The Irrational Human

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Hello All,

This is my review of Vox Day's new book called "The Irrational Atheist". I'd like to make some things perfectly clear before I proceed with this review. I am still, and barring some pretty convincing evidence that I find personally credible, will most likely always be an atheist. What I mean by "atheist", as I have written volumes about in the past, is someone in whom god-belief of any kind is absent.

I have lately (within the last few years) come to the conclusion that the entire social and political "atheist movement" is a big, fat exercise in futility. Atheists are not, in any way, shape, or form, a "group" in the same sense that Methodists, Shriners, or Republicans are a group. The atheists who blog and organize activist marches and identify themselves as part of this "atheist movement" group are lying to themselves. There is no "atheist group". Rather, a movement has emerged and become politically active lately that has co-opted the perfectly reasonable descriptive word "atheist" and has twisted its meaning into something that I do not agree with, endorse, or really even recognize any longer. Ellen Johnson telling all of us atheists to "Vote your atheism first..." was the last straw for me. I mean, what in the heck does that even mean? I am not a member of your little club, Ellen.

I have my own opinions, political views, and values. I have my own, personal rationale for being a person in whom god-belief is absent (an atheist). I recognize no "atheist leaders" or spokesmen, and I endorse no one who claims to speak for me, or insinuates that they speak for me in any way.

I speak for myself, and myself alone.

I find it troubling that one of the recent trends in the "atheist blogger" community is to label someone who does not seem to toe the party line as an "appeaser" or as a "concern troll". It's complete crap. I didn't sign a fucking "atheist loyalty oath", and my lack of belief in a god isn't dependent on kowtowing to the self-anointed leaders of this misguided abortion of a political movement, whether or not they exist. If after this review someone uses the "no true Scotsman" fallacy on me in this fashion, they can go fuck themselves. With a jagged stick. Sideways. The political and social issues that concern me - personal liberty, civil liberties, honesty, personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, freedom, justice, the American Way, all of that, don't require my allegiance to some new political movement. I was concerned with those things before I started calling myself an atheist, and I still am today. Atheism has nothing at all to do with any of that stuff. (See my first paragraph above.) Nether does "theism" for that matter.

I evaluate the books I read, the beliefs I come across, and the philosophies I examine fully, and with an eye towards the facts. I have a highly-sensitive bullshit meter, honed through 20-plus years of discussion, research, study, debate, and arguments with theists (that is, folks in which god-belief of any kind is present.) So, when you read the review below, keep in mind that I was really, really trying hard to find something that I could latch onto and argue intelligently and forcefully against. I was positive that it had to be there. I had my BS meter cranked up to 11 as I read through the book twice in an attempt to sniff out something that I could use - and the damned thing only went off a couple of times, and only when Day was explicitly talking about God and/or Jesus and his personal belief in the Christian mythology.

Shit. Double shit.

Ah, well. I am ethically and morally bound to review TIA honestly, and that is what I will do - regardless of how much it hurts me to do so. Heh. ;)

So, hang on to your hats and join me below the fold.

Vox Day is an interesting character. I first encountered him back in 2003 when he wrote his column entitled "The Irrational Atheist". I considered him, in true bombastic, "atheist blogger" fashion, "...an elitist snob with a Christian bias.". Over the years I wrote or commented from time to time about something he had written on his blog, or in his WND column. On UTI I most recently I wrote about his thought experiment demonstrating that in his view, his God's commands would be "moral" by definition, regardless of how horrific us lowly, limited humans considered them to be ("Slaughtering Toddlers For Jesus"). More recently, I have corresponded with him via email in regards to his new book also entitled, oddly enough, "The Irrational Atheist", and sub-titled "Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens" (Amazon link). And indeed the book does contain most of that World News Daily column from 2003.

However, it is so much more than merely that short op-ed column expanded into book length.

In the first chapter Day makes the following audacious statement:

This is not a theological work. The text contains no arguments for the existence of God and the supernatural, nor is it concerned with evolution, creationism, the age of Earth, or intelligent design. It contains no arguments from Scripture; in attacking the arguments, assertions, and conclusions of the New Atheists, my only weapons are the purely secular ones of reason, logic, and historically documented, independently verifiable fact. (TIA, Pg. 2)

Now, he does get quite a bit theological in the late chapters of the book, as I describe below. The theological and philosophical speculation runs deep. (Hah! Gotcha Vox! Take that! Pow! *Biff!*) This was actually the part of the book I enjoyed the most.

But in the beginning chapters where he addresses each author's book, Day proceeds to do exactly that. He scrupulously breaks down many of the arguments and claims made by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, and Onfray in their books, and then demonstrates, with meticulously detailed footnotes and references, why each one is flawed in some fashion - logically fallacious, historically inaccurate, mathematically incorrect, or statistically flawed.

It was actually painful for me to read. This is due to the fact that that I really do respect Richard Dawkins and his scientific accomplishments, as well as Daniel Dennett's heady forays into philosophical thought. I also absolutely love listening to Christopher Hitchens speak and debate. As for Michel Onfray and Sam Harris? Eh, not so much, but I do appreciate their ability to raise awareness and articulate some of the same things that I have thought about myself over the years and to put them into commercially successful books.

I am not going to go into a point by point review of the various arguments that Day addressed in TIA. Suffice it to say that by the end of the chapters dealing with the individual authors, I was happy that it was over. It was a thorough, detailed, dispassionate (with a little snarky levity thrown into the footnotes for flavor), and completely disheartening take-down of some of the best arguments that the godless have put into print - on their own terms, without using the Bible (in the first part of the book, that is), or any other sacred text to do it with. Amazing. And depressing. It is not my place to defend their books. I truly hope that they do find time to defend and clarify their books, specifically to the counter-arguments and claims made by Vox day in TIA, though, because they really need to. Trust me, it wasn't pretty.

Day talks a lot about morals in TIA, and his assertion that atheists are "moral parasites" using the existing societal morality and co-opting it as their own as if they had just sat down one day, adopted "The Thinker" pose, and thought up a fully-realized set of morals and ethics for themselves.

Obviously this isn't the case. I agree 100% that I have taken my morals, my values, and my ethics from the enfolding society around me. But, I also believe that Christianity has wrapped itself around existing morals and ethics, stamped them with it's own imprimatur, and has fooled itself into thinking that it invented the whole thing. I think it's Christian self-deceit.

Human societal morals and ethics exist, and are broadly consistent and similar throughout recorded history because the are good survival strategies for our species. Basically, if we work together, in a society that we govern with morals and ethics, we tend to do better than if we go around raping and killing each other all the time. The moral and ethical systems we subscribe to as societies and as individuals, allow our species to thrive and successfully reproduce. They have been "in the works", being refined throughout the ages since modern humans appeared on the planet by trial and error. What we see is the end result of millions of years of evolution. Christianity is a Johnny-come-lately to the game, waltzing in and claiming that existing human ethics and moralities are it's own invention - after they were already in place.

In the latter part of TIA Day delves into some of his own personal theology, theodicy, and rationale for believing what he does about God, Jesus, and the nature of reality in general. He talks about an interesting "god as game designer" hypothesis that very neatly accounts for the apparent omnimax trilemma. In other words, one of the most common arguments employed by atheists such as myself has to do with the problem of omnipotence conflicting with omniscience. The old "Problem Of Evil" which demonstrates this conflict, was first articulated by Epicurus in 300BCE, and so well paraphrased by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (book 10):

"Epicurus' old questions are yet unanswered. Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"

Most Christian theologians and apologists respond to this argument with something having to do with free will. That is to say, they claim that in order to allow human beings to have the free will promised by God, free to choose to do evil or good, free to accept or reject the salvation offered by Christ, then God must allow evil to exist, even if he is perfectly able to prevent it and knows about it beforehand. They never directly address the claim of omnimax powers and their contradictory nature. It is more of a side-step argument than a real answer to the trilemma, usually bringing more questions than answers - I.E., "Is it really free will if God knows beforehand what we are going to do?", and "doesn't that make God evil?"

Vox proposes that an omnimax deity would not necessarily be forced into what he terms "omniderigence" - which is, as Day defines it, "...the infinite use of unlimited or universal power, authority, or force; all-controlling; all-dictating." (TIA - Pg. 276) The ultimate micro-managing pointy-haired-boss, in other words.

This is the type of deity that I argue against when I use the trilemma. However, Day very ably describes how exactly an omnimax deity could be surprised by one of it's own creations - allowing "free will", in other words, while still being omniscient and omnipotent. The deity in this case is a programmer friend of Day's nicknamed "Big Chilly", and the creation is an AI enemy character in a first person shooter game that BC was the lead programmer on:

During the demo, Big Chilly and the three AI-controlled members of his fireteam had successfully taken out both the wide patrol and the guards, and they were just beginning to lay the explosives to blow the door that held the prisoners captive when there was a sudden burst of bright laser fire that caused him to jump in his seat and emit a startled shriek loud enough to make everyone else in the room jump, too. While his AI squadmates shot down the intruder before anyone’s battlesuits took too much damage, what shocked Big Chilly was that for the first time in hundreds of playings, an enemy AI had taken it upon itself to circle around behind the rescue force and attack it from an unexpected direction.

But how could this happen? How could a lowly artificial intelligence surprise a lead programmer who was demonstrably omniscient and omnipotent in the AI’s world? How can the created do what the creator did not will? The answer, when viewed in this context, should be obvious.

Surprise was possible because the programmer was not choosing to exercise either his knowledge or his power at that particular point where real-time intersected game-time. While he could have easily provided that particular character with a scripted path and prevented the character from being able to depart from it, he had already elected not to do so. He could have constructed the character in such a way that its head would have exploded for the sin of attempted deicide, or even as punishment for the sin of merely daring to look upon him in all his pasty geek glory, but he did not do that, either. And finally, while he could have been scanning that particular AI’s “thought” processes and known what it intended to do in the very instant the intention was born, instead he refrained and so learned about its actions through entirely “natural” means.

If it is not difficult to accept that an omniscient and omnipotent programmer can reject omniderigence, why should it be hard to imagine that an all-powerful God might choose to do the same? Even human lovers know that the lover cannot control the beloved, so it should not be difficult to believe that a loving God would permit His creatures to choose freely how they will live. (TIA - Pg. 281)

It is probably the most cogent response to the trilemma I've ever come across.

So, let's sum this up.

When Day calls the atheist "irrational", he's entirely correct. However, he thinks theists are irrational also (TIA Pg. 265). In fact, the entire human race has shown a disturbingly consistent ability to act irrationally throughout it's entire existence, and still, we are flourishing as a species. It has got to have some evolutionary advantage, some survival benefit, or we wouldn't act like we do. It is more likely that we have not been self-aware for a long enough time, evolutionarily speaking, for rationality, irrationality, or indeed, self-awareness itself to be selected for or against.

So, yes, the atheist is irrational. So is the theist. Those two descriptions include every single person on the face of the planet. Humans are an irrational species. We do NOT live in a world of pure reason. As Robert Heinlein wrote, "Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal."

I agree with that. I have rationalized to myself my own personal reasons for being an atheist. I fully accept and admit that they may not be purely rational reasons - but they work for me. Similarly, I believe that Day has irrational reasons of his own that he has rationalized to himself to be able to accept the Christian view about the nature of reality and the existence of his God.

Does this mean that I am wavering in my atheism? Am I "losing the faith"? Am I an appeaser? A concern troll?

Nope. I am still an atheist. Like I said at the beginning of this whole thing, I will most likely be an atheist for the rest of my life.

But over the years I have come to realize that being an atheist is only rather secondary to who I am, and how I choose to define myself. First and foremost, I am a husband, and a father. Second, I am an American. After that, I am a civil libertarian politically. Then, I am an atheist.

Weirdly enough, this doesn't put me very far off from Vox Day himself -- except for the whole God and Jesus thing. Heh.

My advice is to read this book - and then do your damnedest to find something in it that you can argue against. Something beyond "that's stupid!" - which is what always seems to be the first-blush response from an atheist to a theist. (Fucking hell I'm tired of that shit.) I couldn't do it. Maybe you'll have better luck than I did. I hope you do.

I strongly encourage Dr. Dawkins, Dr. Dennett, Hitch, Harris, and M'sieur Onfray to respond to TIA. It is not your run-of-the-mill "flea" book looking to make a quick buck riding on the coattails of The Amber Heard Fan Club*. It's the real deal, it's substantive, meticulously researched, it brings up real problems, and it addresses these problems without falling into the trap that other fleas have fallen into in the past. That is to say, relying on theology or the Bible to make their counter-arguments.

OK. That's it. Have at me in the comments. Be advised that I probably won't take any of you very seriously, and ridicule you without mercy until you've actually read the damned thing yourselves. Fair warning and all that. ;)

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Anonymous User's picture

evolutionary advantage

quote "When Day calls the atheist "irrational", he's entirely correct. However, he thinks theists are irrational also (TIA Pg. 265). In fact, the entire human race has shown a disturbingly consistent ability to act irrationally throughout it's entire existence, and still, we are flourishing as a species. It has got to have some evolutionary advantage, some survival benefit, or we wouldn't act like we do. It is more likely that we have not been self-aware for a long enough time, evolutionarily speaking, for rationality, irrationality, or indeed, self-awareness itself to be selected for or against"

"It has got to have some evolutionary advantage, some survival benefit, or we wouldn't act like we do."

hello! This is tantamount to asserting that every evolutionary item has to have a purpose, we know this just isn't so, evolution ALWAYS creates redundancy, parts of a system that have no useful purpose and remains a leftover, evolution isn't perfect it's a heuristical process.

Attaining self-awareness is one monumental event, Zoltan Torey (the crucible of consciousness) points out that self-awareness (he calls it reflective awareness) carries with it the burden of knowing we are mortal and the loss of our naievty, self awareness may indeed be the ultimate goal of evolution, the concomitants (irriationality? etc ) are more likely to be net losses rather than gains.

Had to post this as an Anonymous user even though I signed up, pretty stupid system you have.

RobertFox

J. J. Ramsey's picture

I took a read of Vox Day's

I took a read of Vox Day's book, and some of it I skimmed or skipped. I'd say that his book is a good example of what happens when advocates for atheism get lazy. I'm not impressed by Day, and I am especially suspicious that he has cherry-picked or otherwise played with data when comparing crime rates of red (Republican) counties to blue (Democratic) counties. However, he legitimately jumped on dodgy arguments from atheists, such as the questionable connection between religion and war, and Dawkins' shaky Ultimate 747 argument. In general, I'd say that the strength of his book is inversely related to the strength of his opposition. When the opposition has a strong line of argument, he is pretty weak, and vice versa. If the New Atheists had done their work right, Vox Day's book would have been so much steam, and Mr. Rasmussen would probably be feeling annoyed rather than gut-punched.

I'm actually surprised that Day didn't point out problems with Dawkins' treatment of the Founding Fathers, which Ed Brayton pointed on his own blog and in the comments of John Lynch's Stranger Fruit blog, or on some of the things discussed by Chris Heard on his Higgaion blog here and here, or what Orac had to say about Dawkins and his Neville Chamberlain nonsense.

The Professor's picture

Digging into TIA

I'm starting to go through TIA on Evangelical Realism, if you're interested. Feel free to leave comments if you think Vox is making any points that I'm not addressing adequately.

yorickoid's picture

Good job so far!

I've been following the posts, and I want to congratulate you for your perseverance. I'm sure VD thought you'd give up before this; shoveling manure is not a pleasant task.

PS I'd have written this on your blog, but as a matter of policy I don't comment on blogs where I have to register and login to do so.

Edit: This post addressed to Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism - somehow I got it into the wrong place in the thread.

Anonymous User's picture

Slavery?

I don't mean to barge in, but I flipped through Vox Day's book at B&N yesterday, and I'm curious enough about a particular item to attempt to post a comment on a blog for the second time in my life.

In the list of mistakes that Day cites from Harris' books there is the "factual error" asserting that civilized societies now agree that slavery is immoral. Day challenges this by citing a presence, today, of slaves and human trafficking at least comparable to that of the glory days of the Triangle Trade. He concludes that obviously the civilized world is not of a mind about slavery.

I might be alone, but I'm not sure what to make of this. Harris' point is that the moral question of slavery has effectively been answered, to the satisfaction of everyone. Is this not the case? Is Day not satisfied with the answer?

Harris' fuller point, of course, is that the Bible--both books--is on the wrong side of history with regard to the issue of slavery. It seems downright strange to claim that this is not the case because human trafficking still exists and there's a lot of it (if that is what Day is doing). It also seems strange to take this particular exception with Harris if one DOES agree, simply, that slavery is immoral. Perhaps Day explains it elsewhere--I checked for an index but there wasn't one.

This is not a good first impression (it is, of course, only a first impression). At best, it sounds like someone who just isn't serious--someone trying to rattle off as long a list of objectionable items as possible. At worst--which seems more likely, given what I just read about Slaughtering Toddlers for Jesus--it sounds like someone who considers slavery to be morally defensible because the Bible says as much. In either case, it sounds like business as usual in the Christian section at B&N.

If the whole book is like this (and I plan to read it and find out, and will be very unhappy with all that wasted time if it is), then Day might well have performed a sort of miracle: a rebuttal which is correct in every word (and 300 pages long!) and yet doesn't rebut anything.

Anyway, I'd be interested to know if Mr. Rasmussen considers this to be "something you can argue against."

Anonymous User's picture

Oh...never mind

Can I withdraw what I just wrote about slavery? I'm so embarrassed.

After five minutes of poking around on the Internet I realized my mistake: I thought for sure the whole slavery-in-the-Bible thing would be a problem--no, a focus of critical inquiry--for a thoughtful Christian. From the look of things this might once have been the case, but it's all been worked out now, just like that whole "problem of evil." I'm sorry about the naivete and the butting in.

I'm off to recalibrate the wishy-washy on my moral compass.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Thanks Prof

I am impressed with what I have read of your review so far. Thanks for taking the time to deconstruct it that I could not. Looking forward to your next installment!

Deacon Duncan (aka The Professor)'s picture

Oops

Vox noticed that I'm going through his book.

Hank Fox's picture

Interesting, But Not Very

I don't know much about the guy, and haven't read any of his stuff, but the endlessly triumphant tone of his comments here and there don't make me feel much like reading any of the rest of his writing. Puts me in mind of Tom Laughlin castigating reviewers for panning his "Billy Jack" movies.

Reading Vox Day's comments about why certain reader/reviewers don't make it past his second or third chapter only raises more questions. But ooh, lucky me, I could find out the answers to all those questions if I only buy and read his book.

I guess the one main thing that holds me back is the name of the author. It seems to me there's a certain juvenilitry, a childish playing-of-games in the whole thing, and I'm not sure I want to be sucked into his game. It's like seeing a book in the window of Border's titled "A Insider's Look at the Bush White House by a Close Personal Friend of the President," but then finding the author's name listed as "Mr. Secret."

Vox's picture

You don't have to pay for

You don't have to pay for the book, Hank. You can download the whole text for free right here: http://irrationalatheist.com/downloads.html. There aren't even any ads or anything on the page, so you can read your favorite of four digital formats without fear of contributing a single fraction of a penny to my lavish lifestyle. The salient point about the first 2-3 chapters is that I don't seriously begin making the individual indictments until chapter four. Now, wouldn't you agree that it would be totally absurd to dismiss The God Delusion because the first chapter is little more than Albert Einstein and ad hominem attacks on the religious? I mean, what does Albert Einstein have to do with God's existence anyhow? Put the book down, obviously Dawkins is an idiot!

It's also ironic to hear atheists complain about my lack of respect for the Four Horsemen of the Bukkakelypse, especially if one happens to read even the first part of the transcript of their most recent circle of mutual regard at RD.Net. As for my name, just take it one step further. Follow the Latin into Greek. So read. Or don't read. Whatever. Just don't assume that you know what it says until you read it.

Jim Downey's picture

I didn't think it was possible . . .

"Bukkakelypse" ???

Good lord, I didn't think that it was possible for my opinion of VD to be any worse. Gotta admire a man who keeps on trying.

*sigh*

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

Hank Fox's picture

Heh.

Hey, I DID read your last paragraph above, and I can't even figure out what IT says!

Bukkakelypse? Follow the Latin into Greek?

Why not let the rest of us in on the jokes? I mean, sure, I'm stupid compared to you, but I'd like to be in on the conversation when it's directed at me.

yorickoid's picture

Neologism & VD's name

Bukkakelypse: an obvious effort to be scatologically insulting, euphemised as "lack of respect".

A Google search on ["vox day" voice god] is informative, but the only Greek connection I see is his real name (see Wikipedia).

I don't doubt his book is worth what he's charging for it.

Thameron's picture

You might not want to know but

Apparently Mr. Vox is trying to be clever in his seminal reference to ejaculate. To wit -

Bukkake - is a group sex practice that features a female subject being ejaculated on by multiple men.

It is uncertain just what symbolism the woman is supposed to represent in his reference. Religion? Perhaps he assumes that reference to human bodily excretions gives additional weight to ones opinions. For instance if I referred to him as a piece of shit. This would have a certain impetus, but it would be be more powerful if I referred to him as a steaming dump, because that assumes more volume than one fecal fragment, and this line of expostulation would reach its natural climax if I referred to him as bilious, anal expulsive, diarrhetic volcano.

Regardless, I think I will await his masterpiece on the bestseller shelves of my local bookstore before reading it. Considering his vocabulistic predilections one cannot help but wonder if he not so much wrote as excreted that as well. Certainly I would need to make sure that I had enough soap and hot water for the venture.

Anonymous User's picture

This is all cool, but...

I've been reading... and reading. I got here starting at the Richard Dawkins site, through The Irrational Athiest.
Just for giggles, I'll post a thought. Mr. Cox shoots at Mr. Dawkins et al, both using ammunition of questionable solidity. Uhhh. I was studying genetics and took an unusual path that no one has followed before. The conclusions are pretty radical and very positive. Coincidently I found that God very probably exists, simply based on genetics, but cross referenced to history as well. It's not a picture anyone has painted before. The more I read, the more original it looks.
I will publish if I can find somebody that wants to.
Enjoy, Mike

The Professor's picture

Ok, I'd like to read TIA...

...but how do I get the book? When I look for it on Amazon it says it's a hardcover that hasn't been published yet.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

TIA Download

From what I understand, Day will be offering TIA as a 'pay what you want to' PDF (and other e-book formats) download, with one of the choices being "$0.00" in a few days on his website.

Anonymous User's picture

Response to Vox Day

I saw your review of the Irrational Atheist posted on WorldNetDaily. You challenged Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others to refute Day's criticisms. Well, they haven't responded as yet, but Austin Cline did a pretty good job in this article --

http://atheism.about.com/b/2003/11/18/the-irrational-atheist.htm

richg's picture

Who is this God-person, anyway? - a few thoughts from a Xian

I just found this thread last night, and read through most of the posts and have a few thoughts, from a (hopefully) thinking Christian's perspective.

First, why all the defensiveness about your views about your non-god, anyway? Almost all atheists that I have known share a militant view of the universe that they feel must be defended at all costs, not all that much differently from many religionists who feel a duty to expand their viewpoints. Some of the posts have come from people who have a degree of humility, but most reek of a "We Are Right!" attitude. I go back to a C.S.Lewis assertion that "Christianity, if false, is of no importance..." So, why all the rancor?

Second, it seems to me that most atheists are so busy knocking down false gods (that deserve to be knocked down), while most religionists are busy building them, that few have taken the time to step back for a bigger look.

As a Christian, I must confess that there are too few of "us" that have a satisfying concept of "God". We cannot (or will not) take a deep look at the trilemma, and accept it as a true paradox. We fall into the very human trap of thinking that it must be solved and understood in order for the universe to make sense. But that is a trap for both religionists and atheists alike. To think that eternal questions can be made to fit into our limited minds, in the few short years we have here.

Any "God-person" who could fit into ANY construct of my own making is trivial, and deserves all the derision, scorn and disproof that any good atheist can dish out.

During WW2, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (for any who don't know, he was a German Lutheran pastor who perished in a concentration camp for his part in an assassination attempt on Hitler) apparently reached a point of wishing there could be an "atheistic christianity". Apparently a moral way of living that didn't depend on a blind obedience based on doing right "just because I say so..." but a living based on doing right to another simply because it is the right thing to do.

Charles Finney, in his Systematic Theology, makes the argument that God does not simply define morality by fiat, but that morality is simply what is the proper behavior of moral agents (a being that has the capability of making free-will choices) amongst and between each other. Many religionists have a problem with this, preferring (out of laziness, I suppose) to substitute a "Because God told me so" approach.

Most atheists accuse religionists of not taking responsibility for their own lives, and rightly so. It is easier to defer the responsibility to another, and have that one make the hard choices for us. But in the long run that only works for children and trainees. Pretty soon we must grow up and recognize that our lives are our own. And start walking on our own two feet.

You may not believe this, and I don't demand that you do, but one of the few things that I believe God said to be was "It's your life, not mine..." The choices are mine to make, and I alone take responsibility for them. Any god-person who says otherwise is not a god worth following.

So, go ahead and keep knocking down the gods presented by religionists - If you can do so, they are too trivial to be considered "God". But please, leave room for the possibility that there may be something "out there" (in the 11 or 12 dimensions of space-time) that we cannot confine to our limited explanations or understanding.

That would be true humility. And may lead to a more reasoned discourse without so much hostility.

Kentucky Atheist's picture

richg said: "But please,

richg said:

"But please, leave room for the possibility that there may be something "out there" (in the 11 or 12 dimensions of space-time) that we cannot confine to our limited explanations or understanding.

That would be true humility. And may lead to a more reasoned discourse without so much hostility."

richg, one problem with this request is that, as a christian, you yourself cannot do what you are asking us to do, unless you are defining "christian" in a way that most christians would not recognize as valid. Your religion requires you to "know" through faith that there is nothing "out there" except your trinitarian God and perhaps some angels and demons he created. If you practiced the humility that you are requesting of us, and considered the possibility that there is something "out there" other than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, most christians would consider you hell-bound (or at least purgatory-bound). The only difference between atheists and theists is that we atheists don't make an exception for the theists god of choice. Perhaps you personally really are that humble, and are more of a free-thinker than most christians would consider allowable. It would certainly be a refreshing change if christians as a group would concede that their beliefs are as objectively silly as every other religions, and ratchet down the rhetoric about possessing the "Truth" and quit trying to force the rest of us to live our lives in conformity with the cultural taboos of stone age desert nomads.

richg's picture

Aww C'mon, You're smarter than that.

1. I didn't define what a "Christian" is or is not.
2. My religion does *NOT* require that I believe there is nothing else out there, unless you can bring a proof of your assertion.
3. There is a huge difference between "non-rational" and "silly"

Kentucky Atheist's picture

A polytheistic christian?

richg,

I'm not going to hunt through the Bible to quote verse, but christianity is most definitely presented as a monotheistic religion, as long as you are willing to swallow the whole trinity notion. If you are polytheistic yourself, and don't go around trumpeting that you have the "Truth", then my problem isn't with you, but most of your co-religionists. But as I said, most of the christians I know would not consider a polytheist to even be a christian.

In regards to the silliness charge, I'm asking you to step outside the framework of your belief system and try to look at it objectively. The theology that God had to have himself tortured to death so that he could forgive us for acting the way he designed us to act, and established an arbitrary test of faith to determine which of the few of us would get to spend eternity singing his praises while the rest of us are subjected to eternal torture (even though, of course, he loves us very much), is, objectively, silly. But don't think I'm picking on christianity; its not any sillier than any of the other religions.

richg's picture

Polytheistic?... Nah.

No, I don't consider myself polytheistic. But I was responding to your Your religion requires you to "know" through faith that there is nothing "out there" except your trinitarian God and perhaps some angels and demons he created.

I am not required to "Know" but to "Accept" and that not blindly (as in Kierkegaard's "Leap of faith").

I have no idea what's "out there" - the sub-atomic physicists and cosmologists know there are far more dimensions than we can wrap our brains around (at last count 11 or 12). Why would I confine myself to thinking that only the 4 (3-space, 1-time) we experience daily are all that exist?

Take a moment to consider how an inhabitant of a 2-space ("Flatlander" I think it has been called) could interact with a 3-space creature. It would only be possible if the 3-space creature crossed the plane of the flatlander. And all the flatlander would see is another flatlander that came from nowhere and went to nowhere.

So, with several more dimensions "out there", there is a whole lot of room for things to exist that we can know little to nothing about. But I *do* accept that there is a single source - and that being a personality, if you will. And my pea-brain can neither prove nor disprove that.

Kentucky Atheist's picture

Not that much room

According to what I have heard about M theory, the extra dimensions are curled up so tightly that they are imperceptible, much like the gods people believe in.

richg's picture

Tightly rolled?

Sure they may be tightly rolled up to approximately the Planck dimension, but that is still not infinitely small.

But they may not be, all one would have to do is step off our plane by an infinitesimal amount in any direction undefined by our 4-space and he would be in an entirely different universe.

Besides, there is no way we could detect an extra dimension because the tools we have are tools that exist with us in our space, and are limited by the mathematical and physical laws of this space. Like a Flatlander's telescope. It could never be turned to look off the plane of its existence, and even if possible, the Flatlander could not get "behind" it without also moving off its plane.

But the more immediate concern is the person whose opinions are so tightly rolled up as to be unwilling or unable to allow for a possible difference of opinion or belief. And that is not just godders who do that.

Kentucky Atheist's picture

Atheists haven't launched a crusade or jihad lately

richg,

The "godders" have little to fear from atheists, except in the few places left in the world where people still cling to power in the name of Marx. Oh, you hear whining from intelligent design advocates about persecution, but the examples they have provided amount to a whole lot of nothing, and has to do with their advocacy of pseudoscience rather than their religion. As an atheist, I have no problem with people having invisible friends to help them get through life; the problem comes when they insist that their invisible friend is real, and everyone else better toe the line laid down by their invisible friend.

The fact is, our culture is so saturated with messages promoting magical thinking and disparaging reason and rationality, it really needs a few derisive voices on the other side to point out the emperor is naked. Atheists in this country are probably more closeted than homosexuals. Its only on message boards like this that I can express myself freely, because in the Bible Belt you might as well identify yourself as a pedophile or serial killer as admit to being an atheist.

richg's picture

A Crusade?

Man, what has happened to the teaching of history? The Crusades were a RESPONSE to several Islamic invasions. The invaders in the west came through Spain and into France, and in the east got to Vienna in Austria. The Crusades were specifically not an unprovoked invasion of a peaceful Turkish empire, but a "push the invaders back to where they came from". The Europeans didn't start it, but they wanted to finish it.

And just *what* is wrong with magical thinking? You haven't heard of "Spooky Action at a Distance"? This is a serious scientific field of study that has come out of quantum physics. And it defies reason and rationality but it *does* exist.

I cannot speak for the Bible Belt, but around here ( on the left coast), it is easier to admit to being a Atheist, Ba'Hai, Neo-Pagan, Taoist, alcoholic, tweaker, whatever than to be a public Christian.

Rich G.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

John Morales's picture

Magical thinking

And just *what* is wrong with magical thinking? You haven't heard of "Spooky Action at a Distance"? This is a serious scientific field of study that has come out of quantum physics. And it defies reason and rationality but it *does* exist.

This is a misunderstanding of the term - magical thinking is a mode of "understanding" where causation and correlation are not distinguished, and where intuition is as acceptable as evidence as a basis for beliefs.

As for quantum entanglement, the fact that Einstein derided the concept (the EPR Paradox) with that term doesn't mean it "defies reason and rationality" - it means he did not accept the results of the thought experiment - subsequent experimentation has shown he was mistaken in this opinion. Note that this intellectual achievement was due to rational, not magical thinking.

What's wrong with magical thinking? It enables superstition and disparages rationality. It's the basis for pseudo-science (e.g. homeopathy) and charlatans (e.g. mediums and psychics) just off the top of my head.

Scientific knowledge (and thus technology) has advanced exponentially in the last few hundred years because the scientific method rejects magical thinking.

Kentucky Atheist's picture

Mr. Bush's Crusade

I wasn't talking about events a thousand years ago, richg. And I am familiar with "spooky action at a distance" which is not magic, but an unusual natural phenomenon we don't understand yet. The problem with magical thinking is that when you have convinced yourself you are doing your invisible friend's will, you can do things like fly airplanes into buildings, invade countries for no good reason, lie to schoolchildren about what science is, oppress people for loving the "wrong" person, and lay waste to the planet because, after all, Jeebus is coming soon so it doesn't really matter. Credulity and faith are so loudly trumpeted as virtues, is there really anything wrong with a few voices speaking out in favor of skepticism?

As to your claim about the status of christianity in California, the difference between us is that you are exaggerating and I'm not. Just because there is more tolerance of non-christians in a community doesn't mean you are being persecuted. Get use to some people thinking your metaphysical beliefs are weird or wrong; the rest of us have lived our wholes lives with the christian majority thinking we are evil or nuts.

richg's picture

Who said California?

Get use to some people thinking your metaphysical beliefs are weird or wrong

Been putting up with it for over 30 years.

the rest of us have lived our wholes lives with the christian majority thinking we are evil or nuts.

I've been putting up with this, too, but by the non-christian majority.

But for both you and I, it has been annoying, not life-threatening.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

Hank Fox's picture

Huh?

The non-Christian majority? What planet do they live on?

Okay, Rich, NOW I’m starting to wonder about you.

I'll quote myself from previous comments:

Christians make up more than 80% of the people in the U.S., and yet still manage to imagine themselves a downtrodden minority.

Just so we’re clear on how mistreated and discriminated-against American Christians are NOT, note that every member of Congress – save one recent Muslim and a few scattered Jews – is a Christian. I’d bet every governor of every state is a Christian. On the local level, it’s virtually impossible to get elected to any office without paying homage to Jesus.

Most of my life, you had to swear on the Bible even to serve on a jury. And lest we forget, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, the most powerful man in the country, the most powerful man in the world, is a very vocal Christian.

Every piece of U.S. money, every coin and bill, serves double duty as a Christian tract, with “In God We Trust” stamped on it. Rich, powerful televangelists blanket the airwaves of every city and state.

Christians sit on every official policy-making body in the nation. It is absolutely impossible to pass any bit of public legislation, to create any least scrap of public policy, without it passing through the hands of Christians. Every bill, every law, every ordinance, every legal decision, has Christian input.

Further, every corporation in America likely has a majority of Christians on its board of directors. Every school principal in America – and every teacher – is about 20 times more likely to be a Christian than any other religion. No matter where you live in the United States, it’s a good bet you can walk to a Christian church.

Probably well over 90 percent of the soldiers in the U.S. military are Christians. There’s ample evidence that military top brass encourage Christian proselytizing to soldiers. On the citizen side, who owns most of the guns in the U.S.? Bingo. Christians.

Christians are not downtrodden. NOT discriminated against. They own America, and everything in it. The rest of us can’t even sneeze in public without the Christian presence making itself known in a chorus of god-bless-yous.

...

Yeah, I think religionists are gradually losing influence, and it may be accelerating recently. But that’s not because the rest of the people are bullies and Christians are an oppressed minority. It’s because reason works better than superstition, and nothing can stop that from eventually becoming apparent. If you have a faulty model of reality in your head, reality itself becomes your enemy.

Jim Downey's picture

Hey, I'm tryin'!

On the citizen side, who owns most of the guns in the U.S.? Bingo. Christians.

Hey, Hank, I'm tryin' to do my bit to balance the scales.

;)

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

richg's picture

Now THAT'S taking responsibility for yourself!

And not relying on big Brother to take care of you.

The gun-control people forget that our courts have held that the police have no positive duty to provide personal protection to anyone. It is the individual citizen who is presumed to provide his own self-defense.

Except in England, where the government does not protect anyone, and prohibits self-defense, even with a cricket bat.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

Brent Rasmussen's picture

I Agree

The gun-control people forget that our courts have held that the police have no positive duty to provide personal protection to anyone. It is the individual citizen who is presumed to provide his own self-defense.

I agree. I am a hunter, and I own rifles for hunting, and handguns and other personal protection weapons as well (a couple of 20 gauge shotguns for the house.) I teach my children about firearms - safety, how to shoot, etc. - and Mrs. Inscrutable is a better shot than I am with any firearm I've ever cared to try my luck against her with. If we ever had our home invaded, the hapless burglar would most likely be down with a couple of 9mm slugs in his gut from Mrs. Inscrutable before I could get my street-sweeper into play. That is, if 400 lbs of territorial English Mastiffs didn't decide to have them for a light snack first. Heh.

Don't assume that "atheist" always means "gun control advocate". You'll make a mistake every time. Some are, some are not. And that is one of the underlying points to this whole thread. People are different. Grouping them because they possess or do not possess god-belief is silly and superficial - and more importantly, likely to be wrong.

Jim Downey's picture

Since you're new here . . .

Heh - see this comment.

Since you're new here, rich, you may not be aware that a number of us are decidedly pro-RKBA. I carry regularly (as constrained only by law and my permit), and see that as being consistent with my other philosophies. And I am hardly the only one here who has that attitude.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

richg's picture

Types of Christians - Types of Atheists

I will grant your surprise.

But please consider that there are degrees and types of people who self-identify as "Christian", just as there are degrees and types of atheism. There are those who are simply cultural, those tho are radical, those who are ideologues. And I'm sure there are crossovers - those who identify as Christians, but live like atheists or vice-versa. As a matter of fact, I have known some.

One of the first things I noted here is that there is no one all-encompassing monolithic "Atheism". Not all are of the same kind. So please extend the same thought a bit wider.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

Hank Fox's picture

I say again: Huh?

This is translating in my head to:

"Most of those others are not real Christians, therefore real Christians really are a minority. Which means I really am a minority-group member, and really do occasionally suffer discrimination at the hands of a non-Christian majority."

That about sum it up?

richg's picture

Depends on how you define "Christian"

You're close to what I was writing. Wish it wasn't like that (the conditions I am describing, not what you wrote), but it is.

But even in other societies there have been similar differences.

Would a Sunni call a Shia a "Real Muslim"? - and both looked at Saddam's Baathists as "secular Muslim".

Amongst the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Esseens and Zealots, all looked like Jews to the Romans, but not to each other.

And in the ancient Greeks, there were different schools of thought that ranged from Pythagorean Atheists through various Platonic and Socratic schools, all saying "We are Right"

In the end, I have more respect for one like you who is unabashedly 'out there' than one who simply 'goes with the flow', blending in the cultural currents for convenience. Both you and I rub them the wrong way.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

Thameron's picture

Free? Hardly

a being that has the capability of making free-will choices

Near the top of the list of words that rankles me from over and mis-use has got to be the word 'free'. It trips so easily from the lips of many and yet the definition does not follow. You just depend upon some internal knowlege or emotion to well up inside the other person without having to do the heavy lifting yourself.

Let me be plain here. You are NOT free. Free beings are those with unrestricted choices. Only beings with infinite power (and as far as I now there are none of these) have unrestricted choices (and even they might not due to inherent contradictions) anyway... Think you are free do you? Are you free to travel to the moon, the planets, the stars or even to other galaxies? Nope. Your movement is much more constrained. Are you free to fly into the air without technological aid? Are you free to travel to the core of the earth or to go live out the rest of your life at the bottom of the sea? Absolutely not. Your spacial 'freedom' is constricted by your resources and your physical abilities. Can you go back or far forward in time? Can you choose not to die and to keep living in an ageless body for as long as you choose? No. You do not have freedom of time. The death of your flesh is already programmed into you and you are not free to change that program. Can you change yourself into a bacteria or a mastodon if you choose? No. Here again you are a prisoner not only of your world but even of your flesh. So now that we have established that you and I (and everyone else) live in cages and are not in fact free we come to the crux of the issue. For atheists such as myself I understand that the laws of physics built the bars of my cage. For believers however the situation is somewhat different. Believers think that some intelligence lovingly crafted the bars of their cage. If this is true then certainly God didn't make you free because while it would be theoretically possible for this being to be able to make you free it chose not to and I just don't see why believers find any comfort in that unless you think those bars are there 'for your own good'. God could have made you capable of flying to the other stars and galaxies but he/she/it didn't. Bummer.

John Morales's picture

What about context?

Thameron,

That's a masterful summation for a very literal meaning of "free", but what richg said was

The choices are mine to make, and I alone take responsibility for them.

Thameron's picture

Ah but that is just the point

How can you be responsible for your choices when someone else is responsible for deciding what choices you get?

If I have a refrigerator full of every flavor of ice cream known to man and tell you that you can have only chocolate or vanilla then who is more responsible for the choices that you have made? Me for constraining your choices or you for making them?

Another of the things that really bugs me about some Christians is that on the one hand they say that we have 'free' will and on the other they attribute all sorts of interference in our daily lives to the deity (for instance in saving people from certain things like plane crashes). Which is it? Did the deity interfere and save someone (thus flagrantly violating their free will) or do you have free will and is God just watching you run around in your cage? They seem to want it both ways,

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Having Your Cake And Eating It Too

They seem to want it both ways...

That's an excellent point. If "free will" is to be considered a consistent argument within one's theodicy, why would you go around suggesting that God will flagrantly violate it if you just pray hard enough? And why would God violate some stranger's free will because you ask Him to?

Is there some sort of hidden point value system associated with humans that God checks out before shattering His own rules about free will? Does he haul up the stats on each participant in the plane crash, right-click and choose "Properties"?

GOD: Well, by Me, it looks like old John Smith here rates a 23 on My 'willing to violate the free will clause' meter, but Sally Johnson has only earned a 20. I guess Sally's screwed!
*GOD closes eyes and blinks*
*('i dream of jeanie' boing! noise)*
*plane crashes*
*JOHN is miraculously hurled from the plane and lands on a nearby beach, in a beach chair, holding a mai tai*

John: Sweet!
*JOHN sips mai tai*

Sally: Uuuhh...
*dies*

GOD: My work here is done.
*makes hand washing motion*
*walks offstage and heads to applebee's for drinks with jesus and the spook*

richg's picture

I saw a different scene...

*plane crashes*
*JOHN is miraculously hurled from the plane and lands on a nearby beach, in a beach chair, holding a mai tai*

John: Sweet!
*JOHN sips mai tai*

Sally: Uuuhh...
*dies*

I flashed on a scene:

JOHN finds himself walking down a beach, and suddenly remembers that he had boarded the plane in a wheelchair.

And it was CLAIRE who died.

richg's picture

Free moral agent

I did mention free-will choices. But I did not mean unlimited free will - the ability to do any and everything that can be imagined. But I do retain the ability to make choices from a somewhat more limited palette (or menu). Even a hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being is limited by his (its) character and nature, but does retain the freedom to make choices that are consistent with his (its) nature.

And yes, they look like mice. Please don't make me use the androgynous term he-or-she-or-it.

John Morales's picture

I note a problem.

richg,

But I do retain the ability to make choices

An omniscient deity, by definition, knows* every choice you will ever make [even before]* creating the universe.
Don't you find that problematic for your notion of free-will?**

* Time-bound language breaks down here.
** (1) rephrased: you will choose what it knows* you will choose - the outcome is not in doubt.
(2) Incidentally, why create something where its genesis, evolution and outcome is known "ahead" of time in the first place?

richg's picture

I accept the paradox

An omniscient deity, by definition, knows every choice you will ever make [even before] creating the universe.

Yes, I accept this.

Don't you find that problematic for your notion of free-will?

Yes, I do.

But one of the things that makes us human is the ability to hold contradicting views - to accept that there is a paradox there. But I don't let that stop me from exercising my mind to the best of my ability.

John Morales's picture

Why accept the paradox?

richg, I presume you consider the utility of adopting a belief in an omniscient deity, regardless of the double-think it necessitates, exceeds that of avoiding dissonance by not adopting it.

I myself am incapable of (in good faith) adopting a belief that I find unnecessary and contradictory. As Brent said,

I am still, and barring some pretty convincing evidence that I find personally credible, will most likely always be an atheist.

Thanks for your patience and forthrightness in this thread, and thanks Brent for not intervening as we debouch off-topic.

Hank Fox's picture

Beyond Militant

Plantation owners probably looked genteel and peaceful as hell sitting on their porches drinking lemonade while the slaves picked cotton in the fields. But the slaves stayed out there working because they knew those peaceful-looking people were deadly dangerous.

Too obscure a metaphor? How about this:

Picture an army that invades a nearby country, and tortures and kills almost everybody there. Afterwards, they invite in their own people as settlers. The settlers come in, take over the houses and farms and start to raise families.

A generation later, the army is off in some new land, and you see not a weapon or a uniform on the streets. The remainders of the indigenous people come out of hiding and, not seeing any guns, feel safe enough to begin openly protesting what happened to them.

There's resistance to them, of course. The comfortable settlers say "I just don't get why they're so angry. Every indigene I've met just seems so militant. Why can't they be peaceful like us?"

That’s pretty much where we are today. Nice comfortable Christians, pleasant people most of them, who can’t imagine they’re doing anything at all to make other people uncomfortable. “What? Well, my God, we’re not AGGRESSIVE! Christians are the most peaceful people in the world! They’re protesting against us? That just seems so MILITANT.”

Atheists seem militant for two reasons:

One, the nice Christians can’t be persuaded to listen unless you shout for about 20 years against the din of astonished Christian voices. (You, for instance, nice Christian that you are, I’m picturing you striding good-naturedly out into the fields to ask why the slaves have thrown down their cotton bags. “Here now, what’s all this? You say you don’t want to work? Good heavens! I can’t imagine WHY.)

And two, because a lot of us actually are irritable. After a while, you get fed up with being treated as second-class, and enemies, in your own hometown. That tends to make you a little irritable.

Atheists who say anything at all in opposition to having someone's religion imposed on them will seem unreasonable to the religious people they're protesting ... people who live comfortably unaware of their own legacy of conquest and repression.

Every time I hear "I just don't get why they're all so militant," it's an eye-rolling experience – a tiresome, never-ending repeat – of "Oh, jeez, here's yet another unconsciously condescending idiot who lives up in his comfortable head and can’t be bothered to notice that other people might be having a totally different experience on the plantation."

John Morales's picture

Define a God first... then you can knock it down

As I understand it, the Christian god-concept is an entity outside of space-time that:
* created the universe
* is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent

Using on this definition, it inescapably follows that what was, is, and will be can only be what this god wants. Whatever anyone or anything does, is what this god wants. It explains nothing, it prescribes nothing.

It's also contradictory, since (however you define it), evil exists, and this god is defined as benevolent.

To sum up, richg, I find the Christian god's definition to be inane and contradictory.

richg's picture

That's not what I came here to do...

Nope. I didn't come here to try to convince anyone that "My God exists and yours doesn't."

I will grant that the common understanding of "God" is often inane. And even the "best" definition will remain contradictory.

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