Posts Tagged ‘theism’

A Non-Trivial Problem

June 12, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons

I’ve been trapped in an endless and ultimately pointless debate on this blog for over a week now.  It all began when a pseudo-theistic pseudo-apologist commented on one of my “Live Blogging the Bible” posts with something that amounted to

“Tee-hee, yeah, this is a pretty silly part of the bible.  I agree.  But still, man is that book incredible and divine.”

Of course, I haven’t read the whole book and have barely crested the “preface” stage, but I still have to take issue with this assertion.  The book cannot be more than the sum of its parts.  If there are any genuinely meritorious parts of the book, one would still have to weigh them against the unscrupulous horrors in other parts of the book.  And honestly, the rest of the book would have to pretty damn good to make up for the misguided anti-morality of the first three books.

The crux of the apologists argument was that my cursory reading of the bible was worthless as I wasn’t taking the time to understand it in context.  I was also focused only on the bible and not the rich theology that has evolved through the ages.  Christianity, he argued, is not the bible.  The bible is just a starting point and the theology of the faith had advanced so much since the days of Moses’ foreskin aided wrestling match.

I pointed out that it’s not really possible to say that theology “advanced”, as one can no more say that theology of today is in accordance with the divine than the theology of yesteryear.  It’s like talking about a breakthrough in homeopathy or phrenology.  If the endeavor has no measurable value, it can’t be said to advance.  Advance suggests a destination.

Instead of answering that charge, my esteemed opponent instead accused me of “religious intolerance” as though I did not boast of it.  He suggested that I’d simply divided the world into the good people who are against religion and the bad people who are in favor of it.  It was a thinly veiled charge of anti-theistic bigotry that rested on my continued insistence that without a goal one can draw no nearer to the goal.  How dare I be so intolerant of people making bold and demonstrably false truth claims while insisting that they’re point of view should be respected and accepted without the burden of evidence?

This is a common tack from the “liberal” theist (and by liberal I refer here to their theology, not their politics).  Atheists are bullies that are every bit as dogmatic as the believers.  We’re intolerant of religious people (which is true) which means we’re just like the Muslims who are intolerant of the Jews (which is bullshit).  They, on the other hand, are agnostics with a property-less god and the only honest position: self-imposed ignorance.  We should just live and let live and who cares if fundamentalists stand in the way of science or oppress gays or mistreat women?  That’s not religion’s fault.

It is an intellectually dishonest position and what’s more, anyone smart enough to take this position is also smart enough to see why it’s bullshit.  Religious extremism is (as the name would suggest) simply a point on the spectrum of religiosity.  Some people have benign tumors but that doesn’t mean tumors aren’t a problem.  Fundamentalism is a problem that (a) all religions share and (b) cannot be found outside of a religious context.  This would suggest that fundamentalism is a necessary byproduct of religion.  And it really doesn’t matter what a bunch of Muslim scholars say about peace and love if the true believers are hacking people to death in the streets.

This is not a “live and let live” situation.  This is a situation that demands intolerance.  Religion is a non-trivial problem.

No rational person would wish for the destruction of the world.  Such a proposition is as irrational as any you might propose.  What’s more, no person irrational enough to wish for the destruction of the world could possibly acquire the means and assistance he or she  would need to make it happen.  While technology does give us the means to global catastrophe, it is hard to imagine that anyone with the stated goal of world destruction could find anyone willing to lend a hand.  Sure, a clever statesmen could use nationalism and deceit to trick enough people into helping him, but the very nature of logic forbids any large scale attempt to bring about the end of one’s own species.

But, of course, if logic can be removed, there is no such safeguard.  If one can be convinced without evidence that a whole different universe exists after you die that is way better and way more important than this petty world, you could overcome your natural survival instinct and happily march the planet toward the apocalypse that your god has promised you.

No doubt the liberal defender of theism would roll their eyes at this nightmare scenario.  They would pretend it is ridiculous.  They would pretend that there aren’t large, organized, multi-national groups with exactly this goal.  They would pretend that somehow reason can prevail amid a group that has outlawed reason.

And of course they would.  They have to.  They can’t accept that the same thing that gives them their own personal love-Jesus might also have a dark side.  And they certainly can’t accept that the dark side eclipses the bright side.

Religious extremism is just religion without constraint.  No religion has ever voluntarily tempered itself.  No religion has ever neutered its own power.  It is the job of the secularist, the job of the scientist and the job of the atheist to castrate religion every time it thrusts its scrotum into the rest of the world.  As fond as religion is of mutilating it’s own genitals, they still leave that job to us.

Why Atheists Always Win at Twitter

April 15, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I just reached the satisfying conclusion of a five day flame war on Twitter.  My wife’s kind of new to the whole Twitter thing, so I’ve been explaining my technique a bit as I go.  It’s been educational for both of us, as it’s forced me to think a lot more about it than I normally do.  And over that period, I’ve developed a theory to help explain why I always kick so much ass in Twitter fights.

Now, it’s too broad a generalization to say that atheists always win on Twitter, unless you define winning as being the person who turns out to be correct in the end.  I’ve seen a few atheists get their asses handed to them by clever apologists on Twitter, forums, Facebook threads, Reddit, blog comments… you name it.  But it seems that the vast majority of the time, I see the atheist beating the religious clod into the ground until they’re pounding their keyboards randomly with shaking fists.

So before I lay out my theory, we have to define two things.  One is what I consider “winning” in a flame war.  The second is, strangely enough, the word “faith”.  We’ll start with the easy one.

The old trope about somebody being wrong on the internet is used to justify a lot of losses in online arguments.  I’m not saying there isn’t something to the notion that arguing online is often unproductive, but I think one goes to far when one says it’s “useless”.  As I’ve said before on this blog, it helps you hone your skills in live debate, it helps you reinforce your understanding of your own position and it helps you build a community of online support.  But there’s also another benefit; it can be really fun.

Debates online are okay.  I usually let somebody else takeover when the philosophical arguments get too far in the weeds because that shit bores me eventually.  I don’t have the patience to walk theist after theist through all the errors in “irreducible complexity” or “Pascal’s Wager”.  But I never back down from a good old fashioned flame war.  Hell, I’ve been doing that shit since CompuServe.

In all that time, the enemy hasn’t changed, the wars haven’t changed and thus my tactics haven’t had to change much.  Once an argument moves beyond any exchange of rational ideas and turns into a name-calling, juvenile insult war, there’s only one way to win.  You have to be the one who maintains your cool longest.  Eventually, if you do it right, you’ll get a response like:

You’re a pathetic, tragic, stupid, evil waste of breath. FUCK YOU!!!!1!!!

And then you can break out the champagne because you’ve won.  When you’ve reduced a person to something like that, they’ve admitted that they’re through being clever or even intelligent.  You’ve cracked their facade of confidence and revealed them to be your intellectual inferior.  What’s more, you can pile on all you want at this point because they’ve gotten emotional and you haven’t.  You can make them drool if you try hard enough.

For my purposes, this is the only measure of victory in a flame war.  Being the last person to lose their cool says that you’re the one presenting the rational argument and they’re the one presenting the emotional one.  It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not because all participants have long abandoned the logical standing of their position anyway.  It’s simply about who can piss who off first.

And it is in this way that I see atheists win over and over and over again.

Part of this is certainly the fact that we’ve just got the better arguments.  There can be little doubt, especially in the mind of a non-believer, who is approaching this question logically and who is approaching it emotionally.  It also helps that we are forced into positions where we have to justify our worldview far more often than theists (and, of course, I’m speaking only to the culture I’m familiar with.  Can’t say how true that is for my readers outside the US).

And that ultimately brings us to the role “faith” plays in all of this.  Religious people love to talk about “faith”, but when they use it, it has a special meaning.  If I were to use faith, it would be to describe a near-certainty: I have faith that the porch will hold my weight; I have faith that Heath will show up to record on Tuesday; I have faith that I will win Twitter wars with theists.  But that type of faith is entirely different than the “faith” that believers talk about.  So much so that they should really have to use a different word.  It’s almost the polar opposite of what I mean.

Me: Faith is the expectation that something will behave exactly like it always does.

Them: Faith is the expectation that everything will eventually behave in a way I’ve never observed it behaving.

Ask an atheist and virtually all of them will tell you that they’d be willing to change their minds on the “god” question if compelling new evidence appeared.  Ask a theist and virtually all of them would tell you the opposite.  Theists look at that and see doubt in the atheists, while we look at it and see doubt in them.  After all, I’m confident that my porch will hold my weight, but it would only take one time of me falling through it to change my mind on the subject.  It’s a belief I’m so confident about that I don’t have to worry about changing my mind on it.

But consider the religious type of faith in that analogy.  They would have to keep walking out on that porch every day, even after it collapsed.  They’d have to walk out the back door, fall into the pile of broken lumber below, pluck splinters from their limbs and tell themselves that the porch was still holding their weight.  No amount of evidence would sway them from their “faith”.  But our kind of faith breeds a certain kind of apathy.  If you’re confident enough about a belief, you don’t care.  You’re not emotionally invested in the belief that the porch will hold your weight.  You don’t bother justifying the belief to yourself with logic puzzles and wagers from long dead mathematicians.  I need invoke no syllogism to prove to myself that the porch will hold my weight.

Which brings us back to the flame wars.  I won’t deny that I’m emotionally invested in the atheist movement.  I’m as emotional about fighting against religious intrusion as I am about any subject.  I passionately donate my time, money, creativity and effort to furthering this cause and that is all fueled by an emotional investment.  But what I’m emotional about isn’t the fact that god doesn’t exist.  I have faith in that the same way I have faith in my porch.  I might need a fancy analogy or two to justify it to a believer, but I don’t need anything but the evidence (or overwhelming lack thereof) to settle that question to my own satisfaction.

So when I’m battling with a believer, they keep expecting to find that emotional trigger.  They fire blindly because they think there’s something about my atheism that has spurred my activism.  In reality, it’s actually something about their religion.  Meanwhile, it’s kind of easy to find their trigger.  They want to tear down your intelligence because it irks them to think that a smart person would look at the data and conclude that there is no god.  So simply being intelligent with your responses is enough to eventually bring out the worst in them.

Sure, we can be disrespectful, scathing and vulgar (hell, that’s kind of my niche), but we never abandon reason.  Even in the filthiest of flame wars, I’m always in the realm of logic.  And eventually that leaves them in the realm of ad hominem Fuck-Yous.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make someone drool.

Scathing Atheist on You-Tube

April 5, 2013 2 comments

by Noah Lugeons

By popular request, we’re putting select segments from the show on You-Tube.  We’ll be adding full episodes at a future date and Lucinda and I have been kicking around all kinds of weird ideas about adding puppets, animation, stop-motion and a bunch of other stuff that will probably prove more trouble than it’s worth.

Anyway, first things first.  We’ve uploaded a couple of the diatribes already.  You can check out our channel here and be sure to subscribe.  We’ll be adding all kinds of cool shit eventually and you’ll definitely want to be in on the ground floor of that.

And if you don’t have time to subscribe just yet, that’s fine.  You can get a sample here, too:

How To Not Believe in God

March 26, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons



It baffles many atheists when religious folks say things like “I just don’t understand how you can believe in a world without God.”  They’re baffled because they’re quite certain that the theist is familiar with both of the constituent principles involved; god and not believing in something. How can a person who themselves rejects some beliefs be confounded by the notion of rejecting some beliefs?

The problem, of course, is one of cognitive dissonance. They’ve insulated the god-concept so much in their mind that they can’t apply reason to it in the same way that they can to claims of the paranormal or other religions. It sounds like I’m being dismissive, but how else can you possibly explain a person who thinks god has demanded the tip of their penis as a sacrifice laughing at how silly someone else’s beliefs are?

When I was a younger and less experienced atheist, I used to appeal to all the other religions that they didn’t believe in. I was often thwarted by hand-waving explanations of the various interpretations of the one god. It was only much later that I realized that intelligent people who have decided to ignore logic and be theists anyway have to build a hell of a defense around it. So much so that when they see somebody who has embraced the obvious, they don’t even know how we scaled the wall in the first place.

So I offer the chart above as a quick and easy visual aid for any theists that seem confused by your choice to reject all religious myths instead of all but one. And as it turns out, the Redditors love the charts and graphs, so expect to see more of them.


Atheists Only Attack the Extremes

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

by Noah Lugeons

I call it the “Straw Messiah” defense; theists will often fault the atheists (and more often the gnu-atheists) for attacking only the “extremes” of religion. Of course, this charge is likely true of some atheists, but it can largely be dismissed simply by asking for a definition of “extremes” within religion. After all, anybody who believes a cracker turns to a dead man-god or that a talking snake is responsible for our expulsion from paradise or even that an intelligent designer was behind the whole scrotum idea is pretty extreme in my book. So where does one draw the line of “extreme”?

Usually the antagonist will draw this line as far from themselves as possible. Often they’ll defend themselves by watering down their beliefs to such a degree that there’s nothing left to argue with.  They’ll present such a vacuous definition that there will be no meat to parse. “I believe that god is the sum total of all of us” or “I believe that the spirit of the bible is true even if the words aren’t” are too vague to meaningfully refute.

Many prominent atheists dismiss this charge simply by pointing out how “extreme” the average religious person is. They’ll simply cite some statistics about denial of evolution, literal belief in Noah’s ark or the expectations of Jesus returning within one’s own lifetime as proof that the theist they’re attacking is not a caricature at all, but rather a more representative sample of the religious than the wishy-washy inquisitor. The liberal pantheist is far more to the extreme end of the true spectrum than the ignorant creationist that a gnu-atheist might eviscerate.

This is a valid defense and is usually enough to shut them up for three seconds (nothing I’ve found shuts them up for much longer than that), but it is hardly the whole story. Because there’s plenty to fault in even the most nebulous definition of religion.

So for a moment let us set aside the doctrines of allspecific  faiths. Let’s set aside the snake and the wafer and the 72 raisins and let us look only at the most basic claim that all religions share. That is not “god” or “gods” as there are a few non-theistic outliers in the east (which are fast gaining popularity in the west). But even if gods were religious universals, it would be a subordinate factor to the chief issue that I take with religion. The core of my argument against faith is a simple one that not even the most indistinct theist can hide from.  It is the notion of revealed wisdom.

Before gods or afterlives or codes of moral conduct can be created, the faith must begin with a prophet. There is no other way for religion to begin. Even the neo-pagan faiths start with writers who veil their prophecy in pseudo-history and unverified appeals to antiquity. Every religion is rooted in a prophet, but what’s more is that a steady string of prophets is needed to divine the intent or mood of the god (or the universe or the chi or whatever). Prophets don’t shout across the ages; they rely on modern day representatives of the faith to continue to speak for them in proclamations that can’t be questioned or invalidated.

And thus the very notion of religion is antithetical to the betterment of humanity. If a feeling or an opinion or a prophecy or a sacred cow is somehow beyond reproach, then it is an obstacle to understanding. If it hasn’t become one yet, it will in the future. The very nature of revealed wisdom demands it.

True wisdom is universal and can be found simply by rejecting all things that prove themselves false under testing. Anything else that claims the title of “wisdom” is harmful. No matter how seemingly good the advice is, by enshrining it on stone tablets you take away society’s ability to re-evaluate it in the future. Revealed wisdom leads to absolutes, which will always lead to problems. After all, at one time all the homophobic verses in the bible were considered “wise” by the majority.

So when I attack some specific thing within this faith or that, don’t defend yourself by pointing out that this particular gripe doesn’t apply to your preferred load of shit. Your random assemblage of antiquated superstitions is no less revealed than the last one. If it started with faith and is immutable to reason, it’s all equally worthless and equally deserving of atheist scorn.