I Hold This Truth to be Self-Evident

Some of my essays have elicited comments that would characterize me as ‘militant’, ‘evangelical’, ‘religious’, or ‘intolerant’. It does not surprise me. Given religion’s historic immunity from criticism; it is not unusual that even casual questioning of religious doctrine is often interpreted as being aggressive. Still . . . I wish to make clear my position on how I feel about belief and believers. The bigger, subtler points of most of my missives are often never stated directly . . . so I will state them here.

On the tolerance side:

  • I feel religion is a natural phenomenon and will always exist.
  • There are people of high intelligence (and less so) on both sides of the theistic fence.
  • I am ultimately tolerant of an individual’s right to believe whatever they care to believe.
  • I will vigorously defend an individual’s right to believe whatever they want.
  • It is not my intent to deny no one the emotional comfort of their faith.

On the intolerant side:
  • I am NOT tolerant of public policy being driven by religious doctrine.
  • I am NOT tolerant of statements that give religion credit where none is due (i.e. religion is the sole source of morality)
  • I am NOT tolerant of social divides created by religious differences
  • I am NOT tolerant of societal ills promoted and enforced by religion
  • I am NOT tolerant of the denigration of non-theists (as a whole) when it can be shown that non-theists are every bit as (or more) tolerant and ethical than theists.
  • I am NOT tolerant of public funds (taxes) going to religious organizations that proselytize.

Most of my writings stem from my vocalizing the points from the ‘intolerant’ list. I feel that ALL decisions, big and small, should be based on facts and the best knowledge available. The truth of the following statement should be self-evident to believers and non-believers alike:

    It is ALWAYS better to make decisions based on real knowledge rather than mythology or superstition.

Often, the unstated message of my writings challenges the faithful to demonstrate that religion is, indeed, something more than mythology. I have yet to see anyone do that in a rigorous or intellectually sound way. In my research, I have not found one scintilla of compelling evidence to support the validity of any supernatural belief. I have, however, found vast amounts of empirical evidence that conflicts with much religious dogmatic teaching. I have had the faithful throw this, that, and the other ‘fact’ at me in support of their faith, but they were trivially easy to refute. You can get a taste of some of this in one of my other essays [here].

As soon as it clearly demonstrated that their religion is more than mythology, I (along with many vocal non-theists) will likely become a believer.


    Dalrok said...

    OK, I have a few questions:

    1) When you say you are an athiest, do you affirmatively believe that there is no god, or 2) that you can't prove or disprove the existence of a god?

    2) It seems like your comments have a lot to do with religion versus god (assuming one (or more) exists). Would you agree that there is a difference between religion and god.

    3) How do you determine what is "good" or "bad" without a god?

    Don't assume, BTW that I have a particular position on these queries...

    I look forward to you response.


    FVThinker said...

    The term ‘atheist’ has so much baggage and is interpreted so differently by various people that I think a new word has to be coined. Let me first say that even the most vocal atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins of ‘The God Delusion’ & more) do not unequivocally say that there is no god. Probably a better way to look at it is different grades of agnosticism. Grade ‘0’ would be a fundamentalist of their faith with unshakable certainty of the inerrancy of their holy text. Grade ‘10’ would be an individual that specifically states that “there is no god” or “god is impossible” with the same level of certainty that the fundamentalist theist possesses. Both extremes are, in my opinion, detached from reality. Neither can be reasoned with.

    I place myself somewhere about a 9 on the agnostic scale (as Dr. Dawkins placed himself). When I use the term ‘atheist’, I am talking about an agnostic in the range of 7 to 9. I grew up Catholic but never felt a connection to the church. Over the years, I saw things that made me uncomfortable with some aspects of religion. It wasn’t long after 9/11 that I realized that it was the absolute certainty that some individuals have in their faith that allows them to, with a clear conscious, kill others. It was ‘grade 0’ agnostics if you will.

    I have been picking up more and more academic research articles that pertain to the big questions. I have compared them to philosophical arguments supporting a supernatural actor and found the latter woefully lacking . . . primarily because of unsupported leaps of logic and gross assumptions. Add to this that theology has been proven wrong on so many things throughout history (evolution, the earth’s place in the universe, institutionalized intolerance, etc), that it just plain loses credibility. How many times can a person give you bad information before you stop listening to them?

    Still, I am open to arguments for belief. But at this point, the religious apologists are working with from a tremendous deficit in evidence and credibility.

    Could there be a god? Yes . . . but I have no reason to think so.

    GOOD and BAD

    You said “How do you determine what is "good" or "bad" without a god?”. It is not going out on a limb to say that this is THE biggest question that theists put forth. The theist side claims that we humans were given, to the exclusion of all other species, a moral code. A gift direct from God. I am not an academic on the subject, but I have read a good bit about it.

    There are several ways to look at this. From an evolutionary perspective, we are a thin skinned, hairless and weak species. We need to cooperate with one-another to in order to flourish (or even survive). Many, many species demonstrate cooperation as part of their “mode of operation”; that is a given. I read an interview recently of a Harvard biologist talking about the commonality of the concept of reciprocity . . . you help me, I’ll help you . . . or I’ll be nice to you if you’ll be nice to me. It is not unique to the human species. Is this too far from the ‘golden rule’ of ‘Do unto others’?

    What many do not know is that behavior that we would consider ‘ethical’ and uniquely human has been demonstrated in other higher species. This has been seen in observation of wild primates and in laboratory experiments. One experiment that I remember reading about involved two monkeys. If monkey ‘A’ took food from a dispenser, monkey ‘B’ would receive a painful shock. Once monkey ‘A’ figured out the correlation, he would not eat. My recollection of the experiment is that monkey ‘A’ nearly starved before he took the easily attainable food. Is this proof that other species share our same ethical framework? Of course not. Is this result, in and of itself, compelling? Maybe. Does this, taken in combination with observation of other primates caring for the injured and other ‘empathetic’ behavior, offer some compelling evidence that ethics may not be uniquely human? I think so.

    Many deduce that atheist have no moral code because they don’t believe in the divine source of a moral code. The facts do not bear this out. A very recent (1998) survey of the members of the National Academy of Sciences (an assemblage of some of our country’s greatest thinkers), 72.2% identified themselves as atheist. Another 20.8% identified themselves as agnostic. Some would conclude that between 72% and 93% of that group must be roaming raping, pillaging, and stealing lab equipment from one another. It is hardly the case. You can see the growing trend of disbelief within that group at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html.

    Prison populations seem to show under-representation of atheists. While theist population in the prisons is in line with the theist population as a whole, non-theist prison populations are far below their numbers in the population as a whole. You can see the results of the survey discussed at http://www.skepticfiles.org/american/prison.htm

    Add to this that ‘The Golden Rule’ (or its equivalent) was written down long before biblical times (by 1000 years if I recall)

    These are just a couple of bits of information. Is this compelling evidence that might suggest that certainty in a divine source of morals might be misplaced? I don’t think there is any other conclusion to be had.

    As far as how I know right from wrong? . . . the glib answer would be “I know it when I see it.” Still, this is not too far off the mark. Studies bear out that humans share the same core understanding of right and wrong irrespective of belief, non-belief and creed. We might perceive it as instinct.

    Will we ever empirically define what is right and what is wrong? Probably not in any satisfying way. I am ill-equipped to enter a proper philosophical and sociological discussion of right and wrong. In my most distilled concept of the matter, the first question that I might ask is “does my action hurt someone else?”. If it does, then it is probably wrong.

    In the end, though, my efforts are not to provide a moral code. I only wish to demonstrate that certainty of a supernatural law-giver is unjustified. And there is a good deal of societal ills that come from that certainty. I do not dismiss the good that comes out of moderated faith, but real knowledge will always serve us better.

    I will end with a quote by Mark Twain . . “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

    FVThinker said...

    Ooops! I almost forgot one of the most compelling studies comparing the least religious societies with the most religious societies. It was done my Creighton University (a Christian university) and it demonstrates a strong positive correllation between religion and common societal ills. It is nicely (graphically) summarized at http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html. That links back to the original Creighton University study.

    In a nutshell, it hows "prosperous democracies" with the highest levels of atheism to have the lowest levels of murder, teen pregnancy, teen abortion, sexually transmitted disease and more.

    Pretty compelling stuff.