Atheists Hurting Atheism

We did the Christians hurting Christianity thread (and the incredible-to-read comments are still coming!), so here’s the follow-up.

Have you ever met an atheist who pushed you away from atheism (whether you’re a religious or non-religious person)?

What did they do? How did you feel? What advice would you have for them?

Keep in mind we’re not talking about the “fringe” atheists– the ones who say everyone who is even slightly religious is a complete idiot.

We’re talking about the well-meaning, normal atheists who sincerely want to convince you that atheism is the way to go, but their method of doing so backfires.

Maybe I shouldn’t even bother putting this posting up. I mean, we all know atheists never come across in a bad light… :)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, Christianity[/tags]

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I’ve encountered only a couple of atheists who also happened to me complete tools. At no point did they push me away from atheism, but they certainly did push me away from them. But I think your exclusion of “fringe” atheists probably covers them (even though one is an active participant in a widely read group atheist blog), so I’ll say no more.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    When I first read Bertrand Russell, I dissmissed him out of hand, but given my state of mind at the time, I don’t think there’s anything he could have done better.

  • Mriana

    Except for my bio-father, who was actually mentally ill, I have not met any atheists who have turned/pushed me away from atheism. In fact, the most famous one, a Humanist named Gene Roddenberry, taught me that we need to strive to better ourselves (also found in the Humanists Manifesto III). If it had not been for Gene, I might not have made the call, when I was 14, that encouraged my mother and her family to get me out of that situation or they would take me from them.

    Gene indirectly helped to save my life. In effect, Gene helped to raise me. I can honestly say, that a Humanist saved my life, even though the Humanist message came through the media via a Sci-fi called Trek. When you hear it said he was trying to send a message via the media, he really did and I thank him for that.

    Sorry I couldn’t give a negetive story. :(

  • Robin

    I have not had a personal experience with any atheists so far. But I am pretty private about myself. The only thing that I can mention would be when I found the On Faith website and began reading their blog. At first I was very surprised to see the amount of atheists posting on it. But the longer I read there the more disgusted I became. The atheists on there reminded me of some of the hard core religious. Trying to shove their beliefs down others throats. Of course this time it was the atheists non-beliefs. And how very hurtful, name calling, and arrogant they appeared to be. It really turned me off from that blog. Nothing will shatter my atheism. Its been apart of me and my understanding of life for way to long.

  • Robin

    I have not had a personal experience with any atheists so far. But I am pretty private about myself. The only thing that I can mention would be when I found the On Faith website and began reading their blog. At first I was very surprised to see the amount of atheists posting on it. But the longer I read there the more disgusted I became. The atheists on there reminded me of some of the hard core religious. Trying to shove their beliefs down others throats. Of course this time it was the atheists non-beliefs. And how very hurtful, name calling, and arrogant they appeared to be. It really turned me off from that blog. Nothing will shatter my atheism. Its been a part of me and my understanding of life for way to long.

  • Robin

    Sorry for the double up on this comment.

  • Karen

    The atheists on there reminded me of some of the hard core religious. Trying to shove their beliefs down others throats. Of course this time it was the atheists non-beliefs. And how very hurtful, name calling, and arrogant they appeared to be. It really turned me off from that blog

    I don’t know that particular blog you mentioned, but I’ve seen the same kind of behavior from certain atheists and found it disturbing also. It’s also completely counterproductive.

    It doesn’t turn me off of atheism, because I’m an atheist based on intellectual realizations I made, not on relationships or a desire to emulate other atheists. I suspect this is true for most of us.

    Religion claims to have guiding principles and supernatural help that theoretically should instill a tendency to certain positive behaviors in its adherents. When those positive behaviors are not manifested, it’s a strike against the efficacy and truth of that religion. Atheism – defined simply as non-belief – makes no such claims and therefore doesn’t raise similar expectations.

  • http://www.calcentral.com/~mlewis Hayduke

    Atheism is not an evangelical undertaking. Atheism is lack of belief, and therefore it is not something we attempt to foist off on others. Encountering those who “believe,” the most we can do is feel sorry for them. We cannot remove their belief.

    The most we can do is live our lives as moral, rational human beings in the absence of irrational belief systems.

    The subject has only become popular lately due to marketing efforts of book publishers pushing books on controversial subjects. These books and their authors do nothing to change the reality of atheism

  • Brendon Lake

    Gene Roddenberry must have been such a cool guy, I’ve loved Star Trek: the next generation since I was a kid. It was as a result of a Star Trek episode, that I first pondered death and what happens afterwards :)

    Lots of Atheists (I don’t mean all) I have met are perfectly happy that way because they couldn’t be bothered to consider any other philosophy. They basically got their superficial beliefs from what they’ve seen on TV and their friends are like that too.

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    Atheism is lack of belief, and therefore it is not something we attempt to foist off on others. Encountering those who “believe,” the most we can do is feel sorry for them. We cannot remove their belief.

    There seems to be a difference in attitude between atheists who have no belief in god, and those who have a (strong, positive) belief in no god. I think the first leads to the kind of humility that Hayduke describes, and the second leads to the weird kind of evangelical atheism described by Robin.

    I’ve had run-ins with the second kind. Sometimes they are hard-core science atheists, but for some reason (sorry if I offend anyone here) the atheists who are the least flexible, the least humble and the least sympathetic are Ayn Rand-style libertarian atheists. Strange, huh?

  • miller

    Sure, lots of atheists come off badly on the internet. But offline, it’s hard to tell because I rarely meet atheists.

    Once there was this time, I met a guy, and he started explaining to me exactly what he thought of religion and the religious. I wasn’t sure whether to tell him that I was an atheist, and already know a bit about the issue. Instead, I just quietly ate my lunch. I wasn’t really offended, but I might have been were I religious.

    That sort of thing doesn’t really push me away from atheism itself, but it does make me very afraid of ever joining an atheist organization.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Atheism is not an evangelical undertaking. Atheism is lack of belief, and therefore it is not something we attempt to foist off on others.

    Hayduke, I think you must be speaking for yourself here. As Robin attested and I too have experienced there are plenty of “evangelical” atheists out there who believe that religion should be eradicated and who make it their goal to tell every believer out there how stupid and wrong they are.

    If any atheists could turn me off to atheism it would be them. However, since I try to not to judge the whole lot by the bad behavior of a few, they haven’t seriously affected my overall opinion.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Lots of Atheists (I don’t mean all) I have met are perfectly happy that way because they couldn’t be bothered to consider any other philosophy. They basically got their superficial beliefs from what they’ve seen on TV and their friends are like that too.

    Brendon, even saying “lots” may be too broad of a generalization. Most atheists I’ve ever met are very reflective about their beliefs and have given lots of consideration to the alternatives.

    However, that’s not to say that I haven’t met a few that are like what you describe. I’ve known some that are atheists simply because they were raised that way and they’ve never bothered to think it through for themselves – just like many Christians I know.

  • miller

    dpoyesac,
    I don’t think the “no god-belief” vs “belief in no god” is as important a difference as you think. In my experience, nearly everyone, including the most extreme of atheists, uses the “no god-belief” definition. If such people are lacking in humility, it’s not because of a fundamental difference in metaphysical belief-systems. It’s because they’re just lacking in humility.

    It’s actually kind of strange if you think about it. “Belief” is a bad word in atheism, so you often have atheists accusing each other of having “belief.”

    The few people who use the “belief in no god” definition are usually quite humble, since they feel there is nothing that really sets them apart from other religions.

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    Miller;

    I think you’re right. The difference between ‘humble’ and ‘non-humble’ atheists doesn’t start with different metaphysical systems; it starts with the psychology of the particular individual involved.

    But I do think the difference in psychology leads to a metaphysical difference. The ‘non-humble’, evangelical atheists we’re discussing often latch onto a single, unifying system and try to explain everything through that system — be it science, libertarian free-markets or something else.

    So I guess the real difference would be this — is your atheism the most important thing in your life, or is it just a part of your overall worldview? I know for me that I am much more than just an atheist. Maybe the ‘non-humble’ evangelical atheists self-identify with their atheism much more than I do.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    So I guess the real difference would be this — is your atheism the most important thing in your life, or is it just a part of your overall worldview?

    That’s a really good question actually. I mean, if you believe in God, then IMHO at least, that fact should necessarily be the most important thing in your life. However, if you don’t believe in God I’m not sure why your unbelief ought to be that important. You can’t (or shouldn’t) live your life according to non-belief. I’d think there would be all kinds of other affirmative beliefs that would be more important in your life.

    But of course, not being an atheist myself, I can’t say for sure what those are.

  • Miko

    As Robin attested and I too have experienced there are plenty of “evangelical” atheists out there who believe that religion should be eradicated

    I won’t deny that there are people who like confrontation for its own sake, but I think that a lot of atheists get falsely thrown in with this group. A worthwhile distinction can be made between local and global action (or alternatively, on the personal and governmental levels). Each level has appropriate actions that may nonetheless appear militant or evangelical if interpreted on the wrong level. School prayer is the most obvious example: in my opinion, atheists should be working at the governmental level (to estop school prayer), but should definitely not be doing so on the personal level (to prevent individuals not in a position of authority from performing private prayer that so happens to occur while in a school). Indeed, it’s pretty hard to argue either against the first of these or for the second of these, which is why fundamentalists who are pro-school prayer almost always seem to pretend that an attempt to do the first is actually an attempt to do the latter.

    and who make it their goal to tell every believer out there how stupid and wrong they are.

    Is the problem with this the method or the message? It’s not something I actively engage in very often, but I don’t see any problem in telling a willing audience why atheism is more probably correct and/or better for them. This is certainly something that can be done without calling people stupid and indeed something that only really can be done if one doesn’t think that others are stupid (for if they were to a sufficient extent, they would be unpersuadable.)

  • Susan

    A couple of students at my school had started a club for atheists and agnostics, but they stated very clearly that they encouraged people of any religion or lack thereof to come. (It was actually somewhat a spinoff from a semi-religious discussion group that all of us go to regularly, which also encourages people of any religion.) At our first meeting, two of my Catholic friends attended. After the organizers gave a little speech about what the club was and what it was not (with great emphasis on the fact that we were welcoming of anyone and that we would NOT be bashing religion), we all went around and said what religion, or type of atheist, we were, so the whole group knew that my friends were Christian.
    A little later, as we got into further discussion, one of the other group members started making jokes and comments about how stupid religious people were, expecting us all to agree with him and laugh. He got louder and louder and more obnoxious, while the rest of us became increasingly uncomfortable (my Christian friends especially) until the leaders finally kicked him out. It was an embarassing situation for all of us, and I certainly hope he would have been kicked out even if there weren’t religious people present.

  • Iris

    First of all, I think we should leave out online encounters, because assholes of all faiths (or lack thereof) can be found everywhere online.

    I find that I am sometimes guilty of pushing people away from atheism. I tend not to censor my opinions around my friends, so I come down pretty hard on religion sometimes. Most of my friends are atheists, so it’s not usually an issue, but some of them aren’t, and things get real awkward real fast.

    The biggest problem, though, is when religious friends ask me why I’m an atheist. At some point in the story I have to say that I just don’t feel the need to belive in God anymore, but there’s no good way to say this without sounding condescending towards those who do feel a need for God. They come away with the “atheists think they’re better than the rest of us” feeling, and a friendly conversation becomes a confrontation, however subtle the change may be. I still haven’t figured out a good way to fix this. Ideas?

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    …the atheists who are the least flexible, the least humble and the least sympathetic are Ayn Rand-style libertarian atheists.

    I’ve experience this too, at least online. Maybe it’s because their very philosophy tells them that being humble or sympathetic is wrong/immoral, or something like that?

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    I hope this thread is open to comments on authors/speakers, and not just personal acquaintances. Here goes:

    I know many here like him, but Sam Harris is the atheist who comes to mind for me. I found The End of Faith stimulating and agreed with much of it, but his supposedly evangelistic aim (i.e., wanting the world to be rid of faith) does not work well with his critical stance of those who hold tolerant, intellectual, liberal forms of faith. Letter to a Christian Nation seemed (to me) to simply distill some of the more fallacious reasoning from The End of Faith into a rather under-developed, under-supported, and, most importantly, ineffective rant. (One example is his frequent confusion of correlation with causation, like when comparing living conditions in atheist vs. Christian countries, convenient leaving out communist China, and not even wondering which way the causation runs…)

    I have many, many friends who are religious, (I live in the South, and in fact, can only count one agnostic among my friends) but most of them aren’t hateful bigots who completely distrust science and want to bring on the End Times. To me, these friends seem like allies, in that they are scared by Jesus Camp-esque fundamentalists, and they can also be convinced by rational argument and evidence on most subjects. (The more liberal forms of faith they hold are simply constructed in such a way as to be outside of the constraints of such things as evidence and reason.)

    I actually attended a Bible study where a group read through Letterand discussed parts of it. Harris’s tone quickly turned them off and made them defensive, and they picked out many of the same weak points in the reasoning that I had. Having less-stringently-supported arguments in the same book as powerful ones allows believers to concentrate on the easy-to-counter arguments and ignore the good ones. If Harris’s goal is truly to turn as many people away from the most toxic forms of faith, then he needs to spend more time around religious people and find out what works. Otherwise, he’ll keep preaching to the choir.

    (By the way–I find Dennett both more reasonable and more palatable.)

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    A quick note, since I think this will come up in following comments: I agree with Harris that atheists and such should raise difficult questions, and should not give de facto respect to unsupported beliefs when they lead to problems. However, from personal experience I’m not convinced that such methods work with most people unless one is already their friend. I’m arguing against his method becuase I see it as fundamentally ineffective.

  • http://www.tabulas.com/~jaywalker_1982 jaywalker

    When i participate in debates about god, it’s not to convert or to insult the other party but to rebut invalid claims made by some misinformed theists.

    I get a little uncomfortable when an atheist becomes too personal in an argument. When he starts cussing or callously insulting the intelligence of the other party. I occasionally do that too but i try to be as civilized as possible.

    I also become a little uncomfortable when an atheist ends an argument with “therefore god doesn’t exist”. God by it’s very nature is unfalsifiable and anyone who claims that he has conclusive proof against god obviously has no idea what he’s talking about

    …plenty of those kinds of atheists in youtube :)

  • Miko

    (One example is his frequent confusion of correlation with causation, like when comparing living conditions in atheist vs. Christian countries, convenient leaving out communist China, and not even wondering which way the causation runs…)

    Why China? Very religious (but not Christian: it’s important to remember that Harris isn’t picking on any one religious group in general) people and very poor living conditions. Seems to fit the pattern.

    The causality question is a valid one, however I don’t think that Harris’ main point with the statistics is either that religion causes poor living conditions or that poor living conditions cause religion. As I interpreted it, he was merely stating that religion doesn’t cure poor living conditions, as it is often supposed to do.

    God by it’s very nature is unfalsifiable and anyone who claims that he has conclusive proof against god obviously has no idea what he’s talking about

    Depends on what is meant by the word “god.” If you start a debate by having both sides mutually agree on what is meant by the term, it may be possible to prove that the referrant of the term does or does not exist (for example, if god is love then god does exist; if god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then god does not exist by the Epicurean argument).

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    Miko,
    My impression from Letter was that Harris was arguing that societies that shed religion gain better living conditions (while I think it’s more of a matter of societies with better living conditions, allowed for by scientific advances, don’t need religion as much). If he intended to leave it more ambiguous, I certainly didn’t get that impression. Without a copy sitting here, I can’t quote-hunt for other examples, I just remember groaning again and again reading Letter as I thought about the gaps in the arguments that would be exploited by my Christian friends to rationalize their beliefs. If you don’t see those weak points in the arguments, maybe that’s the point–many atheists simply aren’t around believers enough to know which arguments are effective and which aren’t.

    But regardless of how good these arguments are, the important question is whether they are effective in getting religious people to reconsider their views (that seems to be the intention of Letter, at least). From my personal experience, Harris’s atheism just turns people off to atheism, which was the general thrust of this thread.

  • http://www.matsonwaggs.wordpress.com Kelly

    I’ve met so few atheists in real life that I have nothing to add. However, online I have met a few that would fall into your category of “fringe”. Other than that, I haven’t really had the negative experiences with any non-theist. There have certainly been times when I’ve been in conversations with people that have gotten so upset about something that they came across as being quite negative; however once this was pointed out to them they generally admitted to just getting caught up in the moment.

  • Mriana

    Gene Roddenberry must have been such a cool guy, I’ve loved Star Trek: the next generation since I was a kid.

    I think he was.

  • Miko

    My impression from Letter was that Harris was arguing that societies that shed religion gain better living conditions (while I think it’s more of a matter of societies with better living conditions, allowed for by scientific advances, don’t need religion as much).

    It’s possible: some time has passed since I read it and I wasn’t explicitly attempting to evaluate all of the claims critically.

    I just remember groaning again and again reading Letter as I thought about the gaps in the arguments that would be exploited by my Christian friends to rationalize their beliefs. If you don’t see those weak points in the arguments, maybe that’s the point–many atheists simply aren’t around believers enough to know which arguments are effective and which aren’t.

    I’ll agree there are weak points in his argument. Some of them are unavoidable (e.g., since Christians believe so many different types of things, it’s inevitable that some percentage will say “I don’t believe that” after basically any claim Harris makes) and some of them probably were avoidable. But I don’t think that there is any such thing as a definitively effective argument on either side. Believers can tell you what arguments they think are effective, but ultimately they’re lying and just telling you what arguments they found inoffensive: after all, if the argument were really effective, why are they still a believer?

    For example, most theists insist that the “people have believed in many gods” argument is completely ineffective. However, (while I don’t actively seek to spread atheism), I’ve found it to be one of the most effective arguments in terms of number of people reverted by it. It’s an issue of audience: you won’t influence someone who’s thought long and hard about their religion by it, but you may influence someone who hasn’t. And the fact is that the majority of people don’t really care about religion very much. If someone is sitting on the fence with their feet dangling on the theist side because of cultural tradition, it doesn’t take too much to get them to shift and dangle their feet on the atheist side instead. Ironically, the apathetic group is also the only really meaningful target for reversion, mainly since they’re such a large group: they’re currently answering “yes” in the do-you-believe-in-god opinion polls and are a large enough bloc that they could shift the direction of public opinion. And because the majority currently claims to be Christian/religious, our leaders try to play up faith, create faith-based initiatives, etc. I’d love to see that supposed base evaporate, and courting the “I don’t care” vote is probably the best way to go about that.

    So what’s the upshot of all that? Well, when a theist tells me that a particular argument is ineffective, I respond that it wasn’t intended to convince him/her. There’s a worthwhile discussion to have with the nonapathetic religious, but it doesn’t focus on reverting them to atheism.

  • Miko

    But regardless of how good these arguments are, the important question is whether they are effective in getting religious people to reconsider their views (that seems to be the intention of Letter, at least). From my personal experience, Harris’s atheism just turns people off to atheism, which was the general thrust of this thread.

    Yes, that probably was (part of) Harris’ intention. And he probably failed somewhat on that account. (Another part of his intention seems to have been giving atheists arguments to use against theists. I find this to be a rather lousy and incompatible intention.) I don’t know if I agree, however, if Harris has turned many people off of atheism. I’d argue that most of the people who are going to be turned off by atheism were turned off long before Harris started writing. And most of them won’t read his books anyway.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Well, the several who have lied about things I’ve written on their blogs didn’t do anything to make me think well of them. I could say the same about several religionists as well.

    I’m very skeptical about this whole business of convincing you that x is the way to go. I say that unless it’s the result of your own experience, informed by your own ideas that it’s an imitation of convictions. People should lead their own lives and not allow themselves to follow other people.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Miko, I assume that God doesn’t have any problem with diverse beliefs and that it is entirely reasonable to believe that individual people will derive different beliefs based on their personal experience. I assume that God would be able to bypass the external world to approach individuals based on their personal experience. Why not? I also believe that God doesn’t have a problem with the lack of belief. I do think how people act does matter, however.

    I would argue with the assertion that some atheists aren’t evangelical, the desireablity of converting the majority of people to atheism (yeah, right) has been made to me countless times by those enthralled by Dawkins, Harris, etc.

  • Maria

    The atheists on there reminded me of some of the hard core religious. Trying to shove their beliefs down others throats. Of course this time it was the atheists non-beliefs. And how very hurtful, name calling, and arrogant they appeared to be. It really turned me off from that blog

    I don’t know that particular blog you mentioned, but I’ve seen the same kind of behavior from certain atheists and found it disturbing also. It’s also completely counterproductive.

    I have seen a couple of blogs like this as well. It seems that literally all they do is bash religion. Well guess what, I grew up Catholic, trust me, I know what’s wrong with organized religion. I don’t need to read about nothing but that. What I need to see is “atheism is better and works for me b/c” and “here’s how I live without a God in my life, here is what I do, here is what I believe, etc.”. I want to hear more about the good that atheism has done for whoever is doing the writing-not so much the bad religion has done, cause I am well aware of that. I hope that makes sense. Also, it can be a turn off if you know decent religious people, you think “well so and so really isn’t like this, and I don’t think so and so is crazy or delusinal”. I agree with what many on here have said that while Harris does make some good points, his view of moderates is a mistake and a turn off to potential allies. If he were to criticize them for not speaking out enough, I would agree with him, but he seems to go beyond that. I’m not saying he should cozy up to beliefs he doesn’t agree with, but he could avoid painting everyone who believes with the same brush. I’ve met quiet a few liberal moderates who are nothing like the religious right.

    I’ve had two personal experiences with “fringe” atheists. I was still fairly religious when the first one happened. I was sitting on a park bench reading a book waiting for a ride. I was wearing a crucifix around my neck. This guy came up, and sat next to me. He said hello and I responded. Then he saw the crucifix, pointed it to and said “how can you wear that? Don’t you know it’s a symbol of oppression? How can you believe in a God like that? You have no right to wear that!” I think I could have stood everything but the last sentence. Sorry, but no one tells me what my rights are. I told him this is a free country, that I wasn’t bothering anyone with it, that I really didn’t care what he wore/and/or believed, that I wouldn’t tell him what to do, and to mind his own business and get out of my face. He went off grumbling. I remember thinking, “what the hell?” I could understand if I had been say, “witnessing” to him. But I was just minding my own business. What gives? That was only the second atheist I’d met in my life (that I’d known about), so it was very much a turn off. I didn’t start to hate atheists, I just wondered if all of them were like him and were going to hate me just for what I wore before I even opened my mouth. I later realized the guy was probably someone who had serious issues and probably just picked fights with people for all kinds of reasons. But it wasn’t fun.

    The second time was a couple of months ago. My friend, who is New Age/Pantheist, and I, were out at dinner and we were having a discussion about religion philosophy. We actually saw eye to eye on a lot, cause at this point I’d become incredibly liberal and had started to move from theist to deist. We weren’t talking that loud, at least no one else complained. Well, the guy at the next table apparently was an atheist, who decided to bud in and tell us he didn’t “care” for what we were talking about, and why did we have to be so stupid and deluded, there is no God, he shouldn’t have to listen to this over a meal. I was like “well, if we were too loud, all you had to say was “excuse me, could you guys talk a little quieter? You’re getting loud””. I would have said “sure”. I told him if he wanted us to be quieter that was one thing and all he had to do was ask, but last time I checked, this was a free country and we could talk about whatever we wished. I said I certainly wouldn’t tell him what to talk about and to believe no matter how loud the conversation was, so he needed to mind his own business. My friend actually came out and said “this guy reminds me of the evangelicals we had a confrontation with at school” (a group of evangelicals had done almost the exact same thing to a group of us at the eatery at college, only they had tried to convert us to evangelical christianity). Well, the guy didn’t care for our replies, so he actually moved. We went right on with our discussion. I remember thinking it was ridiculous. When did it become okay to tell complete strangers what they can and can’t talk about? I didn’t start to hate atheists after that either (it takes a lot for me to actually hate someone), I just wondered if the majority of them thought I was stupid, like this guy?

    So those are my two experiences. As I’ve met more and more people, both online and in real life of all backgrounds, I’ve realized those 2 were just fringe types and I was glad to see that. Sorry for the really long post.

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    Miko, I liked much of what you said, especially this:

    I find this to be a rather lousy and incompatible intention.

    That’s probably at the heart of my turned-off-ness with Harris. If one wants to write to atheists, then do so, and know that the language used therein will likely turn away many who would potentially be interested in your arguments. However, if one wants to write to believers (or a subset of them), one should target their arguments at them. And many who more rabidly disbelieve will probably find that quite boring…

    olvlzl, I think you’re right–many atheists who might say they aren’t evangelistic are demonstrably so. I think they shun the term and its implications because of a visceral distaste for some tactics of evangelism taken from theists. However, I see some of the same processes (like comparing the “best of ours” with the “worst of theirs”) in both.

  • Miko

    Miko, I assume that God doesn’t have any problem with diverse beliefs and that it is entirely reasonable to believe that individual people will derive different beliefs based on their personal experience. I assume that God would be able to bypass the external world to approach individuals based on their personal experience. Why not?

    The external world one is gainsaid by physical observations, but there’s nothing inherently more wrong/right with the others than with any other theistic belief. As I’ve mentioned before, the word “god” or “God” in itself conveys absolutely no information until specifically defined. The question then becomes why you would want to define the word the way you choose to define it. In other words, what are your grounds for thinking that God doesn’t have problems with diverse beliefs, etc.? Unless you have some reason to think that your belief is more probable than the Flying Spaghetti Monster hypothesis, I’d think that you’d be wary of it. If you do have such a reason, stating it would probably get you further than stating the belief associated with it.

    The fact is that most people have religious beliefs inherited from parents over dozens of generations, usually leading back to someone who was forced to convert with a sword to his throat. I’d be ashamed to hold any belief for which I couldn’t give a better justification than that.

    And that’s why the mass-market books are sometimes accused of hurting atheism: most people do have beliefs formed for reasons like these and so most of the arguments presented are aimed at beliefs such as these. And then the 1% of people who care enough to write book reviews claim that the book doesn’t accurately represent what they believe, as if catering to that 1% were ever the book’s purpose.

    I would argue with the assertion that some atheists aren’t evangelical

    If you accept the Law of the Excluded Middle in this case, arguing against that assertion is equivalent to arguing for the assertion that all atheists are evangelical. I can’t believe anyone would seriously suggest that.

    the desireablity of converting the majority of people to atheism (yeah, right) has been made to me countless times by those enthralled by Dawkins, Harris, etc.

    Most atheists don’t think along those lines. As Scott Adams (of Dilbert) once suggested, most atheists (like most other people) are too lazy to bother coming up with a scheme like that, even if they did find it desirable. He also gave this as the justification for why we don’t all go around killing each other: getting rid of the bodies is just too much work. ;-)

  • DrB

    First of all, to address the original question, as an atheist I don’t think anyone could “turn me off” of atheism. Not even the biggest, most belligerent asshole. That would mean getting on board with some kind of supernatural belief system without convincing evidence, which just won’t happen unless I’m mentally incapacitated. Traditional religious faith just can’t grab me like that; I can see right through it. (I was raised Catholic by the way.)

    The issue for me is to be able to talk about my position to the religiously inclined without insulting someone’s intelligence. It’s tricky because atheists want to talk about ideas (like religious faith) and memes (like fear of hell or the notion that an afterlife would be a good thing) but it can be hard to focus on the ideas without provoking confrontations that can quickly escalate into ad hominem or personal attacks. I think it is very difficult to avoid and we all need to work on it. For me, it helps to constantly remind your partner in conversation that you are discussing ideas and not the person. A person is much, much more than her/his particular cosmological orientation.

    At the same time, I don’t think it is reasonable or productive to pander to the religious. The arguments against truth claims lacking in evidence should be made forcefully but with respect for the individual’s intelligence and individuality. (For instance, I try to avoid saying things like, “you christians always….(topic)”. Generalizations about any group (including atheists) are usually not helpful or persuasive (unless backed up by rigorous statistics and other scholarly research).

    I’ve also been thinking about another aspect of the relationships between atheists and theists: mutual knowledge of the other’s point of view and its concomitant considerations. As one who has experienced “genuine” christian faith in my younger years, I feel that I know something of the religious mindset. But more often than not I do not get the opposite from well-meaning theists. I’m not speaking of most of the theists who comment here, but I think many theists tend be rather ignorant of atheist positions AND other religions or theistic notions. It is much more rewarding (at least for me) to have a “metaphysical” discussion when the other person has at least some grounding in different viewpoints (such as agnosticism, dystheism, pantheism, etc.) and a little knowledge about other major religions (Islam, Hinduism, etc.). I’m no expert, but if we’re to have an informed conversation about religion we need some comparative religion. I feel it’s an ABSOLUTE MUST for 21st-century human beings.

    Dont’ get me wrong; I don’t pretend to be an authority on any of this (so I’m not looking down my nose at those of you who are religious). Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when a Christian friend has been reading Dawkins, D.T. Suzuki, or Karen Armstrong closely and with commitment to real understanding.

    But it doesn’t happen very often. Why is this the case? Those of us who are atheists can easily claim from experience and observation that the exercise/practice of monotheistic religious faith often precludes a thirst for wider knowledge as well as a capacious curiosity to go along with it. It’s truly unfortunate because it’s a big world and there is a lot to learn. Please feel free to expand/criticize/comment on this.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Back to the original question….

    Truthfully, when atheists start talking about religion as a form of mental child abuse (as we’re discussing over in the other thread) that really, really turns me off to atheism. Any belief system that acts that intolerant of other beliefs is generally not one that I want to be a part of.

    But again, I hope I can still make a distinction between atheism in general, and atheists who take it to this extreme.

  • Mriana

    I would argue with the assertion that some atheists aren’t evangelical, the desireablity of converting the majority of people to atheism (yeah, right) has been made to me countless times by those enthralled by Dawkins, Harris, etc.

    olvlzl, I don’t want to convert anyone to anything, but I do get upset when I see people verbally/mentally abusing others, esp if it is in the name of religion. I will gladly share my philosophy with those who want to listen, esp if they ask, but I’m not going to impose it on them, even if I think it is a better way. It is a better way for me at least and I know that.

    What I need to see is “atheism is better and works for me b/c” and “here’s how I live without a God in my life, here is what I do, here is what I believe, etc.”. I want to hear more about the good that atheism has done for whoever is doing the writing-not so much the bad religion has done, cause I am well aware of that. I hope that makes sense.

    Yes, Maria, it does make sense and I hope I have communicated that in some manner- although, my philosophy is definitely non-theistic (although I am atheistic in that I don’t believe in a supernatural God that a lot of religious people seem to believe in), but I’ve met atheists who have done good things for me and I hope I have returned the favour to them.

    My only problem with Harris and Dawkins is that they do not show and alternative to a belief in the supernatural, which I have found is an issue for a many Humanists. I won’t go into what I believe is an alternative, for it’s probably obvious by now, but people are not going to give up a belief in the supernatural very easily nor are they going to jump ship overnight for an alternative.

    The door was opened for me years ago, I just did not step completely through it until adulthood. Even then I grew into it and I’m still growing.

    Dawkins and Harris’s intentions are good, but they offer little by way of something different. People need something to grasp onto, rather than complete nothingness.

  • Mriana

    Mike C said,

    June 9, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Back to the original question….

    Truthfully, when atheists start talking about religion as a form of mental child abuse (as we’re discussing over in the other thread) that really, really turns me off to atheism.

    I certainly hope that is not what I have communicated to others when I speak of Christians hurting Christianity and praise the atheists/Humanists who have helped in life. Even Rod (Gene’s son) has said Humanism is not anti-Christian (or something like that) in one of his videos (Gene Upclose and Personal). It would be a disfavour, IMO, to my heros if that is what I communicated. It was, however, my experience as a child with the religious and I will admit, even as an adult, I am some what shy around the religious until I get to know them and see what they do with their religious beliefs.

  • Maria

    I agree Mriana, that’s a lot of what I’m going through now myself. And I do think your make your points well. :) Thanks for the email, btw. I will be writing back soon.

  • Mriana

    Thanks, Maria and you are very welcome. I hope it’s helpful.

  • Miko

    Back to the original question….

    Truthfully, when atheists start talking about religion as a form of mental child abuse (as we’re discussing over in the other thread) that really, really turns me off to atheism. Any belief system that acts that intolerant of other beliefs is generally not one that I want to be a part of.

    This reminds me of a good example: a few years back an “under God” in the Pledge case reached the Supreme Court. While I supported removing the phrase, I was mortified by both sides in the case, since much of it seemed to revolve around the issue of standing, as one parent was an atheist and disapproved of his daughter reciting the words and the other parent was not and approved of her daughter reciting them. This kind of thing hurts both atheism and theism/Christianity. The problem isn’t either set of beliefs, but the parents’ assertions that they have the right to force them on the child solely because they gave the child her DNA.

    As an atheist, I’m turned off by the claims of other atheists that they have the right to raise their children to be atheists and also by the corresponding claims by theists. And I’m also turned off by the religious turning a blind eye to these kind of things just because the perpetrators are of the same faith. The child has a mind of her own. And neither side has a right to force the parents’ beliefs on her.

    As a non-parent, I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard that the new book Parenting Beyond Belief contains a few essays on why teaching children about other religions is important, whether that means providing them copies of different scriptures, discussing the ideas, or having them spend time with religious relatives. The abuse question is really just asking why some guides to “Christian parenting” aren’t doing the same thing.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I certainly hope that is not what I have communicated to others when I speak of Christians hurting Christianity and praise the atheists/Humanists who have helped in life.

    Don’t worry Mriana, comment was not directed at you, and I have no complaint with you sharing your own experiences of abuse. I’m honored that you would trust us with that.

    Of course certain religious (and non-religious) beliefs can be used in an abusive way. I don’t say we shouldn’t talk about that. It’s the blanket statement than any kind of religious instruction is inherently abusive that I take issue with.

  • FromUpNorth

    I don’t think the “no god-belief” vs “belief in no god” is as important a difference as you think. In my experience, nearly everyone, including the most extreme of atheists, uses the “no god-belief” definition.

    I can’t speak to the accuracy of this sociological claim, but it seems to me that defining “atheism” as “no god-belief” is wholly unsatisfactory. Infants have no god-belief. Are they atheists? Inanimate objects have no god-belief. Is a rock an atheist?

    If atheism is to be defined in terms of an absence of a belief, is atheism the absence of belief that God does NOT exist? Such a definition would turn the common meaning of the word “atheism” completely on its head.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    As an atheist, I’m turned off by the claims of other atheists that they have the right to raise their children to be atheists and also by the corresponding claims by theists.

    Miko, if you want to raise your kids as atheists, then frankly, that should be your right. I totally agree that kids should be exposed to many different viewpoints growing up, but at the same time, that’s not something that parents should be forced into doing if they don’t want to, IMHO.

    Perhaps as a non-parent you don’t realize that it is impossible to raise kids without imparting to them something of your own beliefs and values, no matter how impartial you try to be. (For instance, as a pastor I can’t very well not expose my daughter to church life.) It’s just the reality of human psychology and childhood development that children will be influenced by their parent’s beliefs and values. That’s why I think Dawkin’s harsh rhetoric about not raising children in any particular faith is not just offensive, it’s also extremely naive.

  • Miko

    I can’t speak to the accuracy of this sociological claim, but it seems to me that defining “atheism” as “no god-belief” is wholly unsatisfactory. Infants have no god-belief. Are they atheists?

    I’ve seen this claim made: the idea is that everyone is an atheist until they’re made to be something else. It’s fallen out of fashion since theists typically miss the point of it and instead get angry about the claim that their children are born atheists. Smith dealt with this and came up with (or borrowed from someone else, perhaps) the terms “implicit atheism” and “explicit atheism” to differntiate between the two: a person is an “implicit atheist” if they don’t believe in a god because they’ve never even heard of the concept of a god and an “explicit atheist” if they know what the idea of a god is but nonetheless don’t believe in it.

    If atheism is to be defined in terms of an absence of a belief, is atheism the absence of belief that God does NOT exist?

    Terminology comes to the rescue here as well. ;-) Since a person that believes that a god or gods do not exist necessarily also doesn’t believe that a god exists, this category would have to be a subgroup of atheism. As such, they are often differentiated by the terms “strong atheism” and “weak atheism,” with weak atheism being the position of lacking belief in god.

    And of course the same thing can be done with the term agnosticism, which is distinct from atheist inasmuch as it deals with epistemic claims rather than metaphysical (i.e., saying one is an agnostic is an answer to the question “Do you think we could know if a god or god exist?” and saying one is an atheist is an answer to the question “Do you think that a god or gods exist?”).

  • Mriana

    Don’t worry Mriana, comment was not directed at you, and I have no complaint with you sharing your own experiences of abuse. I’m honored that you would trust us with that.

    You’re welcome. I feel if I don’t share it, which is probably all the more reason to write my book, such things will continue. When religion becomes so consuming that it keeps a child in an abusive situation or keeps people from getting help, then people are not using it as a means to help themselves or others. The same holds true for any philosophy for that matter. There is nothing wrong with following an ideology as long as it does not do harm. When it neglects the needs of human beings then it is not serving a useful purpose, regardless of what it is labelled.

    Divorce for the sake of divorce is morally wrong, but divorce to save lives is a moral right, IMO, regardless of how one interprets religious scriptures. Saving lives is a grey area in this day and age with a broad meaning. However, that is just one example of how some Christians sadly mishandle/misuse ideology. I think if my mother had thought for herself and left my bio-father sooner, instead of allowing others to think for her and tell her what to do based on how they interpreted scripture, I think I might not have been as shy around the religious. Who knows though because I saw a lot of other tragic things happen in the name of religion too. :(

  • Darryl

    It’s an issue of audience: you won’t influence someone who’s thought long and hard about their religion by it, but you may influence someone who hasn’t. And the fact is that the majority of people don’t really care about religion very much. If someone is sitting on the fence with their feet dangling on the theist side because of cultural tradition, it doesn’t take too much to get them to shift and dangle their feet on the atheist side instead. Ironically, the apathetic group is also the only really meaningful target for reversion, mainly since they’re such a large group: they’re currently answering “yes” in the do-you-believe-in-god opinion polls and are a large enough bloc that they could shift the direction of public opinion. And because the majority currently claims to be Christian/religious, our leaders try to play up faith, create faith-based initiatives, etc. I’d love to see that supposed base evaporate, and courting the “I don’t care” vote is probably the best way to go about that.

    So what’s the upshot of all that? Well, when a theist tells me that a particular argument is ineffective, I respond that it wasn’t intended to convince him/her. There’s a worthwhile discussion to have with the nonapathetic religious, but it doesn’t focus on reverting them to atheism.

    Miko, amen sister!

    DrB, great comments.

  • Andrew

    I may be one of those fringe atheists, in that I do get frustrated with the claim that I must respect others’ beliefs simply because it is a religious one. My frustration is vented by going on the attack and requesting that the religion-”ist” (sorry – but the best way to categorise this group of people, but I fully understand that it is a very braod brush to paint individuals with) defend their claims just as I would demand from anyone else who claimed they had the inside run on knowledge and tried to dictate my life beyond what is for the common good.

    I will not call someone stupid or delusional simply because they follow a particular faith, but will call them out on blatant lies. As an aside, can anyone explain the “lying for Jesus” phenomenon to me (this is where they construct a false story to act as a parable I suppose). In short, if anyone with an unfounded and indefensible view, tries to sublimate others to their view, then I will get narky and any respect I might have reserved for their private beliefs goes out the window.

    If that turns people away from applying rationality and logic to their beliefs then I am unrepentant. Besides, they have already condemned me to hell for disagreeing with them, so why should I not reciprocate?

    However, I think there is a difference between being an outspoken atheist and being a fire and brimstone preacher. Atheism comes to those who reach the conclusion on their own effort. Nothing I can say will do anything but hasten their final conclusion one way or the other. A preacher (and the momentum of a religious society) forces people at least to adopt the trappings of the predominant belief and that can cause conflict both internally and externally (with an accepting, secular society)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Unless you have some reason to think that your belief is more probable than the Flying Spaghetti Monster hypothesis, I’d think that you’d be wary of it.

    Probability mathematics is a tool developed to deal with the experience of the physical universe, it can’t be known to work outside of what can be experienced physically. I’d never make the mistake, made by some alleged scientists, to attempt to apply it where it so obviously can’t be known to be applicable.

    I don’t share the religious beliefs of my parents. As far as I know, no known forced conversions have been known within my family in known history. There are everything from atheists to Quakers to Catholics to Buddhists and even a J. Witness in my immediate family. We all get along fairly well.

  • Miko

    Miko, if you want to raise your kids as atheists, then frankly, that should be your right.

    And if I want to raise my kids to be racists? Or soldiers in a guerilla war at age seven? Personally, I think my hypothetical children have a right of their own to be protected from me doing that. And if some other parents were to tell me they were planning on raising their child to be an atheist, I’d do my best to talk them out of it.

    Perhaps as a non-parent you don’t realize that it is impossible to raise kids without imparting to them something of your own beliefs and values, no matter how impartial you try to be. (For instance, as a pastor I can’t very well not expose my daughter to church life.)

    No, I realize that. And I’m not even suggesting that you or I should be impartial. But I still have to think that sweeping the other side under the rug is inherently wrong. If a person is only going to get one life, they should have some say in what that life is. Now, I have absolutely no problem with the fact that your daughter is exposed to church life. I just don’t think that she should be restricted to that.

    We live in a world where Christians have Christian children, Muslims have Muslim children, Hindus have Hindu children, etc. If you think that the particulars of these beliefs matter in the slightest, I would think that you would see something wrong with this.

    It’s just the reality of human psychology and childhood development that children will be influenced by their parent’s beliefs and values. That’s why I think Dawkin’s harsh rhetoric about not raising children in any particular faith is not just offensive, it’s also extremely naive.

    There will be an influence, but the question is how strong of an influence it has to be. Meat-eating parents sometimes have vegetarian children. Democrats sometimes raise Republicans, Socialists, and Libertarians. My father loved to fish and I can’t stand it. Yet religious identity almost always remains intact from generation to generation. There’s a difference between influencing and brain-washing. Doing something because you’re used to it can fall under the scope of influence and isn’t necessarily bad. Doing something because you aren’t aware of an alternative falls under the scope of brain-washing.

    When I was a kid, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school, with a few of the words unintentionally replaced by things that sounded similar to us, ending up with a meaningless mish-mash that none of us really understood. I didn’t become a good citizen until I started to question that and think about what I really believed in and why. Do I really pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth? No, of course not: I’m pledging allegiance to a set of ideas represented by it. Until I realized that, reciting the words was a meaningless exercise.

    I would imagine most Christians would want the same sort of understanding in their children. The problem in “unquestioning faith” is the “unquestioning” part, not the “faith” part. If you tell your daughter why you’re a Christian and she accepts those reasons and becomes one herself, I have no problem. On the other hand, if you tell your daughter that she’s a Christian because you’re a Christian, well, then I’m sorry if you find it offensive but I still think you’ve done her a disservice.

    Of course certain religious (and non-religious) beliefs can be used in an abusive way. I don’t say we shouldn’t talk about that. It’s the blanket statement than any kind of religious instruction is inherently abusive that I take issue with.

    I’ll agree with this statement. I hope I’ve explained how I think that beliefs can be used in an abusive way. How would others define it? What should we say about it? What should we do about it?

  • Miko

    My frustration is vented by going on the attack and requesting that the religion-”ist” (sorry – but the best way to categorise this group of people)

    No need to apologize for the term: you didn’t create it; it’s an established part of the English language.

    Nothing I can say will do anything but hasten their final conclusion one way or the other.

    But of course, Christians say the same exact thing: either God converts a person or he doesn’t.

    A preacher…forces people at least to adopt the trappings of the predominant belief and that can cause conflict both internally and externally (with an accepting, secular society)

    That does happen often, but it doesn’t have to. I heard a certain Buddhist monk give “sermons” quite a few times; his general scheme was to not prepare at all and then ask the audience what they wanted to hear him talk about–he would then talk about whatever they wanted, as long as it had absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism (because, he claimed, those interested in learning more about Buddhism could just read a book about it). I respect him more than any other religious leader I’ve ever heard speak, because he was the one religious person I’ve ever met who in my opinion took seriously the claim that religion was intended to improve our daily lives and help us view the world, rather than to transmit a series of ‘correct’ teachings. (I’m sure that some religionists will object to this type of “sermon” because it doesn’t transmit the ‘correct’ teachings, but the fact remains that he had more atheists willing to listen to him than any other religious speaker I’ve ever seen.) Although it often is one, I don’t think that religion inherently has to be a problem.

  • Miko

    Probability mathematics is a tool developed to deal with the experience of the physical universe, it can’t be known to work outside of what can be experienced physically. I’d never make the mistake, made by some alleged scientists, to attempt to apply it where it so obviously can’t be known to be applicable.

    Mathematics isn’t dependent upon the physical world. You can use physics to make simplifying assumptions within our universe, but the theoretical concept of probability without such added assumptions works equally well in any world or outside of them all. But regardless of whether you like the word probability, you must have a reason to suspect that your conception of god is a valid one or you wouldn’t hold it.

  • Mriana

    But of course, Christians say the same exact
    thing: either God converts a person or he doesn’t

    Sorry, Miko, but this is where I disagree. God doesn’t convert a person, people do.

    Before you yell at me and scream “Atheist” or “Heretic”, which I won’t argue with you about if you did, it’s happened before, think about it. Who puts out all the effort to convert people? I have yet to see a god making an effort. Most of the time, I see humans making a great effort to convert others to their beliefs, sometimes so strongly that I find their approach cruel and undignifying. Sometimes I think, “Oh brother! Why not just get a baseball bat and beat them into your way of believing.” I’m truly amazed what some people do in the name of their deity.

  • Miko
    But of course, Christians say the same exact thing: either God converts a person or he doesn’t

    Sorry, Miko, but this is where I disagree. God doesn’t convert a person, people do.

    As an atheist, I’ll agree that gods don’t convert people (since they’re unable to overcome the handicap of not existing). But some Christians really do say things like this, of course. I find it provides a good way of ending unpleasant conversations (“Well, if your god chose not to convert me, you wouldn’t want to go against its wishes, would you?”).

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    [I]t seems to me that defining “atheism” as “no god-belief” is wholly unsatisfactory.

    As the one who originally made the claim, I will admit that it was an attempt to turn a clever phrase rather than a deep sociological insight. Miko, thanks for providing superior terminology.

    The point this “explicit, weak” atheist was trying to make was just that you can find atheists who seem to have a god-shaped hole in their view of the universe. They often try to fill it with an alternate ideology or some group-identification. However, relating this to the original question, I’m thinking these are the really strident atheists who fall into Hemant’s “fringe” category, so I really shouldn’t talk about them.

  • FromUpNorth

    I’ve seen this claim made: the idea is that everyone is an atheist until they’re made to be something else. It’s fallen out of fashion since theists typically miss the point of it and instead get angry about the claim that their children are born atheists. Smith dealt with this and came up with (or borrowed from someone else, perhaps) the terms “implicit atheism” and “explicit atheism” to differntiate between the two: a person is an “implicit atheist” if they don’t believe in a god because they’ve never even heard of the concept of a god and an “explicit atheist” if they know what the idea of a god is but nonetheless don’t believe in it.

    Acknowledging that we’re arguing semantics here and not a matter of substance, I have to say that I don’t find this line of reasoning very helpful.

    Children are not born believing in God. Neither are they born believing in the theory of evolution. Someone who believes in the theory of evolution is an “evolutionist.” Does that imply that an infant, who does not believe in the theory of evolution, is therefore an “implicit a-evolutionist,” as though the child actually subscribed to some “-ism” that makes him or her somehow a camp follower of Ken Ham?

  • Mriana

    (since they’re unable to overcome the
    handicap of not existing)

    I wasn’t going to go that far, because I don’t want to offend anyone, but you did read between the lines. I just hope no one gets upset and throws a hissy fit because of it. Some people forget that god is just a human concept.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Mathematics isn’t dependent upon the physical world.

    There is absolutely no evidence that math exists outside of the brains of human beings. It is based on the experience that human beings have of their physical universe. Logic also. Since math is the logical development of observations human beings make of the physical universe as of today the evidence is that math is dependent on the human experience of the physical universe.

    If we only knew another species, one which didn’t share our genetic inheritance we might have a better idea but we don’t.

    I’ve been through this argument here before, but just the assertion that a God was “all powerful” would include the ability of such a God to surpass any laws or aspects of the known universe. To such a God probability mathematics would have absolutely no application.

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    Someone who believes in the theory of evolution is an “evolutionist.” Does that imply that an infant, who does not believe in the theory of evolution, is therefore an “implicit a-evolutionist,” as though the child actually subscribed to some “-ism” that makes him or her somehow a camp follower of Ken Ham?

    With the priviso that we are just arguing semantics — yes, it does make sense. But, it would be more proper to say infants are implicit non-evolutionists, implicit non-theists, implicit non-Marxists, implicit non-string-theorists,… and so on.

    But the implicit label should only be reserved for those who don’t know they don’t believe. Only someone who knows they don’t believe in evolution should be called a Ham-follower.

  • OsakaGuy

    There are a few of my fellow atheists in the local group here that seriously need to be reintroduced to soap and water. It seems like “fringe” groups in general (trekkies, D&Ders, etc.) often have a BO problem. What gives? Sometimes it makes me envy the very possibly fresh scented gatherings of the Jehova Witnesses who always look so clean cut! ;-)

  • Miko

    There is absolutely no evidence that math exists outside of the brains of human beings.

    That’s why it’s valid outside of the universe. It has no metaphysical existence. It’s synthetic a priori knowledge. If I had been born blind and deaf, I would have been equally able to develop the same mathematical results that I know now. That’s why it’s said to be the universal language. The questions that we consider important may depend upon culture or the physical universe, but the underlying mathematics most assuredly does not.

    I’ve been through this argument here before, but just the assertion that a God was “all powerful” would include the ability of such a God to surpass any laws or aspects of the known universe. To such a God probability mathematics would have absolutely no application.

    The term “all powerful” is meaningless. Can an all powerful being create a rock so heavy that he isn’t powerful enough to lift it? Stupid question, yes. But the reason it’s stupid is that the concept “all powerful” isn’t well defined. There is no upper limit to power, so we can show the notion of being “all powerful” is absurd by heading towards the infinite in two independent directions (creation and lifting in this case) at different rates.

    That said, the original probability question that started this was the probability that a certain conception of god was accurate. That’s a question that exists a priori to the existence of any particular god, placing it in the realm of mathematics. To say otherwise would be to assume your conclusion.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Yet religious identity almost always remains intact from generation to generation.

    Ha. Then I guess my parents and my in-laws both did a great job, because while my mom and my in-laws are evangelical Christians both my husband and I are atheists. The sad thing is thath they often feel guilty that they did a bad job raising us because we don’t share their religious convictions.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Miko, I’m afraid that asserting that the term “all powerful” is meaningless isn’t true. You might as well say that the term “infite set” is meaningless because there are concievable infinte sets which have elements in it which aren’t defined, infinite numbers of such elements. That doesn’t make them any less real. If the reality of things depended on us having or even hoping to have a comprehensive knowledge of them then the universe wouldn’t exist.

    Your assertion that a “blind, deaf” person would be able to derive math doesn’t render it as having a known independent existence outside of human intelligence. Those who are deaf and blind from birth have an experience of the physical universe that is equally “human” as the sighted and hearing. The terminology which comes from the experience of seeing is something that they can either recieve from their feeling of the physical world round them or it is taught to them by those who transfer their experience of seeing the physical world, thus transfering a form of that experience to them. My father was totally blind, I observed him doing math that he didn’t learn until after he was blinded, it’s not exactly matching your example but it did give me something to go on. He could also motivate me to think in some terms that were, perhaps, the result of his tactile address of the world that he couldn’t see.

    There is no demonstrable mathematical activity which we can observe outside of the brains of human beings in the physical universe. It would be nice if we had examples but until we do we are stuck with what we’ve got.

    You might find this interesting to read, I found it expanded my thinking in a few of these areas. I’m not certain I agree with everything it says but it’s wonderfully interesting.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I don’t know why that link didn’t work. It’s supposed to get you to:

    http://www.dartmouth.edu/%7Ematc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

    by Eugene Wigner

  • Miko

    Miko, I’m afraid that asserting that the term “all powerful” is meaningless isn’t true. You might as well say that the term “infite set” is meaningless because there are concievable infinte sets which have elements in it which aren’t defined, infinite numbers of such elements.

    That analogy doesn’t hold: infinite sets are not self-referential. With all powerful, you run into a problem of not having a limsup. A better analogy would be saying that it’s like claiming that there isn’t a largest number. Which there isn’t.

    There is no demonstrable mathematical activity which we can observe outside of the brains of human beings in the physical universe.

    I would argue that mathematics and mathematical activity are distinct concepts. The mathematics would exist even if there were no one there to develop it. Likewise, the physical universe could exist even if there were no one to observe it. And they both have their domains of validity. And the one for mathematics is much wider than the one for the universe.

    You might find this interesting to read, I found it expanded my thinking in a few of these areas. I’m not certain I agree with everything it says but it’s wonderfully interesting.

    I’m just starting to read it, but so far it seems to be agreeing with what I’ve said. It shows how mathematics affects our understanding of physics, but not vice versa. Also, there’s an important distinction between pure and applied mathematics (where applied is influenced by data from the real world). The applied attempts to get by using whatever techniques come in handy. The pure has more solid foundations. Probability usually falls into the applied, but that’s solely because of its typical applications; it’s not a limitation of the mathematics itself.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    With all powerful, you run into a problem of not having a limsup.

    I’m afraid your objection would be no problem for an entity that is truly “all powerful”. All means all.

    I would argue that mathematics and mathematical activity are distinct concepts. The mathematics would exist even if there were no one there to develop it.

    If you mean that the subject matter of mathematics is distinct from mathematically activities, I’d imagine that is true, though I’d like to know how you would find that out without doing math. And even if that is true there could be other aspects of these things that we can’t percieve and which have an effect on our universe of sense but which we can’t know. Math might just be the window that our limited means of comprehending the universe provides us but it might not mean that there aren’t other means of comprehending the universe that a different form of life could understand and use. Perhaps there are vast ranges of qualities of the universe that are closed to us. Perhaps some of these are things we can experience but not comprehend through reason and the accumlation and analysis of data. I suspect that consciousness is one of those but who knows?
    Some atheists got kind of worked up when I made a joke about the possibilities that some of the as yet unknown dimensions could provide a quality to the universe that bridged the physical and the non-physical. I was tempted to go farther and speculate that these dimensions, if they truly exist, should be expected to exert themselves in the action of evolution by natural selection. I don’t think that’s any more speculative than some of the EP speculations based on guess work. And if these dimensions are there they could well provide qualites that would give a competitive advantage through their exploitation. It’s no more improbable than your bringing up quantum mechanics in the discussion.

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    The mathematics would exist even if there were no one there to develop it.

    I’m going to back up olvlzl, no ism, no ist on this. From what I’ve read, many if not most mathematicians are formalists rather than realists; they see mathematics as a set of axioms and rules for manipulating symbols. The remarkable congruence between symbols and the world isn’t proof that mathematics ‘exists’ in Plato’s heaven. Rather, mathematics is a useful tool to describe the world. Just as we don’t really expect nouns and verbs to ‘really exist’ in the universe as abstract concepts, we shouldn’t expect numbers to ‘really exist.’

    But, olvlzl, no ism, no ist, this doesn’t help you. Probabilities don’t exist in the world, except maybe for quantum states, Probabilities are descriptions of the degree of belief in certain facts, events or states. Since the whole debate between atheists/theists is partly about our belief in god, this means we can absolutely describe god in probability terms.

  • Miko

    I’m afraid your objection would be no problem for an entity that is truly “all powerful”. All means all.

    But “all” need not exist. I originally introduced this as a stupid question, but if you’re going to fight it: Can an all powerful being create a rock so heavy that he isn’t powerful enough to lift it? Other than “all powerful,” all the terms seem pretty easy to define/quantify, so if “all powerful” is meaningful, it should have a unique yes/no answer. Which is it?

    If you mean that the subject matter of mathematics is distinct from mathematically activities, I’d imagine that is true, though I’d like to know how you would find that out without doing math.

    You couldn’t. But finding it out is an epistemic issue; it remains true even if we don’t know it and even if there is no “we” to know it.

    And even if that is true there could be other aspects of these things that we can’t percieve and which have an effect on our universe of sense but which we can’t know. Math might just be the window that our limited means of comprehending the universe provides us but it might not mean that there aren’t other means of comprehending the universe that a different form of life could understand and use.

    Mathematics is essentially the study of patterns and of consistency. There are certainly questions outside of this area.

    Some atheists got kind of worked up when I made a joke about the possibilities that some of the as yet unknown dimensions could provide a quality to the universe that bridged the physical and the non-physical.

    Seems possible. But if such a thing were discovered, wouldn’t it just expand the realm of the physical (i.e., so that the non-physical becomes physical)?

    than your bringing up quantum mechanics in the discussion.

    I recall that coming up, but don’t recall bringing it up. In what context?

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Since the whole debate between atheists/theists is partly about our belief in god, this means we can absolutely describe god in probability terms.

    How about the Islamic and Jewish mystics who have said that God doesn’t exist because the category of existence doesn’t apply to God? Some, but by no means all, of these say that to apply the concept of existence to God would be to make God into an object and God isn’t an object. How would you determine the possible outcomes of the question in the face of that? God exists, God doesn’t exist, God doesn’t doesn’t exist, God exists and doesn’t exist….

    This isn’t, by the way, just limited to theistic concepts of God, the Buddhist concept of Dharma leads to talk, all beside the point but quite relevant, that is a lot like the mystics of other, theistic, traditions.

    I do not agree with your assertion that probability has any applicability to the entire range of qualities assigned to “God”. And just about all of those who talk about this say that they are talking about only an insignificant part of God. Some of the mystics hold that it is immoral to even talk about it.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Can an all powerful being create a rock so heavy that he isn’t powerful enough to lift it?

    Ah yes, that one.

    The question that gets raised “Can God make a stone so big that God can’t lift it,” doesn’t stand alone as a question. It is a consequence of the assertion that “God is all powerful.” The question is asked to raise a paradox that can’t be answered, that either God is all powerful or God is able to create a rock which he would be powerless to lift. If such a rock could not be created then the failure to create such a rock would be proof that there are things God cannot do and so God cannot be all powerful.

    You need to understand the entire context of the question to come up with an answer more comprehensive than the simple one based on the question outside of the context. But the assertion that God is all powerful also carries other consequences that are seldom gone into. An all powerful God wouldn’t be bound by any of the laws of the universe, the ones that govern human experience and especially our powers of reason. Reasoning is our attempt to deal with the physical universe, to make it understandable to us. As far as we know reasoning as we practice it isn’t done outside of the minds of human beings. It isn’t even done as much there as it should be so it would seem probable that it isn’t done much outside of human minds.

    The assertion that God is all powerful would mean that God can overcome all of the restrictions of human reasoning. Since that is the case then an all powerful God could do things that would be a contradiction within our experience and reasoning. So an all powerful God could do things that would seem to be contradictions such as both making a stone God couldn’t lift and also to lift that stone. Our inability to comprehend how that is possible wouldn’t be a barrier to an all powerful God. The inability would be ours to understand how that would be possible but that doesn’t make this situation a logical impossibility, just incomprehensible by our reasoning. God in the Bible says “My thoughts are not your thoughts”. Which might indicate this idea occurred to God before it did to human beings.

    You don’t need to believe it, but that’s not my purpose. I’m just trying to show you that other people have the right to believe what they do.

  • Miko

    From what I’ve read, many if not most mathematicians are formalists rather than realists; they see mathematics as a set of axioms and rules for manipulating symbols. The remarkable congruence between symbols and the world isn’t proof that mathematics ‘exists’ in Plato’s heaven. Rather, mathematics is a useful tool to describe the world.

    As a mathematician, I agree with all of that. The thing is, the mathematics didn’t have any choice in the matter. You can create axioms in a Euclidean fashion to make mathematics that models reality or you can create axioms in a Russellian fashion to make mathematics that models results you want to be true, but the underlying pattern of consistency is an unchangeable thing. One can imagine a universe in which the fundamental constants of physics were different, etc. But one can’t imagine a universe or a non-universe in which the fundamental constants of mathematics are different. One can only argue that no one would be around to know them.

    Probabilities are descriptions of the degree of belief in certain facts, events or states.

    I’d say that probability is more the measure of uncertainty, but I agree in principle. If I throw a die, the exact position and velocity of every particle in the universe probably fix what side will come up, but since I don’t know that information I can at best assert that each number has a 1/6th chance of coming up. With god, quantifying becomes more difficult, but we can still talk about the probabilities of different ideas in relation to each other. The most obvious way would be to compare an idea to its converse. Even given that a god exists, we can ask questions like: is more likely that the god does or does not have property X? And the conditional existence of god can be used in other questions, like what is the probability that only one god exists given that at least one god exists? (Regarding that last one, I’d say it’s pretty small: the possibility of many supernatural beings existing outside the universe intuitively becomes more likely if we know that at least one does.)

  • Miko

    How about the Islamic and Jewish mystics who have said that God doesn’t exist because the category of existence doesn’t apply to God? Some, but by no means all, of these say that to apply the concept of existence to God would be to make God into an object and God isn’t an object.

    If they want to say that God doesn’t exist, I’ll agree with them. :-) Anyway, isn’t applying any concept whatsoever to god an objectification in the same way?

    So an all powerful God could do things that would seem to be contradictions such as both making a stone God couldn’t lift and also to lift that stone. Our inability to comprehend how that is possible wouldn’t be a barrier to an all powerful God.

    By asserting that god is all powerful, you are asserting that the phrase all powerful has a definable meaning. By asserting that this question does not have an answer of the form “yes” or “no” that is comprehensible you are asserting that the phrase all powerful does not have a definable meaning. By denying your ability to comprehend the concept of all powerful, you are thus denying your ability to accurately label god as all powerful.

    How about another question: does an all powerful being have the power to allow us to understand the answer to the question “Could an all powerful being create a stone so heavy that it could not lift it” through a rationalist/logical framework? If so, the fact that only a countable number of logical statements exist means that we could write a computer program that would return a yes/no answer to the inner question after a finite number of steps and your previous response becomes an equivocation. If not, then the being is not all powerful.

  • Scott

    I’m an athiest,but I don’t want everyone around me to belive what I belive. I want them to get here as I did. I studied as many religions as I could then one day made a desion. I think everyone should exsplore all the facts and make there own descion.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    you are asserting that the phrase all powerful has a definable meaning. By asserting that this question does not have an answer of the form “yes” or “no” that is comprehensible you are asserting that the phrase all powerful does not have a definable meaning.

    You being a mathematician I’m kind of surprised that the definition of something without a full understanding of the implications of it, even up to infinite numbers of implications, gives you a problem. It was my impression that this kind of thing happens in math and that a greater unity as yet unknown was assumed. But maybe that’s just a humble musician who sometimes tutors children in math talking.

    The concept of “all powerful” is an open concept which it would be unreasonable to expect would be fully comprehended by the limited abilities of even the entire body of thinking beings in the universe. I fully accept the fact that I’m limited but I kind of think thinking is fun.

    But one can’t imagine a universe or a non-universe in which the fundamental constants of mathematics are different. One can only argue that no one would be around to know them.

    You can imagine the existence of qualities even of our own universe which we can’t comprehend. Given David Vogan’s team’s work and the enormous feat they accomplished on that E8 entity I’d say that to not imagine the possibility of qualities of the universe that no one will ever get around to before the species goes extinct is pretty credible. It is possible that there are beings somewhere who have more efficient or just different means of knowing the universe that would make the task easier for them. If we happen to meet them maybe they would be able to teach us some of those but you can even imagine qualities of the universe which our puny abilities wouldn’t be able to manage. In that case we should hope that the speculation that beings with technology allowing for interplanetary travel would have to be pacifistic (or they’d have killed themselves off) is true. Maybe they’d just fob our questions off with toys or puzzles. I think the liklihood of compatible chemistry making us a delicacy for such beings is sufficiently remote that we shouldn’t worry about it. At least not at this point.

    You do see that I’m making arguments in favor of humility and freedom here, I hope. The absence of disproof isn’t a requirement to believe, it’s a declaration of freedom to believe, not believe or to abstain from voting on the question. And it’s fun.

    The “one God” problem is only a problem if you assume that such a God, only remotely comprehensible to humans, had only one nature. I don’t think an infinite God should be expected to be comprehended by people of different cultures and individual experiences as being even one “thing”. How many things in our physical experience are there that are universally comprehended in the same way, afterall. The problem starts when people, especially a professional and politically connected clergy, insist on their limited view of God having the power to enforce their will on other people. It was for exactly those kinds of situations that the separation of Church and State were discovered to prevent. I’m beginning to think that the tolerances of a largely religious population in which that delicate separtaion can exist are being strained past the point of safety in the United States. I don’t think that the fundamentalists of either religious believers or atheists are helping that atmosphere of tolerance. I think the tolerance is necessary for minorities to exist with comfort and that should be what we work to preserve instead of arguing these old issues that the entire range of thinking people have been unable to answer. It’s necessary to overcome the latest fads of fundamentalism to do so.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Scott said:

    I’m an athiest,but I don’t want everyone around me to belive what I belive. I want them to get here as I did. I studied as many religions as I could then one day made a desion. I think everyone should exsplore all the facts and make there own descion.

    That’s exactly how I feel. I’d love it if religion would disappear. But my goal is not to destroy religion. My goal is to make people think critically and to think for themselves.

    If they think, and decide they still believe, that’s fine with me. I just am bothered by people who don’t think for themselves, and just regurgitate scripture or things they’ve heard from the pulpit (or from Rush Limbaugh), and who don’t bother to think enough to decide for themselves what they believe is true.

    Whenever I talk to someone who is like that, I just ask them over and over again, “What do you think?” I say, “I have a Bible and I’ll read the passages you’re quoting. I don’t need you to quote them to me. I want you to tell me what you think in your own words.” You have to be sincerely interested in finding out what the person thinks, and you have to be very patient but it’s quite an effective tactic.

  • Pingback: Bad Christians and Bad Atheists « Michael Krahn : A Mind Awake

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    But one can’t imagine a universe or a non-universe in which the fundamental constants of mathematics are different. One can only argue that no one would be around to know them.

    Yes… and no. Had the history of mathematics been different, with different axioms discovered first, the kinds of mathematical constants would have been different. The exact content of mathematics isn’t set by the universe. The only real limit is internal consistency.

    Mathematics is, ultimately, a language we use to describe the world. Given that (1) the world is likely unified under causal and scientific law, and (2) our language centers, abstract thought centers and symbolic manipulation centers of the brain are governed by our genes, it is likely that there is only a small range of useful mathematical systems. But I think it’s a stretch to say that there is only one.

    I’d say that probability is more the measure of uncertainty, but I agree in principle.

    Perhaps degrees of uncertainty of belief? That way we both win.

    With god, quantifying becomes more difficult, but we can still talk about the probabilities of different ideas in relation to each other.

    This is the heart of your debate with olvlzl, no ism, no ist, right? olvlzl, no ism, no ist seems to think that god it/him/herself is probable or improbable, but this doesn’t follow from the math at all. The existence or not of god doesn’t depend on our beliefs in any way, just like the existence of Moscow doesn’t depend on our beliefs. So it’s absurd to say that Moscow exists with probability less than 1. Moscow exists or it doesn’t.

    But to say that god is improbable, or that the pr(god) is very close to 0, isn’t really talk about god at all; it’s talk about our beliefs. I believe Moscow exists, and I give that belief a probability close to 1, i.e., close to certain. I base that on evidence. The truth of my belief depends on the universe. But the probability of my belief depends on my evidence, my patterns of inference, my trust in my sources, etc.

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist hasn’t said anything to to make me think that we can’t measure the probability of belief in god the same way.

  • http://anirratrat.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    writerdd wrote:

    I’d love it if religion would disappear. But my goal is not to destroy religion. My goal is to make people think critically and to think for themselves.

    Agreed. Indeed, the problem I have with the so-called militant atheists (or whatever you want to call “those” atheists) is that they aren’t that good at showing critical thinking by example. This is a side effect of crossing the line from brisk critique of religion, which can be done rationally, to demonization of theists, which, like demonization of any other group, requires distortion of facts or logic. The Rational Response Squad is ironically often an example of this. Dawkins goes back and forth across that line in TGD. He’ll point out valid problems in the cosmological argument and the argument from personal experience on the one hand, but on the other hand, selectively quote the Catholic Encylopedia to give the false impression that it dismisses atheism without much discussion. I doubt that few people recognize in detail the errors that these atheists commit, but they sense that something isn’t quite right, even if they can put their finger on it.

  • Miko

    You being a mathematician I’m kind of surprised that the definition of something without a full understanding of the implications of it, even up to infinite numbers of implications, gives you a problem. It was my impression that this kind of thing happens in math and that a greater unity as yet unknown was assumed.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean, but: in mathematics, terms mean nothing except what we say they mean as a precise combination of already defined terms and axiomatic relations to other terms. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t unknown results out there. It means only that talking about a term without having clearly defined what the term means is a waste of time. As it stands currently, saying god is all powerful is exactly as meaningful as saying god is bawahickijlimpi (i.e., not at all). Using the phrase “all powerful” is essentially a linguistic trick, since you’re using it in a conventional sense of implying a degree of power and then falling back on an unconventional sense of implying that we don’t understand it because it applies to god. In the end, it comes down to this: you either do or do not have a clear idea in your mind as to what you mean when you say “god is all powerful.” If you do have a clear idea in mind, then answering the stone question should be easy for you (just as it would be for any other being who’s level of power you comprehend: for example, I am not powerful enough to create a stone that I can’t lift, since I lack the power to create stones). If you do not have a clear idea in mind, then saying “god is all powerful” is no more meaningful than saying “god is bawahickijlimpi” and you ought to use this term instead, lest you confuse people into thinking that you’re claiming that you do know what the words you are using mean.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Using the phrase “all powerful” is essentially a linguistic trick

    I didn’t invent the phrase. Ok, how about “God is unimaginable, unseeable and all mighty.” a rough translation of the beginning of Schoenberg’s great opera Moses und Aron? I could also point out that many scientists and others consider their particular means of knowing the universe as being all powerful, or at least sufficiently so in order to comprehend the entire universe. Dawkins places his theories of genetic inheritance in a position of near omnipotence on the basis of scant evidence. His “meme” leads me to believe that his opinion of his own creative impulses is way over sized.

    You might find this amusing to read. I found it to be fun.

  • Miko

    Yes… and no. Had the history of mathematics been different, with different axioms discovered first, the kinds of mathematical constants would have been different. The exact content of mathematics isn’t set by the universe. The only real limit is internal consistency.

    You’re absolutely correct that internal consistency is the key and that the axioms used can affect the kinds of mathematical constants we talk about. However, their values are still remarkable consistent. For example, in Euclidean geometry we measure pi as 3.14159265358… and under any axiomatic system categorically equivalent to it, we would find the same thing. In hyperbolic geometry, attempts to find the areas are usually unsuccessful (for one thing, similar triangles are congruent, so attempts to find area by triangulation often fail. For another, rectangles don’t exist, so attempts to find area by a Riemannian limiting process also often fail) and so the question of a circle’s area is less likely to come up in the first place. And if we do succeed, we find that the circle has area 4(pi)sinh^2(r/2), so pi is actually intimately related to this different axiomization of geometry as well. Someone who had developed hyperbolic geometry before Euclidean wouldn’t have defined pi as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, but they would still have discovered that the number was important in and of itself.

    If we embed this in the axiomization of field theory plus a bit of analysis, we can see that getting all of the real number system depends only upon having a number 1 distinct from 0 that can be added to itself as many times as one wants without ever getting the answer 0 and on a use of limits to get completion of the line. It’s hard to argue that anyone attempting to create a mathematics wouldn’t eventually come up with an axiomization (or something equivalent) that gives you this.

    Mathematics is, ultimately, a language we use to describe the world. Given that (1) the world is likely unified under causal and scientific law, and (2) our language centers, abstract thought centers and symbolic manipulation centers of the brain are governed by our genes, it is likely that there is only a small range of useful mathematical systems. But I think it’s a stretch to say that there is only one.

    I would say that it’s a language that can be used to describe any world. The affect of symbolic manipulation in our brains on mathematics is pretty small (basically, A=A, either A or not A, not both A and not A, are all we take for logic. Axiomization then requires only the idea that terms can be put in relation to each other). A more likely source of change would be the physical world, as some axiomizations are based on things observed in reality. E.g., if we lived in a universe where I could draw a triangle on a piece of paper and see it’s defect by sight, we would definitely have developed hyperbolic geometry before Euclidean. But it still does come down only to our choice of what to explore: the same ideas would still be out there regardless of what our universe looked like.

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist seems to think that god it/him/herself is probable or improbable, but this doesn’t follow from the math at all.

    It sounds to me like olvlzl is denying that the concept of probability is even valid.

    The existence or not of god doesn’t depend on our beliefs in any way, just like the existence of Moscow doesn’t depend on our beliefs. So it’s absurd to say that Moscow exists with probability less than 1. Moscow exists or it doesn’t.

    That’s the heart of it. Quantum mechanics aside, it’s doubtful that anything actually has a probability other than 0 and 1. However, with limited information, we can repeat an experiment over time to establish a pattern of results, so that we can understand long-term behavior without understanding short-term. The non-repeatability makes things more difficult god, but talking about a probability is still a reasonable thing to do, as long as one doesn’t try to be overly precise in quantification.

    The truth of my belief depends on the universe. But the probability of my belief depends on my evidence, my patterns of inference, my trust in my sources, etc.

    Exactly. Probability is sort of a measure of what odds we would need to bet on an outcome (i.e., if I get better than 6:1, I’m willing to bet that a fair die will land on any number you choose). Thus, probability is a short-hand for all of the above variables.

  • http://asthewormturns.com dpoyesac

    Miko;

    We’re getting very close to a discussion much too technical for this forum, considering it has nothing to do with the original post — and especially since we agree on the most important points about the relation between probability and propositions. (This is my way of backing down without admitting defeat.)

    However, I think one key issue is this:

    The affect of symbolic manipulation in our brains on mathematics is pretty small (basically, A=A, either A or not A, not both A and not A, are all we take for logic.

    The history of mathematics and the history of logic are fully intertwined. So, what if Aristotle had rejected the law of the excluded middle and we had 2000 years of intuitionist logic rather than 2000 years of classical, bi-valued syllogistic logic? There’s no way of working out the truth of any such counterfactual situation. But my gut feeling is that the mathematical language that would exist in such a world would be radically different. Sure, there would be a translation manual between that weird math and our math, but that doesn’t mean that they would really be the same — just like its a mistake to say that since we can translate Navajo into English they really are, in essence, the same language.

  • http://mojoey.blogspot.com Mojoey

    Hi,

    The funny thing is, I do not know very many atheists personally, even after 30 years as an atheist. The few that I do know are not out trying to convert people. I run into a bunch of “religion haters” via my blog. They send me hate mail even if I post something that is slightly supportive of religion in any way. I’ve never understood that, there is good and bad in everything.

    Great post and thread – I find these wonderful to read over a cup of coffee in the morning.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I run into a bunch of “religion haters” via my blog. They send me hate mail even if I post something that is slightly supportive of religion in any way.

    Mojoey, I’ve found that anything that even remotely could be taken to deny materialist fundmentalism brings them down on me. They even read things in my posts that not only aren’t there, but are refuted within the post they believe they find them in. And these are the same people who believe in the “meme”. I find it’s hard enough just to present an idea and have it read, nevermind reproducing itself like a virus.

    Atheists are no less or no more likely to be rational than religious believers or agnostics. In fact I’d say that you find a higher percentage of rational thinkers among agnostics and frequently find people who are more careful about their facts among liberal religious belivers. However, any individual from any group can be any level of thinker.

    About symbolic manipulation, I learned “System F” and found the experience interesting but useless and now serves mostly to show that my teacher went to Yale, though I didn’t, and that I’m a geezer.

  • Miko

    We’re getting very close to a discussion much too technical for this forum

    That we are, so I’ll just answer your question and drop it. :-)

    So, what if Aristotle had rejected the law of the excluded middle and we had 2000 years of intuitionist logic rather than 2000 years of classical, bi-valued syllogistic logic?

    Intuitionist logic had fairly strong support until the early 20th century. Hilbert got a lot of flack for using non-constructivist proof techniques. I think that it eventually lost broad support because we got to the point that there was just too many things that couldn’t be done with it. (So it’s possible that mathematics would have “recovered” even if Aristotle had made such a “mistake.”) Without LoEM, you basically lose case structure as well (unless you’re willing to do a lot of extra work to justify it in every instance) and things quickly become so annoying that I try to avoid bothering with them. I don’t know enough about intuitionist logic to say for sure, but I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s essentially a subset of bi-valued logic. Overall, I think the main difference is more what we know to be true than what is true. They may not think that the LoEM is justifiably true, but they usually don’t go so far as to suggest it’s false. I get the impression that olvlzl might actually be suggesting this, at least so far as it applies to metaphysics. Some Buddhist philosophy tends in this direction as well. I’ve tried my best to understand what they’re talking about, but I get lost with anything too far beyond “codependent origination.”

    But my gut feeling is that the mathematical language that would exist in such a world would be radically different.

    I’ll agree with this. I’m focused more on the mathematical ideas than on the language used to convey them.

  • http://barefootbum.blogspot.com The Barefoot Bum

    I didn’t read the comments, so perhaps this has been said before, but the OP is a pretty stupid and vacuous topic (sadly typical for this blog). Atheism is not a social movement; it’s barely even a philosophy. There is exactly one reason for being an atheist, and that reason is neither its popularity nor the social graces of any particular atheists.

    You should be an atheist if and only if you actually believe that it’s true that no God exists. To be an atheist because you like Dawkins or Harris or Russell is just as stupid as not being an atheist because you don’t like them.

  • Maria

    …plenty of those kinds of atheists in youtube

    Plenty of all kinds of militant, weird, crazy, and too often hateful people from all backgrounds and beliefs on youtube-seriously, what is up with youtube attracting all the “venomous people” in the world?


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