Archives for posts with tag: atheism

From the feedback I have gotten so far, it seems

  1. People would prefer the videos to be longer. Same content, but spaced out more.
  2. Audio quality not terrible but also not great. (Tinkering with microphone to try to address this)
  3. Video quality could be better. (I can re-upload a higher resolution video with almost no effort, I just didn’t want the video to be too large, but given it ended up being about 10mb, I think I can afford to boost the resolution.)
  4. A couple of you expressed interest in going into more depth as well

Feel free to comment here or youtube, or email me at google’s mail service under the the name of the blog. (Stated that way to avoid spam)


Today I’ll be posting the first in a series of short videos aimed at providing an approachable, reasonable, and generally friendly introduction to critical thinking. It will probably be redundant for some people, but I hope it will be beneficial to theists trying to understand atheists, and to people who might be questioning their own beliefs and looking for some way to get traction on the issues.


Transcript below:
Episode #1: Why should I care about language?
    Hello, dear viewer. Thank you for giving me a bit of your time. In the interest of of avoiding wasting any of it, I will simply say: let’s begin.
    First, a bit on language. There are many languages, about seven thousand at the moment. Depending on how you define them, there might even be thousands or tens of thousands more, but the thing we have to understand about what we call a “language” is that it all boils down to this: a language is a pseudo-fixed reference point by which we can communicate by reference to shared meanings.
    So to communicate about quite literally anything, we absolutely must share definitions to as close to perfectly as we can. In the interest of ensuring that you understand what I am trying to communicate, I am going to do my best to lay out the definition of some terms that are commonly used. Please be aware that as a person with an English Literature degree, language is what I do, I value it and I value communication immensely. So I will be making reference to dictionaries, which are the physical representation of our shared meanings.
    If by any chance you feel that my definition does not match yours, that is perfectly fine, but remember that if you want to communicate with me, or anyone else, you are obligated to provide a definition for the terms you use if it varies in any degree from the “standard”.  That isn’t to say that the standard is the end-all be-all–deviation from the standard is fine so long as you explain exactly how you differ from it so we can all communicate effectively.
    In short, if a spade is a spade, but by “spade” you mean “milkshake” it is your responsibility to tell everyone else, “hey when I say the word spade, I mean what you think of as a milkshake”.

Now to definitions of some basic terms:
Atheist — An atheist is a person who holds no positive belief in a god or gods. That is all the word means. You can expand and get more detail by asking whether they hold the “strong” or “weak” atheist position.
    Weak Atheist — Also called “negative” or “soft” atheism.
    This position, shared by the majority of atheists, is that while an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, neither is it evidence of presence. In other words, if you make a claim and show me no evidence, I am simply choosing NOT to believe. It can never be said that the weak atheist position requires faith because it is literally the negation of faith–it is the ‘default’ position. No weak atheist claims to be able to prove a God or gods or transcendent magical sky fairies do not, in fact, exist–a weak atheist simply says they choose to act as though these things do not exist until a preponderance of evidence can be produced to show that they most likely do.
    Strong Atheist — Also called “positive” or “hard” atheism.
    This rare and bizarre position is that a god or gods do not exist and that this is definite. Virtually no atheist holds this position. Let me say it again: virtually no atheist holds this position, because it is also a position that requires belief. Curiously, for some reason most religious folks seem to think that this position is what all atheists ‘believe’. For the obvious reason, the vast majority of atheists do not hold this position because it is a position that is not based on evidence. It cannot be emphasized enough that saying that all atheists hold this position is outright untrue and on par with saying that all black people are thugs, all white people are Nazis, all Americans are obese, or all French people are cowards. It simply is not true.

Agnostic — Where “atheist” deals with belief in a god or gods, agnostic is a word that deals with knowledge. So it is quite possible to be an agnostic atheist, and in fact the majority of atheists are in fact agnostic atheists: they readily admit that they simply do not possess the knowledge to claim that a God or gods exist or do not exist. The problem that this term creates is that the religious often claim that they DO know and will try to get weak atheists to admit that it’s possible a god or gods exist, then try to put a probability on it.
    This is silly for a couple of reasons: first, it is essentially a category error. Because the supernatural is by definition not accessible by humans since we are part of the natural world, trying to put a probability on the existence of a being that we cannot have any knowledge of is like trying to assign a probability to whether love is blue. It is possible to state in words, but the proposition is meaningless. The set of things we know absolutely nothing about and can know nothing about is not capable of having the property of being probable or improbable. It simply is not possible–it could be that God is the noses of undetectable duck-billed platypuses–but we cannot really assign it a probability.
    Second, even if we could assign a probability, the incredibly vast preponderance of evidence is that no supernatural force intervenes in the natural world. So any probability we assign would be vanishingly low. I’ll talk more about this in a future episode.

Deist — I include this for completeness. A Deist is a person who believes in a god, but is agnostic about that god. In other words, while they believe that a supernatural force created reality, they do not believe that they can know anything about that force. This absolutely rules out any Abrahamic tradition like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. and also rules out Shiva, Zeus, Thor, so on, so forth. Nothing whatsoever can be known about the attributes of the supernatural creator if you want to qualify as a Deist. This is not to say they can have no beliefs, but they admit that they cannot know it as an absolute truth.

That’s all for today from your friendly neighborhood Contrapologist. Thanks for listening.

I have recently become involved in a discussion with a theist friend of mine, who made the point that he could not see the reason why I attacked people of faith rather than work together with them to build a better world and further claimed that the scientific method taught us to look at things from both sides. My response was roughly as follows:

I am all for working together to build a better world, but my vision of what constitutes a better world seems to contrast rather sharply with that of the religious. I am not interested in tearing down people of faith; it is only the irrational and unsubstantiated beliefs of religious people that I have in my sights. Theists love to argue that I need to see, “both sides of the story” to arrive at the truth. The problem is that I actually do see both sides of the story, and decline to practice doublethink and the fallacy of argument to moderation.

We have the data. Something like 200 thousand of years of superstition and religion did not get us to the moon, cure polio, or create the infrastructure of our modern technological civilization. It might be argued that say, Abrahamic Theism has ‘only’ had 2500 years to get its bearings. Even if I allow that I am referring exclusively to Christian (New Testament) Theism, we still have a rich 1700 year history and countless sects to examine.

It was not Christian Theism that preserved the philosophy of the Greeks, it was Islam. It was only after Islam’s philosophical course had been hijacked by the work of people like Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī and sent careening toward mysticism and away from reason that the Islamic world fell into something of a dark age. The venerable Aquinas himself was influenced by al-Ghazzālī and similar thinkers.

At that point, Europe had been re-exposed to classical philosophy and we see a gradual increase in logic, reason, and observation in the Middle Ages, until lo–the Renaissance. It was, alas for the Christian Theist, not the influence of their faith’s antecedents but the antediluvian Mycenaean forebears of the Helladic Greeks that generated the initial impetus, and a culture built on the plagiarized plagiarism of the blood myths and superstitious mythology and justifications of Bronze Age goatherds that carried it forward through time into the hands of ‘Christendom’. Constantine may have given the empire to the Christians, but the Ottomans and Umayyad Caliphate repaired Europe’s all but severed connection to classical antiquity.

The fact that the works of Plato, Aristotle, or Epicurus spread so rapidly and so pervasively speaks volubly regarding the value of an examination of their ideas, but is almost silent on the subjects of intellectual honesty of Christian religion and its sincerity in pursuit of truth. Remember that the great majority of output during this period was devoted to the drafting of philosophy, natural or otherwise, into the service of a theology already deeply in the thrall of presupposition.

All of this is, however interesting or revealing it is, remains somewhat beside the point because the scientific method does most emphatically and assuredly not teach one to consider both sides of a story–it teaches us to look beyond stories to reproducible evidence that functions in a convergent manner. Certainly it has its own presuppositions, but I have yet to see a rational argument and pragmatic articulation for a worldview predicated on the assumption that we do not exist and the world does not exist. While we may presuppose God exists, the question it immediately raises is: which god?

By contrast, notice that we have but one method of science: the scientific method. We do not have endless schisms within the scientific community in peer reviewed literature; when someone is proven wrong and their most cherished theory has been disproved, they swear, abandon their theory, and move on with the business of pushing back the frontiers of human ignorance. Multiple people performing the same experiment get convergent results, and if they don’t they look for the reason why rather than assuming everyone else is absolutely wrong and they are absolutely right.They share information, collaborate, and converge at a conclusion that most effectively models reality given the time, resources, and knowledge that are currently available. Or they say they’re clueless, and look into the matter further.

Now look to religion. There are thousands in existence today, and even the most dogmatic or permissive is not immune to schism. There are endless varieties of the major religions, each with a slightly different view of things. As recently as 150 years ago, various forms of Christianity in America viewed each other with the poisonous hatred only family can bring muster–the religiously motivated and targeted laws of the original colonies prove this beyond any doubt. Each is utterly convinced of its own brand of absolute truth, and nothing can dissuade them from their belief, only amend their practices in the interest of evading government censure.

Yet they cannot all logically coexist–Islam claims absolute knowledge that there is but one God, and Mohammed is the final prophet. Hinduism claims a near-endless succession of gods and goddesses, sometimes allegorical and sometimes literal. The Mormon faith claims all other Abrahamic traditions are apostates and contradicts Islam with a regular stream of new prophets. Baptists contradict Mormons on their views of Heaven. Modern Jews are somewhat unconcerned with an afterlife, but do not accept Jesus, Mohammed, or Josep Smith as prophets. Not all of these faiths can be correct logically, it is inconsistent in myriad ways.

As students of history we need to learn from the errors of the past. Slavery was part of our nation’s past–justified scripturally. So were rape, torture, and genocide. The Spanish came to California and South America for God, gold, and glory, and they got what they came for with savage and mindless brutality backed by an explicitly religious mandate. Check the history of the Russians and Russian Orthodox Church in the Aleutians. Check the British treatment of the Iroquois and other tribes.

Certainly it would be unfair to lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of religion, but recall that I am not attacking belief in religion, but rather propositions held to be true without even the most cursory effort at investigation and without a single iota of evidence. Even though I grant that modern Christianity is different than that of yesteryear, the fundamental methodology of faith has not changed in the slightest: tell a child God said you are a miserable sinner and the only way out of eternal torture is complete obediencewith sufficient gravitas and so long as you have caught them young enough, and reinforce it often enough, they will hold onto it with tenacity that would make a bulldog weep. Which God(s), what precisely a sin is, and complete obedience to what seems to be largely immaterial.

In light of this, how can it possibly make sense to pick blind faith in one of thousands of religions over a universally singular, endlessly adapting but always searching mode of discerning truth from falsity that has proven itself trillions of times over the 300 years it’s existed–that is a methodical systematization of the processes we use every single day to deal with reality–and which everyone agrees on for the simple reason that it works.

Why go with the method that represents the first feeble, struggling attempt by humanity to explain reality in the distant reaches of a benighted history filled with atrocities beyond the scope of our most nightmarish imaginings? Why hold onto these things with such incredible vigor when we have other options and the luxury to find things out, make up our own minds, and talk freely with people all across the globe?

This is why we can’t get along, and build a better world together. As long as you insist that you have access to absolute truth by revelation and supply no compelling evidence of it, I will continue to object to the claim implicit in that statement: you know best, and are justified in telling me what to do–and injecting it into my government–because you have a direct line to infinite knowledge.

Sorry, no. Faith is not a path to knowledge, but functions with remarkable efficacy as a one to confidence.

Good morning, evening, or afternoon.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, but not in the usual manner. I care about distinguishing truth from falsehood, so if I am in error factually in a post, please do tell me but please be ready with the evidence. I’m a skeptic, and I am increasingly tired of seeing people take things on faith. I like to write, and as you’re reading this, presumably you like to read, so I think we’ll get along. (I read as well, obviously.)

While my atheism might have motivated me to expend copious quantities of energy toward the end of thinking about things carefully and critically, it is not the single end of my writing. I choose the title of contrapologist advisedly; I am not interested in defending science, reason, atheism, or secular humanism–but rather in attacking their detractors with vigor and ferocity. An apologist is often thought of as defending a controversial position, and I posit that clear thinking, and the withholding of belief until the aduction of evidence are in fact not controversial positions and require no defense.

Look around you. The evidence that science is a superior means of discerning truth from falsehood surrounds you in such profusion that the mind can scarcely encompass the immensity of a single facet of it before alighting on another. Virtually every element of modern life has its roots firmly planted in methodological naturalism–what we now call science.

Think about your actions. The evidence that skepticism is the best default position is legion. You look both ways and listen before you cross the street or make a turn while driving, avoid drinking milk past the expiration date–at least until you give it a few good sniffs, and lock your car door when you park in the city.

Babies are not born with a cross on their foreheads, at least not very often, and children must be the recipients of regurgitated faith before they themselves conceive of any metaphysical doctrines. Atheism is the default position we are all born into–some of us just never leave, or come back to it after flirting with the other options.

It will be from this foundation that I launch myself, and ask those who disagree: where is your evidence?

Thanks for reading.