5264607d2

    It tells the author’s side of the story.

  • Freeyourmind

    ^^^Based on Valhar’s post, I have to side with Dale on this one. That is not an edit hardly at all. And I agree that a word like “Christards” while funny, would distract people and make dismiss the entire book. As dumb as that is, it’s the truth.

  • anti-nonsense

    As I said on that thread (under the name AtheistCanuck). I think the edit was justified. I think “Christards” is kind of juvenile, and doesn’t belong in a commercially published book.

  • J

    Okay I guess a bit of criticism is a hard thing to swallow. If you claim to be an atheist, what do you believe, if not the correctness of mathematics, and by extension the correctness of theories, such as evolution, the closer to pure mathematics the better.

    Is it that hard to accept that evolution rewards killing your gene competitors by a greater chance of survival for your own genes ?

    Is it that hard to accept that evolution rewards for a man merely getting to an egg-cell of a female and causing a pregnancy, rather than marrying and fidelity ? In other words, raping a woman and preventing her aborting the child is a technique that obviously increases the survival chances of your own genes ? Doing that to 50 women obviously is a very good technique to maximize the survival chances of your own genes.

    I mean, do you seriously dispute this ? What is an atheist’s “reward curve”, if not the evolution’s reward curve (ie. the amount of individuals carrying your genes when you die) ?

    I am posting these questions just because ebon’s musings are not answering them. They do not go “to the bone”. Take for example the essay on the source of an atheist’s ethics “The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick”. This essay proposes to work like this :

    1) “I claim that there is one true absolute, objective, universal moral code, by which I mean a moral code that is the same for all people, that applies equally to all people at all places and all times, and that returns the same results regardless of who performs the evaluation if it is performed correctly.”
    2) “Part 2: Game Theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma” (which is a way to “explain” the golden rule of Christianity by demonstrating it’s use for a society as a whole). This establishes, based on economics, that the self-inrest of society as a whole can be the basis for atheist ethics, while clearly, whatever intrest the individual has for society as a whole, would be based on it’s use in evolution, and it’s potential for spreading the individual’s genes. In other words : Darwin clearly overrules economics, even if you judge this by economics rules (ie. personal self intrest overrides all), and it’s economics that has to be justified within the framework of evolution, and not the other way around.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Some additional remarks for “J”, who still doesn’t seem to get it:

    I think we can basically conclude that atheists agree with the absense of purpose.

    No, this is false. I strongly denied that claim; so did others. Atheists do not believe in a god-given purpose, but we do believe in self-chosen purpose, chosen by each individual in accordance with their own beliefs of what would make their life most meaningful. You seem determined to ignore what real atheists are actually saying so that you can continue to project your misinformed stereotypes onto us.

    Is it that hard to accept that evolution rewards killing your gene competitors by a greater chance of survival for your own genes ?

    There is nothing difficult to accept about this. Where you go wrong is your naive assumption that if certain reproductive strategies can be rewarded by evolution, then it must be incumbent on us to follow those strategies. That is as absurd as claiming that the germ theory of disease endorses the manufacture and use of biological weapons, or that the theory of gravity encourages pushing people off tall buildings.

    Like all scientific theories, evolution is not prescriptive, but descriptive – it does not tell us what we should do, only what does happen under specific circumstances. Even if a certain course of action such as killing one’s rivals would result in the creation of more offspring, we are free to reject it entirely as grossly immoral and to instead choose our actions based on the dictates of morality, of compassion toward others and improving human happiness. And that is exactly what most atheists do choose to do. Your assertion that we should behave a certain way just because “evolution says so” are ridiculous and naive in the extreme.

  • SM

    J, you seem to make the common confusion of the purpose for which a thing is made and the purpose for which an intelligent creature acts. There is no logical connection between the two: if (as I don’t believe) some god had made me to fulfill some mysterious purpose, or if (as I do believe) I am the result of an impersonal process of evolution driven by the ability to spread genes, that tells me nothing about how I should act. Each one of us must choose a purpose in life distinct from whatever we believe about why we are here, even if that purpose we choose is to do as we think a god wishes or (as in your strawman) to further the spread of our genes.

  • schemanista

    Okay I guess a bit of criticism is a hard thing to swallow. If you claim to be an atheist, what do you believe, if not the correctness of mathematics, and by extension the correctness of theories, such as evolution, the closer to pure mathematics the better.

    Do you find that people generally respond well to your condescending approach?

    “I claim that there is one true absolute, objective, universal moral code, by which I mean a moral code that is the same for all people, that applies equally to all people at all places and all times, and that returns the same results regardless of who performs the evaluation if it is performed correctly.”

    And yet you missed this part, only a few paragraphs in:

    I do not mean to imply by these statements that this moral code exists independently of human beings – by no means should my statements be read as suggesting that I believe that there is a set of rules carved on stone tablets hidden in a remote mountain cave, or drawn in letters of fire floating through the ether in a Platonic higher world. On the contrary, I believe that morality is a concept created by humans for humans; morality exists because we exist. I do not believe, however, that this makes morality subjective, for reasons that I will show. In this essay, I will defend these claims and present the basis for this moral code, which is founded on a principle that I call universal utilitarianism.

    You need to do more with these essays than skim them for the purpose of quote-mining.

  • schemanista

    Okay I guess a bit of criticism is a hard thing to swallow. If you claim to be an atheist, what do you believe, if not the correctness of mathematics, and by extension the correctness of theories, such as evolution, the closer to pure mathematics the better.

    Do you find that people generally respond well to your condescending approach?

    “I claim that there is one true absolute, objective, universal moral code, by which I mean a moral code that is the same for all people, that applies equally to all people at all places and all times, and that returns the same results regardless of who performs the evaluation if it is performed correctly.”

    And yet you missed this part, only a few paragraphs in:

    I do not mean to imply by these statements that this moral code exists independently of human beings – by no means should my statements be read as suggesting that I believe that there is a set of rules carved on stone tablets hidden in a remote mountain cave, or drawn in letters of fire floating through the ether in a Platonic higher world. On the contrary, I believe that morality is a concept created by humans for humans; morality exists because we exist. I do not believe, however, that this makes morality subjective, for reasons that I will show. In this essay, I will defend these claims and present the basis for this moral code, which is founded on a principle that I call universal utilitarianism.

    You need to do more with these essays than skim them for the purpose of quote-mining.

  • schemanista

    here is nothing difficult to accept about this. Where you go wrong is your naive assumption that if certain reproductive strategies can be rewarded by evolution, then it must be incumbent on us to follow those strategies. That is as absurd as claiming that the germ theory of disease endorses the manufacture and use of biological weapons, or that the theory of gravity encourages pushing people off tall buildings.

    Or equally absurd is the reductionist fallacy that this kind of competition is the only favourable evolutionary strategy. The first pile of straw an apologist reaches for is the reduction of all evolutionary models to zero-sum games.

    For a more nuanced view of the relationship between evolutionary predisposition and human morality, I recommend the Atheist Ethicist’s blog, particularly this post.

    J, your kung-fu is weak. Ebon-sensei could destroy you with the twitch of an eyebrow. But how much greater is he who realizes that he doesn’t have to destroy you at all!

  • schemanista

    here is nothing difficult to accept about this. Where you go wrong is your naive assumption that if certain reproductive strategies can be rewarded by evolution, then it must be incumbent on us to follow those strategies. That is as absurd as claiming that the germ theory of disease endorses the manufacture and use of biological weapons, or that the theory of gravity encourages pushing people off tall buildings.

    Or equally absurd is the reductionist fallacy that this kind of competition is the only favourable evolutionary strategy. The first pile of straw an apologist reaches for is the reduction of all evolutionary models to zero-sum games.

    For a more nuanced view of the relationship between evolutionary predisposition and human morality, I recommend the Atheist Ethicist’s blog, particularly this post.

    J, your kung-fu is weak. Ebon-sensei could destroy you with the twitch of an eyebrow. But how much greater is he who realizes that he doesn’t have to destroy you at all!

  • Alex Weaver

    I see a number of comments replying to my message. Thanks a lot ! It’s been most informative to read your responses.

    Did you read the responses, or do you think your argument below is a rebuttal to them? Make up your mind.

    I think we can basically conclude that atheists agree with the absense of purpose.
    So points 1,2, and 4 do not really seem to be in dispute when talking about atheist beliefs.

    Wrong. I have never met an atheist who believes in an “absence of purpose.” Believing that one must find one’s own purpose rather than having it imposed from above is NOT equivalent to believing that no purpose exists.

    Here’s an example of the kind of reasoning you’re using here: My father did not buy me a computer before I was born. Therefore, I do not have one. Therefore, I am not typing this message at the moment.

    Surely you can see why this is a ridiculous chain of reasoning. Yours is equally ridiculous, for the same reason. Purpose is even easier to acquire for oneself than a computer, on account of needing only a functioning brain, as opposed to the price tag of a computer.

    (absence of purpose,

    Wrong; see above.

    end of life is a final “black hole”,

    Wrong; to myself and any atheists with whom I am familiar, the end of life is a peaceful oblivion, while a black hole is an unimaginably dense object existing in interstellar space (as opposed to an unimaginably dense object trolling atheist forums).

    and purely mechanical nature of the universe

    I’m pretty sure we would share that tenet, unless you’re of the opinion that the hand of god is, say, holding each individual atom together and guiding each photon on its path. We would share this tenet if it were a tenet at all; it is a conclusion reached from our observation of the universe, based on what I have coined as the Weak Anatic Principle (“if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, the reasonable conclusion is to provisionally regard it as a duck, unless additional observations contradict this conclusion”). That is to say, we observe a universe that behaves exactly as one would expect a universe that operates purely according to the laws of physics, without supernatural intervention, and so the reasonable conclusion is to consider our universe “mechanical” in this sense until some actual evidence turns up that contradicts this view; there’s nothing “religious” about that. Arguments from Volume by people selectively and self-servingly quote-mining both the Bible and the scientific literature don’t cut it.

    without help

    We can help ourselves and help each other, and some of us are mature enough to recognize that we should do so even though we don’t, so far as we can tell, have a cosmic Big Brother looking over our shoulders.

    without warmth where love is just a man-made delusion)

    Oh, dear. As an atheist, I don’t believe in “warmth” and regard love as a man-made delusion? Why didn’t you tell me?! I could have been out picking pockets and breaking legs instead of checking to make sure my daughter was sleeping all right and warm enough and then snuggling up to my wife last night!

    Honestly. Do you even THINK about these things before you type them? I reiterate with emphasis the requests of other commenters here that you familiariaze yourself with and respond to the actual positions of actual atheists, not the Saturday-Morning-Cartoon-villain caricature you’re criticizing, while you can still salvage some scrap of intellectual dignity. No, the ability to love one another is NOT dependent on believing in a god. A moment’s thought reveals the contrary proposition to be not just untrue but idiotic.

    Incidentally, since emotions are held to be mental states not necessarily corresponding to anything in the external world, how could an emotion be a “man-made delusion” or indeed any kind of delusion?

    Why do I say atheism believes that there is no-one to count on except those who are biologically close to you ? Because Darwin states this. The “reasonableness” for someone to help you is inversely proportial with the number of genes you share. It may be worth risking your life to save your sister (and it most defineately is worth it to risk your life to save your child), it is not, darwinically speaking, worth it to risk your life 50-50 to save an aunt. It is worth, again according to Darwinism, to accept certain risks (1-2% chance of getting caught and killed I believe) in order to kill people who are absolutely not related to you, preferably before they have any children.

    This is, cold and blatantly stated, what Darwinism predicts. It matches the behavior of animals in the wild reasonably well (or at least better than other theories). This is also not seriously under discussion, but plainly calculateable using combination theory and the concepts of Darwinism. The “acceptable risk of death” for helping others escape death, is clearly calculateable in Darwinism, it is a function of your age, the number of genes you share with the victim, and how many children you’ve had (although it doesn’t matter much). When the number of genes you share with the victim diminishes, the acceptable risk goes down very very fast. You can also postulate the “acceptable risk of death” for killing someone. That is a function that rises when the number of genes between killer and victim diminishes. For a white American, who shares very few genes with “true” indians, will not have that many children wether he gets killed or not, the acceptable risk for killing a native indian will be a few percent, according to darwin.

    These numbers exist. And they are what they are.

    This is so wrong I don’t know where to start.
    1) This is a Saturday Morning Cartoon caricature of evolutionary theory
    2) Evolutionary theory is an explanation of observed phenomena, not a moral system
    3) “Darwinism” as a moral system or set of personal beliefs IS a “man-made delusion” since it is a lie fabricated out of whole cloth by the fools and villains that make up the ranks of religious fundamentalist and to my knowledge has a grand total of 0 adherents among the atheist community in particular and the human species in general
    4) Oddly, degree of acceptance of evolutionary theory at the societal level is for the most part negatively correlated with violence, which in turn is positively correlated with religiosity. If your tiresomely ignorant description were accurate, this should be reversed.

    Tell me, do you really want to follow these mathematical functions ? Do you really want to act on them ?

    No. Perhaps that’s why we don’t?

    What you present as atheism, denying these functions, is a dogma that killing is wrong, which is, surprise surprise, the central tenet of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism (note that Shinto, Islam and Hinduism are missing in that list, those clearly state that offensive killing is acceptable in certain circumstances, or in islam’s case that offensive killing is mandatory in certain circumstances),

    No. The central tenet of Judaism is that there exists one god who created the universe with the intent of producing the human race and selected one specific ethnic group, the Hebrews, to be his “chosen people” and instructed them to conquer and destroy those who opposed them as “his” enemies (oddly enough, the central tenet of Nazism arguably consists of replacing “Hebrew” with “German”). The central tenet of Christianity is that god took human form and brutally sacrificed himself to another part of himself in order to forgive humans of breaking a rule he made himself, and that anyone who can swallow this camel and believe will be “saved.” The central tenet of Buddhism is that the external world we experience is an illusion, that “desire” is the root cause of suffering, and that attaining enlightenment will free its adherents from the cycle of suffering and reincarnation. Judaism’s holy book includes numerous approving descriptions of what we would today call “war crimes” including genocide and mass child rape. Christianity’s holy book incorporates many of the viler portions of Judaism’s holy book as the “Old Testament” and introduced the abominable idea of eternal torture for sinners and nonbelievers, and “God’s will” and the struggle between “saved” and “unsaved” has inspired or been used to justify more atrocity and injustice than any other system in history. Buddhism I’m less familiar with, but many of its adherents have historically been warriors and pre-invasion Tibet was reportedly a repressive theocracy. Still, for two out of three religions your assertions are unequivocally ridiculous–Christianity and Judaism do indeed advocate the view that killing, even offensive killing, is acceptable under the circumstances of being commanded by god to do so–in this regard they are, at the theoretical level, no better than Islam. Get your facts right, plsthx.

    I do not see how you can really present these dogma as parts of atheism.

    Easy: because “killing is wrong” is a HUMAN value. We recognize our own lives to be valuable and we recognize other humans to be “like us” in terms of mental and emotional capability. It is only when this recognition is blunted by indoctrination (especially of the religious variety) that killing becomes “okay”; there are situations in which taking a life is moral (legitimate self-defense, in the line of duty as a soldier or peace officer, etc.) but in these cases it is a necessary evil, not “okay.” The fact that separate religions have incorporated this human value is unsurprising if all were created by humans, though it is not clear why this would be important to an immortal, invincible god.

    If you want atheism to survive, again according to darwin, you will need a good answer to the following question : why would anyone die (and/or kill) for atheism ?

    Weapons technology has reached the point where killing in the name of religious or political ideologies is a fool’s errand. It is less adaptive than it has ever been. It is no less immoral than it has ever been. A better question is “why would we *want* anyone to die (and/or kill) for atheism?”

    The central tenet of Darwinism is that this is necessary.

    …what the hell are you talking about?

    Christianity answers this question by love : people should be willing to die for others out of love for them.

    Christianity’s answer for everything it claims people should do, even loving one another, is “because god wants you to.” An Atheist’s answer is “because it it right to try to reduce suffering and increase happiness for everyone.”

    Islam answers this by the generally known 72 virgins and rivers of wine “argument” if people kill and die to spread islam.

    Gee, it sure is fortunate that your description of your chosen religion as compared to others isn’t blazingly biased…

    Why would anyone die, or kill, to protect atheism ?

    Don’t wave loaded questions around; they might go off in your face.

    You have already been asked once to read and respond to our actual arguments. Whether your failure to do so in your second post is due to sheer density or deliberate dishonesty remains to be seen. Either way, your attacks are tiresome.

  • schemanista

    Ahh, the internet and the obsolescence of staircase wit.

    if not the correctness of mathematics, and by extension the correctness of theories, such as evolution, the closer to pure mathematics the better.

    You need to ready Feyerabend. Posting to an atheist blog does not somehow elevate your misunderstanding of science in general and evolution in particular to the level of Natural Law.

    Is it that hard to accept that evolution rewards killing your gene competitors by a greater chance of survival for your own genes ?

    To pick a couple of nits from the cloud enveloping your argument: Darwin said nothing about genes, because they hadn’t been discovered within his lifetime. You, along with every other apologist, insist on reducing all evolutionary processes to zero-sum games. Fortunately, the only place this happens is in your imagination.

    Also, as Ebon pointed out, because selective pressures, which work on populations* may predispose people towards certain types of behaviours, it does not necessarily follow from an understanding from evolution that human social behaviour is automatically constrained.

    For a much more nuanced view of the relationship between evolution and human behaviour, i recommend this excellent essay by Alonzo Fyfe. I expect you’ll give it the same penetratingly close reading that you’ve given Ebon’s essays to-date.

    * I predict that at no point in this discussion will you ever admit or understand the significance of this point.

  • schemanista

    Ahh, the internet and the obsolescence of staircase wit.

    if not the correctness of mathematics, and by extension the correctness of theories, such as evolution, the closer to pure mathematics the better.

    You need to ready Feyerabend. Posting to an atheist blog does not somehow elevate your misunderstanding of science in general and evolution in particular to the level of Natural Law.

    Is it that hard to accept that evolution rewards killing your gene competitors by a greater chance of survival for your own genes ?

    To pick a couple of nits from the cloud enveloping your argument: Darwin said nothing about genes, because they hadn’t been discovered within his lifetime. You, along with every other apologist, insist on reducing all evolutionary processes to zero-sum games. Fortunately, the only place this happens is in your imagination.

    Also, as Ebon pointed out, because selective pressures, which work on populations* may predispose people towards certain types of behaviours, it does not necessarily follow from an understanding from evolution that human social behaviour is automatically constrained.

    For a much more nuanced view of the relationship between evolution and human behaviour, i recommend this excellent essay by Alonzo Fyfe. I expect you’ll give it the same penetratingly close reading that you’ve given Ebon’s essays to-date.

    * I predict that at no point in this discussion will you ever admit or understand the significance of this point.

  • J

    You see a lot of responses bullying, denying, etc. But no positive answers. If I’m indeed wrong, why don’t you tell me what you DO believe. That you see something you don’t like for unspecified reasons is of no intrest whatsoever. What do you believe ? What do you want ? Who are you ? Christianity’s answer is peace on earth. Islam’s answer is the end of the world (excuse me, “the last day”, last predicted to be 21/3/2007 by Iran’s ayatollahs, they seem to have missed again (most years it does tend to be close to 21/3 though)), Buddhist answer is a world where everybody understands his surroundings (ie. a world of buddha’s), … What is atheist’s answer ?

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ? What is it based on ? If it’s supposed to be independant of external support, it needs to be based in maths, so basing it on evolution’s reward function seems reasonable, because it is independant of specific individuals, and seriously studied. WHAT do you (individually) want, WHAT do you (individually) do to achieve it ?

    Obviously what is best for atheism as a group of people is in the “nice to know” class of things, but not really relevant for an individual atheist. It seems to me that’s a big part of what you’re trying to avoid.

  • schemanista

    You see a lot of responses bullying, denying, etc. But no positive answers.

    You’re demonstrating an astounding lack of comprehension.

    What do you believe ? What do you want ? Who are you ?

    Who are you to come to an atheist blog—that also hosts a ream of articles which many participants feel are representative of the best of contemporary atheistic thought—and demand of me that I explain myself to you?

    I’m not interested in teaching ATM101: Introductory Atheism, especially not to someone who has demonstrated intellectual dishonesty in his brief interactions with this online community.

    You’re not ready to have this discussion with me. I’m going to spend more time correcting your basic misconceptions than it’s worth. You need to do your homework if you’re serious about understanding atheism.

    This advice presumes that your intentions are honest (though I have my suspicions), but here’s where to start if you really are interested. Start with Ebon’s foundational essays. Read them with close attention, instead of mining for quotes. You could also hit Alonzo’s blog, which I’ve linked to above. If you’re a dead trees kind of guy, Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God will give you insight into a well-reasoned atheistic ontology. The Internet Infidels library has dozens of additional resources which can help you understand a metaphysics which saw its first flourishing during the Enlightenment.

    I’ll leave you to the more determined participants of Daylight Atheism.

  • schemanista

    Back on topic: I’ve just ordered Parenting Beyond Belief and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I think one of the most interesting discussions will be the whole Santa Claus issue. My partner and I do let our 3 1/2 year-old enjoy that fantasy and I don’t think it’s particularly damaging. My child can already discern between “real” and “pretend” and still take unabashed joy in both. I don’t think she’s going to experience any sense of betrayal, nor are we inadvertently preparing her for religious belief because, as parents, we’re clear that some things are “real” and some things aren’t.

    Any other thoughts on this?

  • Alex Weaver

    You see a lot of responses bullying, denying, etc. But no positive answers. If I’m indeed wrong, why don’t you tell me what you DO believe. That you see something you don’t like for unspecified reasons is of no intrest whatsoever. What do you believe ? What do you want ? Who are you ?Christianity’s answer is peace on earth. Islam’s answer is the end of the world (excuse me, “the last day”, last predicted to be 21/3/2007 by Iran’s ayatollahs, they seem to have missed again (most years it does tend to be close to 21/3 though)), Buddhist answer is a world where everybody understands his surroundings (ie. a world of buddha’s), … What is atheist’s answer ?

    The essays here and on Adam’s site address these questions. I second the advice of other commenters that you read them for depth instead of skimming for mineable quotes. And you see a lot of annoyed responses because A) you ask shallow questions that we’ve already answered repeatedly and publicly and seem to expect us to actually spoonfeed what we’ve already produced to you rather than you searching it out yourself; B) you have an obnoxiously caricatured view of what atheism entails and what atheists believe which you have maintained in spite of having this repeatedly pointed out to you; and C) can you really not see how condescending your tone appears to anyone else reading your statements?

    As a side note, Christianity’s answer for centuries, and the answer of most Christian denominations today, is also the end of the world. They call it the Apocalypse. You might have heard of it.

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ? What is it based on ? If it’s supposed to be independant of external support, it needs to be based in maths, so basing it on evolution’s reward function seems reasonable, because it is independant of specific individuals, and seriously studied. WHAT do you (individually) want, WHAT do you (individually) do to achieve it ?

    Uh. Why does it follow that if no supernatural entity exists that a “reward function” (whatever that means) needs to be based on math? That would only be true if the ability to experience emotions were dependent on a supernatural being (or, at least, belief in a supernatural being). Guess I’d better stop experiencing them.

    Confusing Atheists with Vulcans is a misconception I haven’t seen all that often, I’ll admit. Anyway, what makes an individual atheist happy varies from atheist to atheist. Ensuring that one’s own basic material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) are met certainly goes a long way. Being with the people one loves would ring a lot of bells. Doing things that have a net effect of making others happy is generally pretty satisfying. Increasing one’s knowledge and experiencing and admiring the world around oneself are up there. For me, solving new design problems, seeing my daughter smile and hearing her starting to really talk, nuzzling and conversing with my wife, and my writing are all quite satisfying. You might try reading this, this, and this.

    Obviously what is best for atheism as a group of people is in the “nice to know” class of things, but not really relevant for an individual atheist. It seems to me that’s a big part of what you’re trying to avoid.

    “Actions which increase happiness and reduce suffering are good, actions which decrease happiness and increase suffering are bad” which you would have been hard-pressed to miss if you really read Adam’s essay on morality, works at both the individual and the societal level.

    As for Santa,

    I never really regarded Santa Clause as a “real” entity in the sense that my parents and siblings and John Henry were. My wife says she never really “believed in” him either. Nevertheless, she wants to play that game with our daughter once she’s a little older. I’m not sure why. Maybe when she’s older she’ll be amenable to playing along for her mother and then giggling about the whole idea with me.

    I think a more productive approach to holiday giftgiving is to give her presents and tell her who they’re from, and try to establish a tradition where, on her birthday and Christmas, she selects some toys she doesn’t play with much to give as presents to other children who are less fortunate than she is. This is about the most positive way to frame thinning out her toy supply to keep it manageable that I can think of.

  • Alex Weaver

    (Heh, should have elaborated on that; the legend of John Henry was quite intriguing to me at the age of about 3. I was at that point under the impression it corresponded to a historical person, perhaps a bit exaggerated, whereas Santa always had sort of a mythical quality. I’ll have to look up whether that’s true.)

  • schemanista

    Why does it follow that if no supernatural entity exists that a “reward function” (whatever that means) needs to be based on math? That would only be true if the ability to experience emotions were dependent on a supernatural being (or, at least, belief in a supernatural being). Guess I’d better stop experiencing them.

    Well said, Alex. Alonzo makes a similar point here and exposes the “atheism means no morals!?!” interrobang for the ridiculous cliche that it is.

    Re: Santa

    Those are good suggestions, and we’re already doing them more or less. One thing that I realized is that my partner and I don’t attach any morality to the Santasy. We allow our daughter to enjoy the mythic elements but don’t suggest for a second that Santa is watching her and is the ultimate source of human morality ;o)

    It would be the peak of hypocrisy for me to deny her this imaginary play, since I’m the escapist who reads space opera for fun. She already “knows” Santa isn’t “real”, but just another form of “let’s pretend”.

  • J

    @Alex Weaver

    Uh. Why does it follow that if no supernatural entity exists that a “reward function” (whatever that means) needs to be based on math? That would only be true if the ability to experience emotions were dependent on a supernatural being (or, at least, belief in a supernatural being). Guess I’d better stop experiencing them.

    Well I suppose that if you don’t believe that you feelings follow what a deity has ordained for you, then you must believe that they have originate from 2 sources :

    1) indoctrination (or “education” or whatever you want to call it, such as experiencing joy in freedom, which is most defineately not an evolved value)
    2) evolution.

    Clearly emotions that find their source in your indoctrination as a child must come from some sort of religion, so I would think an atheist would take care to avoid them. If you don’t do that you’re not an atheist just a non-denominational Christian (if you’re born in America).

    The second source will install evolutions reward function, that includes rewards for killing.

    To all the others, just because I don’t agree with you, and because I am very critical of your point of view does not make me necessarily hypocritical. Especially the people denying that evolution rewards killing need to get their heads checked out. The essays do not start from empty values, they jump directly into the first class of emotions, those that are learned and find their origins in a religion, sparkled with a thinly-veiled attempt at rooting them in some scientific theory, like the example of trying to establish “the golden rule” of Christianity through economics. I’ve actually asked a university economics teacher to check if I’m right about this. It does NOT follow as the ideal strategy in a world where people do not all follow that strategy. In a sense it’s only a valid argument if there are only large amounts of true Christians and a few atheists amongst them. Otherwise it’s a self-destructive strategy. That’s the whole point of making it a dogma. You should follow this golden rule even when it completely backfires, in order to strive for the situation that everybody follows it.

  • J

    @Alex Weaver

    Uh. Why does it follow that if no supernatural entity exists that a “reward function” (whatever that means) needs to be based on math? That would only be true if the ability to experience emotions were dependent on a supernatural being (or, at least, belief in a supernatural being). Guess I’d better stop experiencing them.

    Well I suppose that if you don’t believe that you feelings follow what a deity has ordained for you, then you must believe that they have originate from 2 sources :

    1) indoctrination (or “education” or whatever you want to call it, such as experiencing joy in freedom, which is most defineately not an evolved value)
    2) evolution.

    Clearly emotions that find their source in your indoctrination as a child must come from some sort of religion, so I would think an atheist would take care to avoid them. If you don’t do that you’re not an atheist just a non-denominational Christian (if you’re born in America).

    The second source will install evolutions reward function, that includes rewards for killing.

    To all the others, just because I don’t agree with you, and because I am very critical of your point of view does not make me necessarily hypocritical. Especially the people denying that evolution rewards killing need to get their heads checked out. The essays do not start from empty values, they jump directly into the first class of emotions, those that are learned and find their origins in a religion, sparkled with a thinly-veiled attempt at rooting them in some scientific theory, like the example of trying to establish “the golden rule” of Christianity through economics. I’ve actually asked a university economics teacher to check if I’m right about this. It does NOT follow as the ideal strategy in a world where people do not all follow that strategy. In a sense it’s only a valid argument if there are only large amounts of true Christians and a few atheists amongst them. Otherwise it’s a self-destructive strategy. That’s the whole point of making it a dogma. You should follow this golden rule even when it completely backfires, in order to strive for the situation that everybody follows it.

  • Alex Weaver

    Well I suppose that if you don’t believe that you feelings follow what a deity has ordained for you, then you must believe that they have originate from 2 sources :

    1) indoctrination (or “education” or whatever you want to call it, such as experiencing joy in freedom, which is most defineately not an evolved value)
    2) evolution.

    Uh. How the hell would emotions originate from indoctrination? Social expectations and education may teach people to express certain emotions to a greater or lesser degree, but they are self-evidently an inherent part of being a sentient organism–and many other species seem to display them as well. I guess that would make them “evolved” though they don’t “come from evolution” the way you seem to think of it. This still borders on “argument from lack of imagination,” mainly because you still refuse to accept that “evolution” is a natural phenomenon, not a belief system. Or perhaps you can tell us what sort of actions and emotions are dictated by gravity?

    Clearly emotions that find their source in your indoctrination as a child must come from some sort of religion, so I would think an atheist would take care to avoid them. If you don’t do that you’re not an atheist just a non-denominational Christian (if you’re born in America).

    Wow. This is a definition of “Christian” I’ve never encountered before…

    Also, you are A) conflating morality and emotion (I *think*… O.o) and B) apparently using “religion” to refer to any system of beliefs and values, which is ridiculous.

    The second source will install evolutions reward function, that includes rewards for killing.

    To all the others, just because I don’t agree with you, and because I am very critical of your point of view does not make me necessarily hypocritical. Especially the people denying that evolution rewards killing need to get their heads checked out.

    “Evolution rewards killing” needs rephrasing; you make it sound as it we regard evolution as a sentient cosmic force…a deity of sorts. Which no one I’m aware of does. This looks like an attempt to set up one of those silly, fallacious “it’s just another religion” arguments.

    Beyond that, if you really can’t see how a group of organisms working together to ensure the survival of the whole group have a better chance of leaving surviving offspring (especially if those offspring require a great deal of parental care) than a group that kill each other off whenever the opportunity arises, there’s no hope for you.

    The essays do not start from empty values, they jump directly into the first class of emotions, those that are learned and find their origins in a religion, sparkled with a thinly-veiled attempt at rooting them in some scientific theory, like the example of trying to establish “the golden rule” of Christianity through economics.

    The idea of emotions being “learned” and “finding their origins in religion” corresponds to no definition or concept of “emotion” of which I am aware. This is called a “Humpty Dumpty” argument–basically, you’re using a word to mean whatever you want it to mean, while attempting to keep the same connotations attached to it.

    If you mean “morals” or “beliefs” and not “emotions” this is still a false statement; beliefs and morality are both learned, though the psychological foundations that enable the brain to process both are innate, but they most certainly do not find their origins in religion. Religion did not invent human morality; religion plagiarized human morality. Your argument will remain absurd so long as you keep adding irrational and self-serving assumptions to your set of premises.

    I’ve actually asked a university economics teacher to check if I’m right about this. It does NOT follow as the ideal strategy in a world where people do not all follow that strategy.

    Somehow, I have this sneaking suspicion that the label “ideal” kind of connotes the majority of people following it.

    In a sense it’s only a valid argument if there are only large amounts of true Christians and a few atheists amongst them. Otherwise it’s a self-destructive strategy.

    Right, because we know true Christians never lie, cheat, steal, oppress others, or start wars. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Taiping Rebellion, the Thirty Years’ War, the Nazis’ appeal to God’s will and the Germans’ supposed status as his chosen people in justifing their atrocities, the burning of supposed witches and confiscation of their lands by the church, the Catholic church’s complicity in molestation of children by priests, the corruption and depravity that most prominent evangelists engage in, the bilking of money from the already-impoverished to support their churches, the Religious Right’s hostility to liberty, justice, and equality, and the perfidious lies about atheists you’ve apparently swallowed hook, line, and sinker are all an atheist conspiracy. You’ve found us out; congratulations.

    That’s the whole point of making it a dogma. You should follow this golden rule even when it completely backfires, in order to strive for the situation that everybody follows it.

    Just what exactly are you using the term “dogma” to mean here? If you’re misusing it to mean a general set of principles people are taught because following those principles has been demonstrated to promote better outcomes for everyone involved, then yes. “No shit,” even. If you’re using it in the correct sense to mean a set of beliefs accepted without evidence and treated as final and unquestionable, then no, there’s no need to approach it that way.

  • anti-nonsense

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ? What is it based on ? If it’s supposed to be independant of external support, it needs to be based in maths, so basing it on evolution’s reward function seems reasonable, because it is independant of specific individuals, and seriously studied. WHAT do you (individually) want, WHAT do you (individually) do to achieve it ?

    Are you even reading what you are being told or are you just skimming stuff and pretending you are reading? No, not believing in a supernatural creator does NOT mean we have to base morality on math! We do believe in emotions, like love and caring. What I want is to be happy, just like everybody else wants to be happy. Part of what makes me (and most other people) happy, is making the people around me happy especially my dad and my grandmother, both of whom I love dearly. I also find reading and learning new things to be very satisfying.

  • anti-nonsense

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ? What is it based on ? If it’s supposed to be independant of external support, it needs to be based in maths, so basing it on evolution’s reward function seems reasonable, because it is independant of specific individuals, and seriously studied. WHAT do you (individually) want, WHAT do you (individually) do to achieve it ?

    Are you even reading what you are being told or are you just skimming stuff and pretending you are reading? No, not believing in a supernatural creator does NOT mean we have to base morality on math! We do believe in emotions, like love and caring. What I want is to be happy, just like everybody else wants to be happy. Part of what makes me (and most other people) happy, is making the people around me happy especially my dad and my grandmother, both of whom I love dearly. I also find reading and learning new things to be very satisfying.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    I’ve got two young boys (both under 2) and now I am really looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ve been thinking about how best to handle the inevitable encounters with religion as it is a huge part of both modern and historical culture. I just want my kids to be able to explore, think, and decide for themselves.

    Also, since this is my first post on the site, I want to say that I enjoy it very much.

    Finally, you all show amazing patience, calm, and clarity when dealing with someone like this J fellow. Bravo.

  • schemanista

    In a sense it’s only a valid argument if there are only large amounts of true Christians and a few atheists amongst them. Otherwise it’s a self-destructive strategy. That’s the whole point of making it a dogma. You should follow this golden rule even when it completely backfires, in order to strive for the situation that everybody follows it.

    J, we have something in common. Neither one of us knows what you’re talking about.

  • schemanista

    In a sense it’s only a valid argument if there are only large amounts of true Christians and a few atheists amongst them. Otherwise it’s a self-destructive strategy. That’s the whole point of making it a dogma. You should follow this golden rule even when it completely backfires, in order to strive for the situation that everybody follows it.

    J, we have something in common. Neither one of us knows what you’re talking about.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I have one more reply for J, and then I’m done with him:

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ?

    Once again, you err in assuming that there is a single “reward function” which all atheists share. The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    As many commenters have noted, you seem more interested in projecting onto us your mistaken ideas of what atheists believe and think, rather than actually listening to us to see what we have to say for ourselves. If you honestly want to know what motivates us, then I suggest you stay around and explore this site, and you may come across information that changes the way you think. If, on the other hand, you are only seeking validation for whatever stereotypes you hold, then there is nothing for you here, and you are cordially invited to leave.

    That said, allow me to extend a friendly welcome to Reed Ulvestad:

    Finally, you all show amazing patience, calm, and clarity when dealing with someone like this J fellow. Bravo.

    Thank you, friend! It’s one of my points of pride in this site that we can deal with controversial issues intelligently and civilly without the discussion devolving into a flame war, even when it involves intemperate and stubborn visitors like the one I responded to above. I feel I must be doing something right if I can attract this kind of crowd. :)

    Now then, let’s see if we can’t get this discussion back on topic:

    I think one of the most interesting discussions will be the whole Santa Claus issue. My partner and I do let our 3 1/2 year-old enjoy that fantasy and I don’t think it’s particularly damaging. My child can already discern between “real” and “pretend” and still take unabashed joy in both. I don’t think she’s going to experience any sense of betrayal, nor are we inadvertently preparing her for religious belief because, as parents, we’re clear that some things are “real” and some things aren’t.

    I’ve had occasion to chew over this myself, and after some thought, the conclusion I’ve tentatively come up with is that it may not be harmful for atheist parents to teach their children about Santa. Rather than presenting that figure as a dogmatic article of belief, it could serve as an excellent learning experience – to ask your son or daughter whether they think Santa exists, and why. And if, as secular parents, we should want our children not to place excessive trust in authority, couldn’t it be a valuable lesson that just because someone, even your parents, says something doesn’t make it so?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I have one more reply for J, and then I’m done with him:

    What is the “reward function” for an INDIVIDUAL atheist (which is obviously what matters) ?

    Once again, you err in assuming that there is a single “reward function” which all atheists share. The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    As many commenters have noted, you seem more interested in projecting onto us your mistaken ideas of what atheists believe and think, rather than actually listening to us to see what we have to say for ourselves. If you honestly want to know what motivates us, then I suggest you stay around and explore this site, and you may come across information that changes the way you think. If, on the other hand, you are only seeking validation for whatever stereotypes you hold, then there is nothing for you here, and you are cordially invited to leave.

    That said, allow me to extend a friendly welcome to Reed Ulvestad:

    Finally, you all show amazing patience, calm, and clarity when dealing with someone like this J fellow. Bravo.

    Thank you, friend! It’s one of my points of pride in this site that we can deal with controversial issues intelligently and civilly without the discussion devolving into a flame war, even when it involves intemperate and stubborn visitors like the one I responded to above. I feel I must be doing something right if I can attract this kind of crowd. :)

    Now then, let’s see if we can’t get this discussion back on topic:

    I think one of the most interesting discussions will be the whole Santa Claus issue. My partner and I do let our 3 1/2 year-old enjoy that fantasy and I don’t think it’s particularly damaging. My child can already discern between “real” and “pretend” and still take unabashed joy in both. I don’t think she’s going to experience any sense of betrayal, nor are we inadvertently preparing her for religious belief because, as parents, we’re clear that some things are “real” and some things aren’t.

    I’ve had occasion to chew over this myself, and after some thought, the conclusion I’ve tentatively come up with is that it may not be harmful for atheist parents to teach their children about Santa. Rather than presenting that figure as a dogmatic article of belief, it could serve as an excellent learning experience – to ask your son or daughter whether they think Santa exists, and why. And if, as secular parents, we should want our children not to place excessive trust in authority, couldn’t it be a valuable lesson that just because someone, even your parents, says something doesn’t make it so?

  • Alex Weaver

    On the people validating stereotypes thing: Someday, a Christian’s going to come here with an introductory statement to the effect of “Yeah…I have a strong belief in Jesus and I don’t really see that changing, but my pastors have been telling me a lot of things about atheists, and I’m starting to realize they don’t really make sense, like [catalogue negative stereotypes here]. I’m interested in seeing for myself what atheists really believe and how they see the world; where do you suggest I start?” That’s gonna make dealing with the swarms of “J” clones all worthwhile… ^.^

    On the Santa thing: That’s a good point. Perhaps we should use it as an object lesson. I’ll have to think on how exactly to approach it, though…perhaps prompting her to think of what she should expect to see and notice if Santa is real, and definitely de-emphasizing the judgement aspects. Fortunately other bits of silliness like the Tooth Fairy are less ingrained in popular culture. Maybe as she grows older I’ll frame Santa as sort of an idealized archetype of generosity and (reciprocal) altruism, something to strive for rather than someone to pray to.

  • Alex Weaver

    On the people validating stereotypes thing: Someday, a Christian’s going to come here with an introductory statement to the effect of “Yeah…I have a strong belief in Jesus and I don’t really see that changing, but my pastors have been telling me a lot of things about atheists, and I’m starting to realize they don’t really make sense, like [catalogue negative stereotypes here]. I’m interested in seeing for myself what atheists really believe and how they see the world; where do you suggest I start?” That’s gonna make dealing with the swarms of “J” clones all worthwhile… ^.^

    On the Santa thing: That’s a good point. Perhaps we should use it as an object lesson. I’ll have to think on how exactly to approach it, though…perhaps prompting her to think of what she should expect to see and notice if Santa is real, and definitely de-emphasizing the judgement aspects. Fortunately other bits of silliness like the Tooth Fairy are less ingrained in popular culture. Maybe as she grows older I’ll frame Santa as sort of an idealized archetype of generosity and (reciprocal) altruism, something to strive for rather than someone to pray to.

  • J

    Again no answers. If you want to say what you believe, you cannot just list a series of “this I don’t believe” answers. You’d be listing forever.

    Every psychological study I’ve seen tells me for example that love doesn’t exist and is learned behavior. Some dogma that started sometime in a specific person in the past and has been propagated ever since. A successfull meme, incorporated in many people (although most defineately not all). If you don’t teach a kid to love he will never feel the emotion, ever. That’s a scientific fact that’s been studied many times.

    That also means that love itself falls under the definition of a dogma. It’s something you are taught. Something that you don’t think about.

    Most everything about the way people think is, at some point, dogma. So what exactly is so bad about that ?

    And that brings the question back : what are the fundamental dogmas of atheist thinking ? What do you use to determine to believe something or not ?

  • schemanista

    If you want to say what you believe, you cannot just list a series of “this I don’t believe” answers. You’d be listing forever.

    From two replies upthread:

    The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    The problem, J, does not seem to be one of an inarticulate “atheist” position. Instead, you seem to get in trouble when the neurolinguistic cognate known as “you” tries to interpret the nerve impulses created when photons from your computer monitor interact with your retinas.

    We can’t dumb it down for you any more than we already have.

  • schemanista

    If you want to say what you believe, you cannot just list a series of “this I don’t believe” answers. You’d be listing forever.

    From two replies upthread:

    The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    The problem, J, does not seem to be one of an inarticulate “atheist” position. Instead, you seem to get in trouble when the neurolinguistic cognate known as “you” tries to interpret the nerve impulses created when photons from your computer monitor interact with your retinas.

    We can’t dumb it down for you any more than we already have.

  • Alex Weaver

    Again no answers. If you want to say what you believe, you cannot just list a series of “this I don’t believe” answers. You’d be listing forever.

    Did you check any of the links I offered you? Have you read any of the essays you’ve been repeatedly referred to? Did you read my description of what makes me happy, and the excerpt schemanista quoted?

    Well, let me put it simply: WE ARE NOT GOING TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK FOR YOU.

    The information is there for you to read, you have been referred to it, and demanding that we not only refer you to it but recapitulate it here–spoon-feed you, in other words–is not just unreasonable, it’s disgusting. Just how bloody lazy can a person be?! (Incidentally, isn’t “sloth” one of the seven deadly sins, in the Christian worldview, which you supposedly are so fond of?)

    Every psychological study I’ve seen tells me for example that love doesn’t exist and is learned behavior.

    Love is an emotion. To the best of my knowledge, no scientist denies the existence of emotions as experiences of the conscious brain. Identifying an emotion as an emergent phenomenon of a pattern of electrical and chemical interactions between brain cells does not entail denying that it exists. Identifying the physical basis of a phenomenon does not mean the phenomenon ceases to exist or be “real” (if that were true, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, since electricity, without which the internet would be impossible, has been determined to have a physical basis as well).

    What conceivable Humpty-Dumpty definition of “love” could you be using that would entail its nonexistence from scientific discoveries? Not even the “popular science” type reporting is this bad. It’s fairly clear that you’ve pulled this particular point out of either of A) distorted sectarian publications or B) your own rectum. Which is it?

    Some dogma that started sometime in a specific person in the past and has been propagated ever since.

    You keep using this word, dogma. I don’t think it means what you think it does.

    A successfull meme, incorporated in many people (although most defineately not all). If you don’t teach a kid to love he will never feel the emotion, ever. That’s a scientific fact that’s been studied many times.

    Citations and explanation of why every scientific article or textbook section I’ve read on the subject has come to the oppostie conclusion, please?

    …didn’t think so.

    That also means that love itself falls under the definition of a dogma. It’s something you are taught. Something that you don’t think about.

    Most everything about the way people think is, at some point, dogma. So what exactly is so bad about that ?

    And that brings the question back : what are the fundamental dogmas of atheist thinking ?

    You’re misusing the word, and this is likely a factor in your apparent confusion. Here is what “dogma” means to everyone here.

    1. A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by a church.
    2. An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.

    Nothing of the sort exists in the form of atheist we advocate and practice; even the nonexistent of gods is a provisional conclusion that we would reject if the right evidence turns up. Are you attempting to disingenuously “legitimize” dogma by equating it with any other set of conclusions or beliefs, or are you genuinely confused?

    What do you use to determine to believe something or not ?

    Evidence. If you’d read any of the essays we’ve referred you to in depth you would have picked this up.

  • Alex Weaver

    (Err, blockquote error again. I need to stop pasting these into a browser window too small to use the “preview” function effectively x.x)

  • Alex Weaver

    (Err, blockquote error again. I need to stop pasting these into a browser window too small to use the “preview” function effectively x.x)

  • Polly

    ” The central tenet of Judaism is that there exists one god who created the universe with the intent of producing the human race and selected one specific ethnic group, the Hebrews, to be his “chosen people” and instructed them to conquer and destroy those who opposed them as “his” enemies (oddly enough, the central tenet of Nazism arguably consists of replacing “Hebrew” with “German”).”

    YES! I never hear anyone associating these two -isms; so glad to hear you do it. I’ve often referred to the OT as “Mein Kampf” for ancient Israelites.

  • J

    This is really going nowhere. Let’s just try one more time

    The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    This would be an excellent explanation, if accompanied by :
    -> definition of “meaningful” e.g. Christian definition would involve a family and a congregation and being accepted in those environments, an islamic definition would involve praising allah and living by his exact rules (for example, to kill, to go on jihad if you’re male, that would be meaningful for a muslim), a Buddhist definition would probably be somewhat akin to “what enlightenment provides”, which would be accompanied by a definition of enlightenment
    -> definition of “happyness” e.g. Christian definition would be salvation and involve strong confidence in God. Islamic definition would probably be little more than “halal”. A Buddhist definition would be having attained a minimum level of enlightenment.

    You BASE your choices on “something” please elaborate the atheist “something”.

    The whole POINT of a religion is to define terms like “meaningful” and “good” and “evil”. To provide answers to questions.

    Is killing evil ?

    Judaism – Yes, always
    Christianity – Yes, except in self-defense, and always with the proven purpose of lowering levels of violence
    Islam – No, muslims are obliged to kill “to prevent haram stuff”, fellow muslims should be killed when there is reason to, infidels should be killed by default, except in certain cases
    Buddhism – Yes, always.

    The point of different religions is different answers. There are always explanations to accompany these answers :

    Judaism – killing is wrong – Ex. 20:13
    Christianity – killing is wrong except in self defense – 8th commandment – Deut. 5:17
    Islam – killing is not wrong – At Tb. 111 or Quran 9:111
    Buddhism – I don’t understand how to look this up yet.

    So why don’t you answer this question from an atheist perspective. Is killing wrong ? The atheist answer, and the atheist justification.

  • J

    This is really going nowhere. Let’s just try one more time

    The very point of being an atheist, as you have been repeatedly told, is that there is no predetermined purpose to life, no foreordained meaning handed down from on high; each individual atheist is free to choose whatever purpose or goal makes their own life most meaningful and gives them the most happiness and satisfaction. This is really not a difficult point to grasp. If an atheist chooses to raise a family, or explore the world, or become a scientist and contribute to humanity’s knowledge, or engage in humanitarian work, or defend the separation of church and state, or whatever else – that is their individual choice. There is no prepackaged answer that all atheists will share, as there is in religion.

    This would be an excellent explanation, if accompanied by :
    -> definition of “meaningful” e.g. Christian definition would involve a family and a congregation and being accepted in those environments, an islamic definition would involve praising allah and living by his exact rules (for example, to kill, to go on jihad if you’re male, that would be meaningful for a muslim), a Buddhist definition would probably be somewhat akin to “what enlightenment provides”, which would be accompanied by a definition of enlightenment
    -> definition of “happyness” e.g. Christian definition would be salvation and involve strong confidence in God. Islamic definition would probably be little more than “halal”. A Buddhist definition would be having attained a minimum level of enlightenment.

    You BASE your choices on “something” please elaborate the atheist “something”.

    The whole POINT of a religion is to define terms like “meaningful” and “good” and “evil”. To provide answers to questions.

    Is killing evil ?

    Judaism – Yes, always
    Christianity – Yes, except in self-defense, and always with the proven purpose of lowering levels of violence
    Islam – No, muslims are obliged to kill “to prevent haram stuff”, fellow muslims should be killed when there is reason to, infidels should be killed by default, except in certain cases
    Buddhism – Yes, always.

    The point of different religions is different answers. There are always explanations to accompany these answers :

    Judaism – killing is wrong – Ex. 20:13
    Christianity – killing is wrong except in self defense – 8th commandment – Deut. 5:17
    Islam – killing is not wrong – At Tb. 111 or Quran 9:111
    Buddhism – I don’t understand how to look this up yet.

    So why don’t you answer this question from an atheist perspective. Is killing wrong ? The atheist answer, and the atheist justification.

  • Polly

    J: Is killing evil ?

    Judaism – Yes, always
    Christianity – Yes, except in self-defense, and always with the proven purpose of lowering levels of violence

    Killing an innocent person is wrong because it it is harmful to the person you’re killing and those survivors who care about them. Also, it would be unjust for me to hurt others and then turn around and expect others not to hurt me. So, killing is wrong for two reasons:
    1)It inflicts needless pain and as an atheist puts a premium on HUMAN life and HUMAN thoughts and feelings above dogma, unlike many religionists, I don’t value senseless pain
    2)It’s an injustice. It’s internally self-contradictpry to deem as acceptable the murder of others and not one’s self. Logic tells me that if my equals are expendable then I must be, too. If their lives are to be respected, then so is mine. I can’t have one without the other. I choose the latter.

    Are you even vaguely familiar with the Old Testament. Where do you get the idea that Judaism considers killing always evil?!?!
    The God of Judaism demanded the execution of men, women, and children in cities designated for Haram – total destruction.

    Let me ask YOU, what makes YOU think killing is wrong? It’s not the Bible. That only teaches that killing other OBSERVANT Jews is wrong. It’s not Xian history, that’s full of holy-spirit inspired horror. Your modern notion of killing being wrong would be strikingly appalling to your forebears.

  • J

    @Polly

    I mostly follow Hillel’s school in saying that. It is very accepted amongst Jews here. The verse in the old testament condemns killing, without any qualifications. It says nothing about observant Jews.

    Glad you answered the question. However reasonable you make it sound, it is only supported by dogma.

    The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.

    Why value human life ? Human life, more than, say 100 million humans threatens your survival. It does not actually improve your own chances of survival (and it destroys nature). Left unchecked, all scientist agree that humanity will grow bigger than supportable.

    I think killing is wrong because Ex 20:13 (and a few others) say so. Because my parents say so, and have always said so. They said so because of Ex 20:13, and I have no problem admitting that to myself. Because killing will always lead to disaster. This seems self-evident to me, but I’m not so stupid to say that science agrees with me on this. I see the logic in a death sentence. It’s deterrence. I’ve actually gone around and read the reasons they got convicted, and I see the logic in say those people are “beyond repair”. Yet I disagree. Nearly everything I do I do because someone told me to do it, and 99,9% of that is non-religious stuff. I even read this blog because someone told me to. I know I can make a real contribution in one, very very narrow field of science, in everything else I will be following the ideas other people have. Nothing wrong with that.

  • J

    @Polly

    I mostly follow Hillel’s school in saying that. It is very accepted amongst Jews here. The verse in the old testament condemns killing, without any qualifications. It says nothing about observant Jews.

    Glad you answered the question. However reasonable you make it sound, it is only supported by dogma.

    The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.

    Why value human life ? Human life, more than, say 100 million humans threatens your survival. It does not actually improve your own chances of survival (and it destroys nature). Left unchecked, all scientist agree that humanity will grow bigger than supportable.

    I think killing is wrong because Ex 20:13 (and a few others) say so. Because my parents say so, and have always said so. They said so because of Ex 20:13, and I have no problem admitting that to myself. Because killing will always lead to disaster. This seems self-evident to me, but I’m not so stupid to say that science agrees with me on this. I see the logic in a death sentence. It’s deterrence. I’ve actually gone around and read the reasons they got convicted, and I see the logic in say those people are “beyond repair”. Yet I disagree. Nearly everything I do I do because someone told me to do it, and 99,9% of that is non-religious stuff. I even read this blog because someone told me to. I know I can make a real contribution in one, very very narrow field of science, in everything else I will be following the ideas other people have. Nothing wrong with that.

  • anti-nonsense

    Deutoromy and Levictus both advocate the death penalty for a lot of “crimes” some of them as minor as picking up sticks on Saturday. Don’t tell me that the Jewish religion always opposes killing, there is a LOT of killing in the Old Testament, and pretty well all of it is sanctioned by the Old Testament God.

    PS: I think unjustified killing is wrong because I believe that nobody has any right to deny another person their right to life without good reason. I may have a different view of what is good reason and at what point we consider an embryo a person then you do however. I believe that there are way to many people, but I support lowering the birth rate through birth control rather then killing off the extras! If we can lower the birth rate below replacement worldwide for a few generations it will take care of the population problem.

  • schemanista

    ‘J’, I give you props for tenacity. Would that your comprehension skills rose to the same level.

    Is killing evil ?

    Judaism – Yes, always

    I’ll have what you’re smoking.

    Ex 2:11-12, 22:20, 23:27, 31:14
    Lev 20:10, 20:12, 20:13, 20:14, 20:15-16, 20:27, 21:9, 24:16
    Num 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 33:50-52, 35:19, 21, 35:30, 33
    Deut 7:2, 12:30, 13:1-5, 13:6-10, 13:12-16, 17:2-7, 17:12-13, 18-21, 19:11-13, 20:13
    etc., etc.

    Christianity – Yes, except in self-defense, and always with the proven purpose of lowering levels of violence

    Rom 1:31-32

    So why don’t you answer this question from an atheist perspective. Is killing wrong ? The atheist answer, and the atheist justification.

    The answer is the same as those given by all of the religions you’ve mentioned above: “it depends”.

    Start here

    then go
    here

    next here

    and here

    And finally, read Carrier’s book and pay attention when you do so.

    And chapter 5 of Owen Flanagan’s The Problem of the Soul: Two visions of mind and how to reconcile them

    Course, you should just admit up front that you have no intention of considering any of this carefully. You’ve already made up your mind, without actually having to think about what atheism entails, and you’re just hoping we’ll lob you a soft one so you can (in your imagination) smack it out of the park.

  • schemanista

    The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.

    I wish you’d cite your sources. I know plenty of scientists, ethicists, psychologists… and none of them hold this view.

    Neither do any of the philosophers that I read. Pain has a physiological component. That can, and has been measured and observed, so research has conclusively demonstrated that other people feel pain. The rest of everything you post here suffers from the same solipsism.

  • schemanista

    The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.

    I wish you’d cite your sources. I know plenty of scientists, ethicists, psychologists… and none of them hold this view.

    Neither do any of the philosophers that I read. Pain has a physiological component. That can, and has been measured and observed, so research has conclusively demonstrated that other people feel pain. The rest of everything you post here suffers from the same solipsism.

  • Polly

    “I mostly follow Hillel’s school in saying that. It is very accepted amongst Jews here. The verse in the old testament condemns killing, without any qualifications. It says nothing about observant Jews.”

    *****And Chevy dealers will tell you that theirs are the best cars around. So what? Their own Bible clearly contradicts them. As admirable as it might be that they choose to cherry pick their scripture in that manner, it’s nevertheless disingenuous.****

    “Glad you answered the question. However reasonable you make it sound, it is only supported by dogma.”

    *****My own choice is dogma, eh? I analyze a situation and come to the conclusion that fairness is better than unfairness and make my choice that way. That’s not dogma.****

    “The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.”

    ******You are confusing “knowing” with proof. You are bringing out some caricature of materialist philosophy in an attempt at some kind of argument ad absurdum (I think). This will not work. Materialists don’t claim to be robots incapable of recognizing anything beyond the realm of scientific “proof.” Given enough EVIDENCE, it’s more rational to believe some things over others.****

    “Why value human life ? Human life, more than, say 100 million humans threatens your survival. It does not actually improve your own chances of survival (and it destroys nature). Left unchecked, all scientist agree that humanity will grow bigger than supportable.”

    *****I’ll 2nd schemanista’s repsonse on this one. Although I am anti-abortion at any stage, contraception is the way to go.****

    “I think killing is wrong because Ex 20:13 (and a few others) say so. Because my parents say so, and have always said so. They said so because of Ex 20:13, and I have no problem admitting that to myself. Because killing will always lead to disaster. This seems self-evident to me, but I’m not so stupid to say that science agrees with me on this. I see the logic in a death sentence. It’s deterrence. I’ve actually gone around and read the reasons they got convicted, and I see the logic in say those people are “beyond repair”. ”

    *****You just contradicted yourself. You think killing is wrong because it “will always lead to disaster.” Can’t you see that your REASON can guide you to conclusions without resorting to a higher power after you just proved it to yourself?What branch of science are you referring to? It doesn’t sound like Physics, Chemistry, or even biology has countered or endorsed any such claims about killing****

    “Yet I disagree. Nearly everything I do I do because someone told me to do it, and 99,9% of that is non-religious stuff. I even read this blog because someone told me to. I know I can make a real contribution in one, very very narrow field of science, in everything else I will be following the ideas other people have. Nothing wrong with that. ”

    ****To an extent I agree, nothing wrong with accepting the claims of science and maybe even other experts in areas where I’m not qualified to do any better research. But, there’s a big difference between having faith in a single authority and having faith in the process of PEER REVIEW. In order for me to doubt certain theories that have been well-established I’d have to conclude that the scientific community at large is deluded or engaged in a conspiracy. Delusion is possible, but I have no better alternative. Conspiracy is unlikely given the competitive nature of science and grant-writing.*****

  • Polly

    Whoops! I referred to anti-nonsense’s reponse about overpopulation, not schemanista. Sorry about that.

  • Polly

    Whoops! I referred to anti-nonsense’s reponse about overpopulation, not schemanista. Sorry about that.

  • Alex Weaver

    This is really going nowhere.

    Sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la la la I can’t HEAR you!” every time someone answers your questions, waiting until they stop talking, and then pretending the question stands unanswered does tend to have that effect, oddly enough.

    This would be an excellent explanation, if accompanied by :
    -> definition of “meaningful” e.g. Christian definition would involve a family and a congregation and being accepted in those environments, an islamic definition would involve praising allah and living by his exact rules (for example, to kill, to go on jihad if you’re male, that would be meaningful for a muslim), a Buddhist definition would probably be somewhat akin to “what enlightenment provides”, which would be accompanied by a definition of enlightenment
    -> definition of “happyness” e.g. Christian definition would be salvation and involve strong confidence in God. Islamic definition would probably be little more than “halal”. A Buddhist definition would be having attained a minimum level of enlightenment.

    You BASE your choices on “something” please elaborate the atheist “something”.

    Did you, or did you not, take the time to read the essays to which I linked you? Stop pretending that response was never offered; they should be more than enough to answer your question in regards to me.

    Now then. Please see here, here, and preemptively, since the way you’re going you’ll be asking for this definition next, here.

    The whole POINT of a religion is to define terms like “meaningful” and “good” and “evil”. To provide answers to questions.

    If that’s the point of a religion, then why does yours insist that God’s ways and purposes are unknowable?

    Is killing evil ?[snip]
    Christianity – Yes, except in self-defense, and always with the proven purpose of lowering levels of violence

    Excuse me?

    The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Taiping Rebellion, the Thirty Years’ War, the Nazis’ appeal to God’s will and the Germans’ supposed status as his chosen people in justifing their atrocities, the burning of supposed witches and confiscation of their lands by the church,

    -Alex Weaver

    How does this fit with your explanation of Christian values? The fact is that this view on killing and death is a *human* value, and one which was explicitly rejected by every branch of Christianity from the time it came to power until it was, as Adam put it, “housebroken by the Enlightenment.”

    So why don’t you answer this question from an atheist perspective. Is killing wrong ? The atheist answer, and the atheist justification.

    Has been explained to you repeatedly. Read.

    I mostly follow Hillel’s school in saying that. It is very accepted amongst Jews here. The verse in the old testament condemns killing, without any qualifications. It says nothing about observant Jews.

    Read the quotes you were offered, plsthx.

    Glad you answered the question. However reasonable you make it sound, it is only supported by dogma.

    But you’re just basing that peanut butter on snorkeling–they’re just granite, like every other tango teaches. What’s the special snorkeling of a Christian? What makes life inflatable to a Christian? Why aren’t you answering the question?

    The generally accepted scientific, philosophical point is that nobody’s feelings are real but your own. Therefore there is no conclusive evidence that other people can actually feel pain, and more, it is an accepted truth that there never will be any such evidence.

    This is false, as you have been repeatedly told.

    Why value human life ? Human life, more than, say 100 million humans threatens your survival. It does not actually improve your own chances of survival (and it destroys nature). Left unchecked, all scientist agree that humanity will grow bigger than supportable.

    You’ve been given the answer repeatedly. I will not recapitulate here. All you have to do is scroll up and READ.

    I think killing is wrong because Ex 20:13 (and a few others) say so. Because my parents say so, and have always said so. They said so because of Ex 20:13, and I have no problem admitting that to myself.

    Wow. Well, if that’s the extent of your moral development, it’s a fortunate coincidence that you picked Ex 20:13 as a moral guide and not Nu 31:1-54.

    Because killing will always lead to disaster. This seems self-evident to me

    Then what do you need Exodus for?

    but I’m not so stupid to say that science agrees with me on this.

    That’s because science isn’t, and was never intended to be, a moral guide. Like we’ve been saying all along.

    I see the logic in a death sentence. It’s deterrence. I’ve actually gone around and read the reasons they got convicted, and I see the logic in say those people are “beyond repair”. Yet I disagree. Nearly everything I do I do because someone told me to do it, and 99,9% of that is non-religious stuff. I even read this blog because someone told me to. I know I can make a real contribution in one, very very narrow field of science, in everything else I will be following the ideas other people have. Nothing wrong with that.

    I can offer you several very good reasons for disagreeing with the death penalty: the possibility of executing a wrongfully convicted person, the room for reasonable doubt as to whether the people convicted are truly “beyond repair”, the disproportionate representation of racial minorities on death row, and the demontrated ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. No reference whatsoever to religion or dogma, except by the special definitions of these terms that only you can see.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    This discussion has drifted thoroughly off topic, and it doesn’t look as if anything productive is being accomplished by it, so I’m closing comments.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    This discussion has drifted thoroughly off topic, and it doesn’t look as if anything productive is being accomplished by it, so I’m closing comments.