Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Baggini on atheism

What do you understand by atheism?
That’s not as easy a question as you might think. Atheism, on the face of it, seems straightforward: it’s not theism. It’s a belief that there is no God or gods. But it’s slightly more complicated than that because, for most self-identifying atheists, it’s not just that they don’t believe in a God or gods, but that they don’t believe in any kind of supernatural realm. So I think an atheist is, 95% of the time, a naturalist. Atheists believe that whatever may be in the universe, the only kind of stuff is the stuff of physics, and the only fundamental forces are those of physics.
So atheism isn’t defined against religion so much as for a particular kind of physics-based explanation of the universe?
That’s right. It’s a big myth about atheism that it’s parasitic on what it denies. People say ‘Look, it’s even in the name itself: ‘a-theism’’. But that’s just historical accident. It just so happens that western civilisation has, for many centuries, been predominantly religious, and so the alternative worldview ended up being defined in contrast to that. I always say, if people say that atheism is parasitic on religion, ‘What would happen if no one believed in God any more? Would that mean there were no atheists?’ Of course not. It would mean that everyone would be an atheist and perhaps, in that situation, there wouldn’t be a special name for it, because there would be no need.
You might still want to distinguish it from agnosticism. Some agnostics make the bold claim that atheists, if they’re rational at all, must be agnostics really, because there isn’t sufficient proof to warrant being an atheist.
That’s extremely misleading because that argument works on the assumption that to be an atheist implies an absolute certainty, that there is no possible doubt you could be wrong. People rightly say that’s unjustified because you can’t know for sure there’s no God with our limited experience, and so on. That’s rather asymmetric for a start. There are plenty of people who have a belief in theism who would deny that they’re absolute about it, and they maintain some doubt. Bertrand Russell said something along the lines that, in a technical sense, he was an agnostic, because he couldn’t know for sure that God didn’t exist — but that to label him agnostic would be profoundly misleading because the hypothesis of God is one he doesn’t take to be a real possibility, and plays no influence in his life.
“Atheism is not something that defines your every moment of existence. I don’t wake up in the morning reminding myself that I don’t believe in God.”
I think an agnostic is someone who is really just unsure, someone who can’t make up his or her mind whether they believe God exists or not. An atheist is someone who has a pretty settled view that there is no God, but within that, there’s a spectrum of people who are absolutely convinced, and those who simply think that the balance of evidence is strong enough that they don’t want to sit on the fence, but beyond that, they’re not going to claim any absolute certainty.
You’ve written a book about atheism, you’ve spoken about atheism, you’re involved with the British Humanist Association. Do you read widely in the literature of atheism?
To be honest, I don’t, and in some ways I’m always quite surprised that a lot of atheists do. If you’re pretty convinced of this position, then why would you want to read every new book that comes along telling you you’re right? It does seem to be a strange kind of desire for reinforcement. Like a lot of people, my biography of belief is a bit complicated. As a child, I was religious by default, and then religious by conviction, and then I came to atheism. But after a while, when you’ve thought through the issues, and you’ve decided that’s where you stand, you don’t close your mind. You want to go on and think about other things... (continues)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

All too human

“Religion is created by humans rather than by gods, and it is defined by its social function rather than by the existence of deities. Religion is anything that confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures. It legitimises human norms and values by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws.” 
― Yuval Noah HarariHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Monday, April 17, 2017

Can a Christian deny the resurrection, Mr. President?

Nick Kristof had a question for Jimmy Carter:

Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday. But wait — do we really think Jesus literally rose from the dead?
I asked questions like that in a Christmas Day column, interviewing the Rev. Tim Keller, a prominent evangelical pastor. In this, the second of an occasional series, I decided to quiz former President Jimmy Carter. He’s a longtime Sunday school teacher and born-again evangelical but of a more liberal bent than Keller. Here’s our email conversation, edited for clarity.
ME How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?
PRESIDENT CARTER Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection. 
With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?
I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me... (continues)
My husband and I are cradle Catholics, but my husband’s aunt used to refer to us as “cafeteria Catholics,” picking and choosing what we believe... 
Isn't that just called thinking?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Illegitimate legislation

Peter Boghossian (@peterboghossian)
Even by 2017 standards, this is deranged. twitter.com/GodDoesnt/stat…

Republican lawmaker in Tennessee proposes bill designating children born via artificial insemination "illegitimate."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Necessity of Secularism

“We’re living in the midst of a revolution in human attitudes and belief. In much of Europe and North America and other areas of the developed world, such as Australia and Japan, large portions of the population are now nonreligious, that is, they reject belief in God and transcendent spiritual entities of any sort. This is an unprecedented moment in the history of humanity. As far as we can tell, belief in gods and spirits was nearly universal until the late eighteenth century; widespread religious skepticism, such as we are now experiencing, is a phenomenon of just the last few decades.
The consequences of this dramatic shift in beliefs are still unknown, because we are living through this change. All we can say with certainty at the present is that we’re in unfamiliar territory. Humanity has never been in this situation before.”

–Ronald Linday, The Necessity of Secularism, pg 13

via RDF

The humanist chaplain godfather

The son of a famous pastor, Bart Campolo is now a rising star of atheism — using the skills he learned in the world he left behind.
"...Campolo eventually came across a book called “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Believe,” by Greg M. Epstein, the head of one of the most influential humanist groups in the country, Humanist Hub. The group began at Harvard and now has anywhere from 300 to 350 people at its weekly meetings, only a third of them students. Epstein, 39, its leader since 2005, has become a godfather to the movement, the anti-Dawkins. He doesn’t want to lecture people or talk them out of anything; he sits with them in circles, sips water from coffee mugs and listens..."
(continues, nyt)