Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Morality

It is quite often argued by proponents of the the Abrahamic faiths that god, whichever god it is, is the ultimate and inviolate source of humanity and that somehow the existence of our conscience, our guilt when we do bad things, is evidence for this god.

Needless to say there are problems with this.

  1. The god described in their holy books is a capricious, violent, hypocritical fuckwit of the first order. Dawkins puts it more poetically but you can find his description for yourselves. Suffice to say if you’re looking for a perfect moral guide a mass-murdering torturer and engineer of genocide isn’t a safe bet.
  2. Morality does change, it’s subjective. One can see that even through the books. Christians would even argue themselves that the New Testament overrides the old (even though it explicitly says it doesn’t) but to argue that moral systems can change is to argue that god is not all knowing or perfect since otherwise he’d have gotten it right first time. Different cultures, different times, different morals. This is particularly difficult for Muslims since Mohammed was, by any remotely modern standard, a kiddie fiddler. Try asking them if screwing children is wrong and, well… see what happens. Morality is also situational, stealing to feed a starving child would – for example – be considered good.
  3. Our conscience can enforce any moral system with which we’re ‘programmed’. While certain very broad and general moral rules seem to apply across humanity these are extremely basic and can be accounted for through evolutionary psychology and our existence as a social species (altruism good, selfishness bad). Whatever morality you’re brought up into, otherwise, will determine what you feel good, bad or indifferent about.

Summary: Offensive and ignorant, as well as being bollocks.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Empty Threats

Let us suppose, hypothetically, in our imaginations, just for a moment or two that I were to come to you and to tell you the following:

“If you don’t give me a hundred pounds, Bigfoot will track you down and kick you in the nuts.”

How would you react to such a threat?

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Only fools think Bigfoot is real. There’s no good evidence for Bigfoot, just some dodgy film of some chap in an ape suit running around and some vague nonsense about footprints and hair. It’s really not very convincing is it?

You wouldn’t give me the money, would you? It wouldn’t even cross your mind for a second, you wouldn’t be scared. You wouldn’t make even so minor a change in your life as to be out £100 once off on such a threat. Good for you!

So, my question, then is this.

Why, the merry fuck, do you think I’d find the threat of hell remotely convincing?

Is Atheism a Religion?

How would you define a religion?

Let’s go to an easily referenced source, even though it gets the definition of atheism somewhat wrong. Dictionary.com defines a religion in its primary definition as:

A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

That pretty much covers, within it, the later definitions as well, so it’s a good point from which to start. Remember, the definition for atheism used in this blog, and by most atheists, is:

The personal statement ‘I do not believe in god/s’

So let’s break it down…

1. Is atheism a set of beliefs?

No. Atheism is the lack of a singular belief. A lack of belief in a god or gods.

2. Does atheism say anything about the cause, nature and purpose of the universe?

In and of itself? No. Atheism just says we don’t believe in god/s. Many atheists also give the thumbs up to naturalism and materialism (not in the money-grubbing sense) but you can’t conflate atheism with these other things, however much the Venn diagram overlaps.

3. Does atheism reference a superhuman agency or agencies?

Other than to say we don’t believe in a god/s? No.

4. Do atheists have devotional or ritual observances?

No. There are no atheist prayers, devotionals, holidays, observances, washing of the feet, praying to Mecca (or, indeed CERN) or anything else.

5. Does atheism espouse a moral code?

Atheism? No. Atheists will tend to pick up a moral code from somewhere. Some look to nature and the altruism present in social species, others to philosophy, others to game theory. A few are nihilistic, true, but atheism in and of itself says nothing about a persons morality or lack thereof. Statistically speaking though, atheists tend to be less likely to be criminals, though the reason for this correlation is unclear.

Personally speaking I mingle some game theory, some epicureanism and some utilitarianism to come to my moral code.

Summary: Is atheism a religion? Is it bollocks. It fulfils none of the criteria that define a religion.

Bad Arguments for God: Something from Nothing

So, says the theist. You can’t get something from nothing! Everything that exists has a beginning, a cause. So the universe has to come from somewhere. That cause is god!

Wrong.

  1. You can get something from nothing, vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles demonstrate this. There are also causeless events such as atomic decay that show you can, indeed, get something from nothing and uncaused events. So the claim that you can’t is bollocks.
  2. If you can’t get something from nothing, this argument would also apply to god meaning that you’d need an infinite amount of godly regression with each god being caused by a previous god forever, which is just stupid frankly.
  3. Any such cause needn’t be a god, let alone your god, even if you were right about it needing a cause.

Some theists who think they’re wily (the intellectual midget William Lane Craig for example) change this slightly from the cosmological argument (above) to the Kalaam cosmological argument which is essentially the same thing, but changes the wording slightly to say that anything that has a BEGINNING must have a cause and then conveniently says god doesn’t have a beginning. Obviously, this is still a childish argument and still doesn’t work.

  1. There’s nothing to say this uncaused cause has to be a god, any god, let alone yours, it could be anything.
  2. The universe can’t really be said to have a beginning per se as time and space are simultaneous and connected. There’s no ‘before time’ in which for any agency to act.
  3. There’s nothing to say non-existence is the default state of things in any case.Essentially these are all fallacious arguments from ignorance, based on presuppositions about the nature and state of the universe that we’re finding to be untrue.

The flaws of these arguments are so self-apparent and have been demolished for such a long time that it’s staggering that anyone would still use them.

Summary Judgement: Total bollocks.

Does Atheism have a Problem with Racial Minorities?

Oh you bastard, I fuckin’ hate pikeys.
– Gorgeous George, Snatch

Atheists agonise, a lot, over who and what we have as part of our movement. I’ve already talked about the perceived women/feminism problems in the previous blog but another issue that people wring their hands over is he lack of racial minorities in the atheist movement, particularly prominent within it.

Frankly, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome enough to count for a hundred of anybody, but it is noticeable that here are less people of a non-white disposition and, being a broadly socially liberal bunch atheists worry about that.

Does it mean we’re racist?

No, it does not.

The society that we’re a part of though IS still racist, however much that’s decreasing over time. The long term effects of racism are still being felt even today in certain demographics and the subcultures of many racial demographics are sufficiently different, in a broad demographic sense, that what we’re seeing is a reflection of broader issues. Not an issue with atheism or atheists.

Racial minorities TEND to have less access to education, particularly at the higher levels. We know education and relative wealth are strongly correlated with atheism, even if it’s not causal we’d expect to see less atheists amongst a less educated and more impoverished demographic. Unfortunately this is generally true of many racial minorities.

Religion has often wormed its way into these communities. Religion may not be necessary for comfort in hard times, but it has been used that way. Religion prays upon the weak and desperate and racial minorities often place a much higher cultural value on religion either related to their home culture or to its place in drawing and keeping the community together.

It is a shame that we do not have more minority faces to speak out, but it’s not something we should agonise about. It’s no our fault, it’s a reflection of wider society and it’s NOT the problem or question that we – as atheists – are concerned about.

Give it time, it will change.

Does Atheism have a Problem with Women?

How perceptive, did you figure that one out on your own? When I kidnapped you or when I tied you up with leather straps? OF COURSE I’VE GOT A PROBLEM WITH WOMEN. Everyone has a problem with women because women taunt and tease because they are attractive and they punish you for being attracted. You claim to be a pro-sex feminist but would a feminist of any stripe be so deliberately risk taking? You dropped out of college, set up this freelance social work of yours, started bailing people out of jail and trying to reform them. Surrounded by dangerous, desperate men and look where it’s gotten you. 
– Mr Gone

No. Atheism doesn’t have a problem with women. Atheism is just ‘I don’t believe in god’ and nothing more. Atheism in and of itself has nothing to say one way or the other about women other than, perhaps, to remove the basis that many religions claim to have to oppress women – or to be fair to oppress anyone for any reason.

However… there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about this issue over the last few months, I won’t publicise the non-events that caused the fuss any more, but the overall issue is worth talking about.

So, to answer the title:

Q: Does atheism have a problem with women?

A: No. Atheism has a problem with orthodoxy.

Expecting some sort of unity from atheists, however much PZ Meyers might like the idea, is going to be tricky because like it or not the only all-encompassing definition of an atheist is that ‘dictionary’ one, not believing in god. That’s it.

I mean, here’s me, a loudmouth atheist, disagreeing with one of the leading lights of New Atheism about the definition of atheism itself. I trust my point is sufficiently made simply by saying that.

Given that this is all that really unites us little wonder that we don’t all agree on lots of things. The Hitch hates Islam more than he hates cancer, which has lead him to some viewpoints on intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq that make many of us (Atheists do tend to be peacenik liberals after all) quite uncomfortable.

There’s dissent even over the sheer strident nature of New Atheism, simply standing up and saying ‘No man, this religion bullshit is bullshit’ is too much for some atheists who’d rather quietly and meekly get on with their lives without rocking the boat.

So, we disagree, often violently, with each other over atheism itself.

Expecting such a diverse and rumbustious group to unquestioningly, and as a whole, accept feminist concepts, many of which are – like it or not – questionable or debatable, without subjecting them to the same sort of scrutiny that this community puts to any other beliefs or ideas presented to it is, frankly, stupid.

I suppose there’s an assumption taken that anyone who agrees with you on X must agree with you on Y and Z as well. Well, that’s clearly a silly position to take but I think also that within a community that’s – generally – pretty liberal and progressive its taken for granted that you’ll automatically agree with anything presented as a liberal or progressive issue.

When you don’t, somehow, that’s shocking.

It probably doesn’t help matters any that women are more often culturally and societally constricted from speaking out, rocking the boat and being confrontational which leads to a relative under-representation in the movement and a more accommodationist stance that is less popular with New Atheism.

Feminism, and to a lesser extent LGBT issues, have often spun off into their own theories and ideas in a relative vacuum, insulated from meaningful criticism. When some of these ideas bump up against other communities its natural for them to be questioned. Particularly by people who are fearless enough to question other orthodoxy with even more power of tradition and social censure behind it.

It doesn’t help, one little bit, that this natural and understandable questioning, examination of claimed statistics, methodology etc is dismissed as ‘mansplaining’ or on other spurious grounds, ironically the same kind of baseless dismissal that will cause rabid frothing from the other side.

So, to recap, atheism doesn’t have a problem with women, atheism is just ‘not believing in god’. Atheists do tend to have issues with claims that they’re not allowed to examine or subject to scrutiny and with being expected to agree with something ‘just because’.

Now. Would anyone like to go for coffee?

Faith & Harm

More than any specific religion what I find myself to be against is faith. Faith is a toxic meme.

Faith = (belief – evidence)

Faith is not limited, even in this strict definition, to religious faith. You can find this kind of unquestioning, blind loyalty also held in people, ideologies and just about anything else you care to mention.

Sometimes it can be hard to demonstrate how, exactly, faith is dangerous. It varies according to what is being believed of course but I would argue faith itself, the mere act of believing something for no reason carries with it implicit dangers.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, or rather some of the reactions to it, do however provide a very real and practical opportunity for me to demonstrate the problem of faith because, you see, the people of America have been sold a very dangerous and pernicious faith belief. That faith is the one that the rich only get to be that way through their own virtue and that the poor are only that way because of their own failings.

Is this a harmful faith belief?

Unquestionably.

Not only is it manifestly untrue but it keeps people oppressed and it even prevents them fighting back against their oppressors, far more effectively than any police state.

Look through We Are the 53% and you’ll see that oh-so-many of these people are in situations as bad, or worse, than many of those protesting as part of the 99%. Yet they have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the concept that it’s either their fault or that by sheer hard work they can overcome a society that is increasingly unequal and increasingly resistant to social and financial ascent.

These people have been sold, not only on the idea that they can overcome their situation through sheer graft, but that anyone asking for even the most basic consideration by the state, or the richest people in it, has no right to it. Rights to health and a basic social safety net that people in most civilised nations take for granted.

That’s the power and the danger of faith. It can make people work against their own individual and collective interest for the sake of an idea.

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
– Steinback