Awake!

In the mail last week, I found a copy of November 2010′s Awake! magazine sent to me by a Jehovah’s Witness. It has a cover story on “Is Atheism on the March?” and the person who sent it to me politely indicated that it may be to my benefit.

I have no idea how I became known as an atheist deserving to be on whatever list whomever has for sending proselytizing literature. The proselytizing doesn’t bother me, and neither do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As far as I can see, whatever harm they do is to themselves. But in this right-wing and severely anti-intellectual political climate, it’s easy to be slightly paranoid about drawing the attention of Republicans in the state in which I teach. I hope that doesn’t happen. (And if it does, thank goodness for tenure.)

The argument against atheism that the issue of Awake! presented depended largely on a generic sense of intelligent design. There’s a very similar online example from their February issue as well. The argument is nothing special. But it does prompt me to wonder how different theistic religion would be if the extremely popular intuition of divine design no longer had such an immediate purchase on most peoples’ brains.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03312024589075474249 Hobbs

    @ Taner Edis:

    Taner, I agree with your point that proselytizing is not bothersome. If we are bothered by something like that, I really think that we should question our confidence in our own position or belief. In fact, if someone says that their belief is the only correct one and even the only way to go to "heaven," then how dare they not tell someone about it?

    Also, I love your point about being tenured- congrats on that!

    Regarding your opinion of the current issue of Awake!, I tend to agree with you on the fact that many of their arguments are "nothing special." In fact, some are simply bland and lacking much of a flavor. But at this point I have a question: Does the fact that many proponents of an idea are bad at making an argument say anything about the validity of their idea? Let me ask the question this way: is a "belief system" (we all have one, whether a faith that there is a god or a faith that there is no god) proved either true or false simply by the existence of poor arguments made by many of its proponents?

    My other question is this: How can theistic religion have anything but a belief that there is a divine design? I would submit to you that without a belief in a divine design, there can be no true theistic religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Hobbs,

    The prevalence of bad arguments for intelligent design can say much, or not a lot, depending on what you're trying to achieve. It's an interesting observation about people, I think. If you're interested in intelligent design as a live question, then it probably doesn't mean much. It would be best to concentrate on more sophisticated versions of ID compared to what are available in proselytizing literature.

    And yes, theistic religion would be hard to recognize without some affirmation of divine design. But then again, philosophers and theologians can make careers out of obscuring what design is supposed to mean. This obscuring is often called "clarification."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    I guess I don't understand the "poor argument" of intellegent design. I thought the idea of intellegent design was not necessarily based on a "good" argument, but that it is "better" than competing arguments–which is ultimately what makes it more reasonable (or believable–however you want to look at it).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05843349568654480331 DiBattista

    Hey Taner. I am a high school math teacher and I regularly get students trying to argue their parent's religion. I usually keep it concise asking them to provide me with evidence, then I politely refute it. It is the finest line to tread, but I enjoy it because it helps with building their argumentative skills and perhaps one day they will learn to think for themselves. I do not have tenure, but the parents, for the most part, appreciate me as a fresh young teacher, so I am something of an anomaly to them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    High school students discussing their faith with a teacher is unusual but great. How do you get them to do this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Rosser,

    As far as I see it, no intelligent design argument, including sophisticated versions, deserves to be called "good," or better than competitors. I have written extensively on this (for example).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    DiBattista,

    Good luck with what you're doing. I can't say more, since I know little about the high school teaching environment. I expect it's quite different from what I'm used to.

    Mind you, it's not like even tenure at the university level is much protection if they really want to get you. The sorry history of US universities during the McCarthy period is a cautionary tale.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    Taner,
    Impressive, will have to read this someday. I am confused, though, as to why you would edit a whole book that refutes a "bad" argument, such as intelligent design. Is the backbone of the book in support of life forming by chance via natural selection, etc.? Or is there an alternative theory given to explain origins of life that is different from two "bad" arguments? Such as Dawkin's third theory: We can't explain how life developed from chance in this universe, Intellegent Design is simply absurd, and so life may have come via a meteorite from a universe that has a more plausible setting/explanation for spontaneous generation of living organisms?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Rosser,

    Why would I edit a book? I thought it was a good idea at the time. For the rest, you'll have to take a look at it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    OK! Wish I had more time to read about this stuff. Maybe one day. . . .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14810269295574884025 Novelyn

    Hi. So,Idk if you care or not, but just to let you know,
    I am Christian, more into spirituality and God than tightly following rules that the bible may or may not imply, and I am democrat. I am pro-choice and I support gay marriage. I'm interested to see others' points of views,but I've seen a very common trait going on where skeptics' main target is Christianity, and why it's corrupt. they usually get these beliefs from living a black and white life their entire life. The world is not either Evangelist or Atheist. There is a gray section, and society doesn't make it very visible, but you should pay attention to it, because that may be where the real answers lie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    Interesting point Novelyn. I think atheist target christianity because they are offended by it's exclusiveness. Islam, for example, is not as threatening because the implications if it is false are not as severe. Therefore, their stand is going to be much less offensive. Christianity is focused on precisely because it is black or white (you must love the one and hate the other) and if your claiming it is false then there is obviously much more at stake. If you are in a "gray area" then your belief is threatening to no one. In fact you may even be encouraged by an atheist, who has the endpoint of being God in his or her own life. And that is exactly what happens when you dwell in the "gray section" as well: you decide what is true and false, i.e. you are god of you. Just a theory. . . .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14810269295574884025 Novelyn

    The Christianity you're talking about is not real Christianity. I'm Christian, and I'm fully accepting, I'm not exclusive at all. I don't "love one and hate the other." I believe that everyone has different paths, and that Jesus isn't the only way for everyone. If everyone is different, and God is smart, then we're not all meant to have the same exact religion. That's part of my gray area.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14081104561562163389 Rosser

    Your belief sounds more like universalism. Hope you find your way out of the gray!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03312024589075474249 Hobbs

    @ Rosser:
    Islam is very exclusive and does have a hell just like Christianity has a hell. Islam is a very real threat: Surah 9:73- "O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed." In the belief system known as Islam, the unbelievers mentioned are Jews and Christians. (See Surah 5:51- "O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.") So, I do not understand your comment about Islam being "not as threatening."

    @ Novelyn:
    Christianity is very exclusive. Our Bible is very clear on this point: In John 14:6, Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Please read John 14:6, I John 2:22-23, I John 5:11-12, Luke 10:16, Matthew 7:13-15, and there are so many others. If people could be saved by picking their own flavor of theology, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross? If there are other ways to have our sin covered, then why did Jesus have to spill His blood for us? Please understand that the reason why Christianity seems (and is) so exclusive is because of how evil the world we live in really is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05843349568654480331 DiBattista

    @ Rosser
    Sorry it took so long to get back, I didn't get an update for this comment. The students are the ones who think it is entertaining to discuss it. I just act as the guide on the side, maybe as a moderator. I tell them that can't just believe something because one book says so. Dig deeper. Do some research before you buy into someone else's conclusion. Then again some might say this will cuase me more headache, but in actuality it doesn't.


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