The Difficulties of Starting a High School Atheist Group January 11, 2010

The Difficulties of Starting a High School Atheist Group

The Secular Student Alliance has nearly 200 affiliates at colleges across the country and beyond. But we don’t have a lot of groups at high schools. When I hear stories like this one, it makes me think our staff should be making starting high school atheist groups a priority. (Update: The SSA does have material available for high school educators about non-religious students.)

Skyler Curtis wanted to start a “Fellowship of Atheist Athletes” group at Rising Sun High School in North East, Maryland. That shouldn’t have been a problem since there’s already a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at the school.

For whatever reason, that idea was not approved. (I don’t know the details behind that, but that sounds like a real legal problem that needs to be looked at.)

But all wasn’t lost. Skyler named the group “NonReligious Solutions” (NRS) and the administration approved it. Posters were also approved and put up around the school:

… and then they were torn and defaced. One of the little vandals was caught and suspended. Good.

Skyler also started an NRS Facebook page and, wouldn’t you know it, another student has started an anti-NRS page. (The atheist group has more members, thankfully.)

Phil at Skeptic Money also has a scan of a letter-to-the-editor that was sent to a local paper. You have to see it to believe it:

My daughter comes home today and informs me they have started a new club in Rising Sun High School. The club is known as NRS, which stands for Non Religious Society.

The members of this club have proceeded to hang posters along the halls of the school. When a student tore the posters down, because they offended him, he got suspended from school. Apparently the students are not allowed to touch these posters.

To say I was shocked is putting it mildly. My daughter does not hang posters of her Catholic religion throughout the school, and I expect the same type of respect from others. We cannot control what others may think or their beliefs, nor do we want to. But I will not have this type of atrocity taking place without having my voice heard.

My daughter has my permission, if she sees these posters around school, to put up her own. I challenge the principal to say one thing about this. I guarantee you do not want a religious war taking place, as I have God on my side and you’ll lose.

Steve Allen, Elkton

How ignorant is this parent? And not just because he got the name of the group wrong…

Kids are typically not allowed to hang up their own posters in a high school. Only administration-approved posters are allowed to be hung up. Students are not allowed to touch these posters. if a student was suspended for ripping one down, he should be punished for it. And if Allen’s daughter wants to put up posters for a Catholic club, she should be allowed to do that, too.

(If you look at the poster Skyler put up, you can see just how non-offensive it is.)

And what the hell is up what that last sentence? It’s threatening, it’s unnecessary, and it’s just dumb — people with “God on their side” lose all sorts of religious wars (usually to people who also have “God on their side”).

Skyler has courage and I hope his group takes off. I also hope he takes the high road and invite some of these Christians to his group’s meetings so they can have a real discussion and debate religious topics. That’s not something you’ll see a lot of Christian groups doing at any school.

P.S. This comment wins.

"I got a few The Hill Trumpian Twilight Zone Trolls I gotta deal with right ..."

Preacher: Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Did Not ..."
"Do you suppose his co-defendant, "d_G" will be a no-show?"

Right-Wing Pastor Says His Prayers Killed ..."
"Just what does shaking the dust from my feet have to with me attesting to ..."

Preacher: Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Did Not ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m still wondering why they could not have an atheist group? Perhaps the stigma of being the most reviled group in world history has not yet worn off!

    Will “slow and steady” win this race? Only time will tell. Good for Skyler!

  • Christoffer

    It’s weird to disallow the atheist name of the group, but on the other hand Non Religious Solutions is brilliant!
    @Skyler: Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Can I just say, people like Skyler are awesome. What a brave young man to do this in the face of all this opposition. I want to thank him for standing up publicly for atheism!

  • My son is a sophomore in high school. He has expressed interest in starting a club. It seems like within five minutes he drops the thought since he has no clue how to begin. High school students aren’t (typically) seasoned activists and may not feel as secure in their own rights as college students. They need extra support, in my opinion.

    Clubs need to be formed within the first couple of weeks of the start of the school year, from what I understand. If students decide in the middle of a school year they want to form a club, they may have to wait a while

  • TheChristian

    Actually, I can see what a religious person would be offended by in seeing Skyler’s posters. Since Skyler’s society is called the “Non-Religious Society”, and not the “Society for Science and Rationality”, having in a caption “scientific and logical view” implies that all the religious people are “unscientific” and “illogical”.

    Jetson and Heman, because calling religious “unscientific and illogical” has sort of become an atheist truism, you do not see the offensiveness of the poster. BUT it is offensive.

    And that is the real problem with atheism; no matter how friendly atheists are or how much they participate in charity, the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy.

    It is something like a cute Fundamentalist cartoon which is used to train suicide bombers. The trainer might be very congenial, up to the point of donating money to hospitals treating victims of suicide-bombing, but his or her teaching material is far from congenial.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Hanging posters in a high school hallway is an “atrocity”? Someone needs a big dose of perspective.

  • SL8ofhand

    Nowhere in the poster does the organization claim that the opposing religious view is or is not scientific or logical, merely that the club will focus on ‘scientific and logical’ discussions.

  • Trace

    “And that is the real problem with Christianity; no matter how friendly Christians are or how much they participate in charity, the philosophy of Christianity itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy.”

    Sad.

  • “And that is the real problem with atheism; no matter how friendly atheists are or how much they participate in charity, the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy.”

    ROFLMAO!
    How many atheist suicide bombers are there?
    What prohibitions are there against women, minority groups, gays etc within the atheist community?
    How many omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent invisible men who live in the sky do we worship?
    How many gynecologists have atheists killed in the name of atheism?
    How many of us believe the earth was created sometime during the Sumerian empire (i.e. 6000 years ago)?

    I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you TheChristian, and I mean no personal offense when I say this, religious people are not exactly renowned for their critical thinking skills. Reality says that atheists have cornered the market on rational and logical thinking skills.

  • Casimir

    It is something like a cute Fundamentalist cartoon which is used to train suicide bombers. The trainer might be very congenial, up to the point of donating money to hospitals treating victims of suicide-bombing, but his or her teaching material is far from congenial.

    So being offensive to Christians is akin to training suicide bombers?

  • Parse

    TheChristian,
    Please try to set aside your persecution complex for a minute, and look at what you wrote with a neutral point of view.
    “having in a caption ‘scientific and logical view’ implies that all the religious people are ‘unscientific’ and ‘illogical’.” If we accept your logic behind this statement, then the Fellowship of Christian Athletes implies that all non-Christians are unathletic.
    By the way, you are the first one here to use “unscientific and illogical.” Your quotations around this phrase are unnecessary and misleading; the only way to derive that quote is to run an innocuous statement through a fine mesh of paranoia and persecution. Go ahead and quote what was written, but don’t force words into other people’s mouths – just like you don’t want us misrepresenting what you have written.

    And that is the real problem with atheism; no matter how friendly atheists are or how much they participate in charity, the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy. So, if I understand what you are saying correctly, putting up posters that offend somebody is an example of atheism being an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy. I challenge you to apply this metric to your own religion – the FCA posters offend me, therefore their flyering is an example of Christianity being inherently violent and discriminatory.
    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  • Michael

    @TheChristian

    Please back up your claim that atheism is violent and discriminatory. You are projecting attributes of religion on atheism.

  • I remember from High School I was in the chess club. Since we also engaged in logical thinking, and didn’t invoke the supernatural, I guess we too were discriminatory and inherently violent… although we didn’t actually train suicide bombers. We just moved godforsaken chess pieces. My apologies to those I offended back then by being a memeber of this club.

  • BEX

    A friend and I tried to start an “atheist and agnostic’s society” in high school. While the reactions we got weren’t nearly this vehemently bigoted we weren’t exactly welcomed. The people in my school chose to take a more passive aggressive approach.

    Since we were young, and not particularly motivated to do anything we gave up after 3 or 4 meetings. Besides, the only people who attended were our close social circle. So we went back to regular lunchtime nerd banter instead.

    Best of luck to this group.

  • cypressgreen

    Dear Skyler,
    I admire your perseverance and creativity in getting your group started! “NonReligious Solutions” What a title for you! We all need creative thinking to find solutions to problems, religious or something else. You figured out a solution to get that group going.

    I joined your group in support, and invited all my friends as well…hopefully they will. They are atheists, christians, pagans, jews and a buddhist. And join or not, I KNOW they all support actions like yours!
    Cypress

  • Jetson and Heman, because calling religious “unscientific and illogical” has sort of become an atheist truism, you do not see the offensiveness of the poster. BUT it is offensive.

    The truth may hurt, but it is not offensive.

  • AnonyMouse

    …the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy.

    WHAT THE FRAK? Since when did it become “violent” to accidentally insult another group? Nice try, TheChristian. Violence is shooting doctors at abortion clinics. Violence is sending impressionable young men to blow up public places. Violence would be rounding up all Christians and beheading them. You may believe that that last one is going to happen eventually, but let’s get real here: nobody’s doing that in our country just yet, least of all the atheists. The closest we’ve come is to call your beliefs illogical, and you call us violent for it.

    I’m not sure if you meant to blow it out of proportion like that or if you just need vocab classes, but that was seriously one of the most faileriffic things I’ve ever heard from a non-WBC member.

  • dkahn400

    @TheChristian (The? Are you the last?)

    … the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy

    Atheism is not a philosophy, it is simply non-belief in a deity. I fully support your right to hold your irrational beliefs and there is nothing inherently violent or discriminatory in my simple failure to share them.

  • AxeGrrl

    I hope TheChristian returns to explain to us how atheism is “inherently violent“.

  • Actually, I can see what a religious person would be offended by in seeing Skyler’s posters. Since Skyler’s society is called the “Non-Religious Society”, and not the “Society for Science and Rationality”, having in a caption “scientific and logical view” implies that all the religious people are “unscientific” and “illogical”.

    Actually, the group is called “Non-Religious Solutions.” That’s quite different than “Non-Religious Society.”

  • TheChristian

    Sigh,

    given my handle and my perspective, I did expect fiery comments. (I wonder if “TheAgnostic” would be treated differently.) But here is my response anyway:-

    (1) Selkirk, my argument is not that hanging posters is an atrocity; it is that what is implicitly promoted by the posters is atrocious. Do not take my statement out of context.

    (2)Sl8ofHand, I would like to agree with you, except that the subtitle of the poster is “Non-religious Solutions”, which therefore implies that Religious Solutions are all “unscientific” and “irrational”.

    (3) Sarah, I did not argue that all atheists are violent; I argued that the philosophy of atheism is itself violent. But I have a more serious objection to your claim that religious people are not “renowned for critical thinking”.

    St Thomas Aquinas invented Scholasticism, whose method, if not focus, is applied in educational systems today, and essentially involves reason.

    St Augustine argued against Creationism in his works on Christian doctrine.

    And more readily, John Adams, George Washington, Louis Pasteur, Abraham Moreley, Isaac Newton, the Enlightenment Philosopher Rene Descartes, and the Educator Maria Montessori were all Christians too. Were they all devoid of critical thinking. (Note: If John Adams and George Washington were devoid of critical thinking, then the American Constitution is essentially a work of nonsense.)

    I am not doing an apologetic here, but I shall make a comment that your description of Christianity is a bundle of Atheist stereotypes that match neither the Christianity of the Bible or the Christianity as believed an practiced by the other 80% of Christians outside the United States.

    So maybe, I will concede to you that Christianity in America fits everything you have thus described, but might I remind you that Americans have no monopoly on Christianity?

    Without purpose of offence, I would like to say that you are operating from an Americo-Centric perspective.

    (4) Casimir, the tenor is the same. Honestly, study the attitudes of all the comments on this thread; and all I can say is that Atheists and Fundamentalists mirror each others’ attitudes, though the attitudes are expressed in different forms.

    (5) TheParse, I am not operating from a persecution complex, nor do I need to be, since I am not in any way related and involved in the events. So as such, I am in fact a far more dispassionate observer than all of you, unless Atheists are by some peculiar law of nature always more dispassionate than Christians.

    Your reply is committing Equivocation. The name “Christian Athletes” does not imply that Non-Christians are not athletic, just as a “Non-Religious Science and Reason Society” would not imply that the religious are not scientific or reasonable. However, Skyler chose to sub-title his poster with the word “solutions”. And given the mindset of an American high-school student – if Hollywood is a reliable source – one would expect Skyler to promote his poster with “if you want to have solutions that are non-religious – that is, scientific and rational – please join my club.” And that, if you see past your blinkers, is certainly offensive. Although I suspect that people like Sarah would be cheering Skyler on if he made such a statement.

    And once again, I have no commentary about putting up posters in American schools; my commentary is about what the poster promotes, not the action of putting up the poster itself.

    Distributing Christian Flyers and the style of flyers themselves may be offensive, but the core of Christianity itself goes against offence. The whole purpose of Christianity to tell people not to offend each other.

    On the other hand, putting up posters about atheism or distributing flyers about atheism, or the style of the flyers themselves may not be offensive, but the core premise of Atheism itself is to offend theists. (The semantic argument of whether Atheism is merely a lack of a religion is irrelevant here.)

    Christianity – and any other positive religion or moral philosophy – seeks to unite; Atheism seeks to divide.

  • Rob

    Go Skyler! I hope he does get to start up his club, but I’m impressed with his first few steps! Great work!

  • The whole purpose of Christianity to tell people not to offend each other.

    WRONG! The whole purpose of Christianity is to claim that you and your fellow believers will be “saved” because you have blind faith in a magical sky-daddy. This is the core tenet of the Christian faith. Simultaneously, you also believe that those who reject Christianity are sentenced to hell.

    Tell me, how is that not offensive?

  • TheChristian

    Michael,

    I could give you a discourse on how atheism is violent; but illustrations serve better than a thousand words, to adapt the popular proverb. So here are two examples from this thread: CypressGreen and Sarah.

    Jeff,

    You have totally gone off-tangent; your point is really not relevant to the discussion.

    anonymouse,

    It is not violent to accidentally insult a group; but it is violent to deliberately insult a group. Violence can be either verbal or action, or both.

    I argued that atheism is inherently violent, because its core is the implicit deliberate insulting of religion. Since Atheists cannot provide a logical proof to the non-existence of God, atheism has to resort to demeaning religious belief to keep itself alive. Implicit Equivocation: a wrong understanding of something is not the proof that that thing does not exist.

    Mingfromongo,

    And what makes you think that you have the truth?

    dkahn400,

    Yes, the famous red-herring argument used by atheists. No, Atheism is a philosophy because you necessarily have a rationale for a lack of a belief in a deity. (In fact, the article “a” already contains a supposition.)

    You can arguably assert that Atheism is not a religion, but you cannot assert that atheism is not a philosophy.

  • Trace

    “…atheism has to resort to demeaning religious belief to keep itself alive.”

    No.

  • TheChristian

    Olivia,

    Yes, that is offensive; but that is also a very distorted form of Christianity that contains many stereotypes:

    (1) God is not a “sky-daddy”; God is Being. [See Exodus 3:14]

    (2) Hell is not a place; it is a state of distance from God.

    (3) You are saved or condemned, it is true, but only by yourself.

    (4) Faith is not blind; the dichotomy between Faith and Reason is an illusion.

    (5) Rejecting Christ is a deeper concept than rejecting a membership card for your local megachurch. [Incidentally, this point comes from Augustine and Justin Martyr]

  • Joffan

    TheChristian, it appears you are determined to be offended, whether or not any offence is visible to a neutral observer.

    It is perfectly possible to read that poster without being offended. In fact only by a wild level of over-interpretation, exemplified by your 11:55 post, is any other response possible.

    Firstly note that the name of the club is NonReligious Solutions. That’s not a subtitle – it’s an identifier.

    The poster text is:

    NRS CLUB
    NonReligious Solutions

    Meetings involve the dicussion of various current and long-running topics with a scientific and logical view.

    So discussion is the main activity. No violence involved. And see that “with”? The “scientific and logical view” is part of an extra specifier – the poster in no way claims that the club has a monopoly on science or logic, merely that they intend to use these as their tools during discussion.

    If they had advertised their discussions as being “with refreshments”, would that imply that refreshments were not available anywhere else? Would that upset the local stores? No. Your fake outrage is similarly ridiculous, and you would do well to back away from such a clearly false position.

  • Richard Wade

    TheChristian,
    Several readers here have done a good job of trying to help you see the deeply illogical nature of your assertions, but one point has not been stressed.

    You seem to assume two things. One, that someone else always has the responsibility if you are offended, and two, that you have the right to not be offended.

    Neither are true.

    If you feel offended by someone indicating, even obliquely, that they disagree with you or do not share beliefs that you cherish, you are the one creating that feeling inside yourself. Mature people take responsibility for their own feelings and reactions. Little children blame everybody else for their emotional reactions, and so leave themselves helpless to do anything about it but whine or throw tantrums. “He made me hit him! It’s his fault! Waaaa!”

    Yes, straight out, I’m telling you that you are being immature by not owning your own emotional response. And you, right now, can either decide to be yet again offended, or you can take it as an opportunity to look into yourself and become more mature.

    If you choose the former, you will continue to be constantly offended, because the world is filled to the brim with people who don’t see every single thing exactly as you do. If you choose the latter, you’ll begin to have some serenity in your life.

    So because feeling offended is your creation and your responsibility, you do not have the right to try to squelch any expression of disagreement that you, you decide to feel offended about. If you don’t want to be offended, then choose not to do that. If you have maturity, then you will show equanimity in the face of such little things.

    Take ownership of your life, thoughts, feelings and actions. A person is as small as the smallest thing that he gets upset about. If your faith is so fragile that you are so easily offended simply by the mere existence of people who don’t see things your way, then perhaps such a tissue paper faith is not worth trying to preserve.

  • TheChristian

    Joffan,

    (1) I am not offended by the poster. I am simply trying to explain why the parent would feel offended. I am offended, however, at some of the personal attacks in this thread against me.

    (2) Still, what does “solutions” imply?

    (3) The problem is not in the preposition “with”. The problem is in the semantics of “Scientific” and “logical” and their connotation. There is no similar connotation on the word “refreshments”.

    Incidentally, why does Skyler and this blog have to make such a fuss if the point of Skyler’s society is merely to discuss scientific and rational issues? Why do all of you feel the need to emphasize the “atheist” aspect of it?

    (4) I didn’t say that the society itself is violent; I said that the philosophy of atheism, which the society is designed to promote, is violent.

    Let’s say we had a society that is set up to discuss the most scientific and rational method of training suicide bombers. It does nothing except talk, debate and write a paper or two. So it is not violent. But then its topic suicide-bombing is inherently violent, no?

  • Jeremy

    Wow, thechristian, if this poster is offensive to you, simply going through life must be unbearable, what with everything that you find offensive. My condolences.

  • jtradke

    Suicide bombing is violent in that any practice of it necessarily causes gruesome death.

    Atheism… is just not fucking at all like that. You are either insane or trolling.

  • Casimir

    (4) Casimir, the tenor is the same. Honestly, study the attitudes of all the comments on this thread; and all I can say is that Atheists and Fundamentalists mirror each others’ attitudes, though the attitudes are expressed in different forms.

    Of course:

    Meetings involve the discussion of various current and long-running topics with a scientific and logical view

    is so similar in tone to:

    Behead those who insult Islam.

    and

    I guarantee you do not want a religious war taking place, as I have God on my side and you’ll lose.

    How could I have been so blind?

  • TheChristian

    Richard,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. It is insightful, but irrelevant.

    (2) Hmm??

    (3) I agree.

    (4-7) I agree with you. But you are assuming – like the other people here – that I actually feel offended by the poster. Which I do not. I merely want to try and explain why people would feel offended by it.

    In fact, I kind of find this entire debacle humorous, everything from Skyler feeling the need to set up an atheist discussion group on science (Is it not comical that a high-school student can actually believe that he has the “solutions” to any problem not written in his textbooks?) to the little girl’s petulant response to her mother’s response, to the commentary of the event on this blog. (Incidentally, I wonder why Americans who would support flag-burning are enraged at a little girl tearing down posters.)

    (8) My faith is strong enough that I can actually feel humour at reading atheist books and sites. As I am sure would Augustine and Aquinas and any of the Church Fathers.

    I am not offended by people who don’t see things my way, because I know few people do. I am simply offended by people who make assumptions about me, without giving me a chance to defend myself. I am not a Fundamentalist Christian from the Bible Belt; in fact, I am not even from the United States at all.

  • BoomerChick

    I think I would like to start a Secular Senior Center Alliance.
    I bet the seniors (by seniors I mean age 55+) with an imaginary friend would act out the same way as the students/parents with god on their side.

  • Toni

    I was informed by my daughter’s high school principal that clubs require a faculty sponsor. Fair enough, except that would be career suicide in North Carolina.

  • Ashley Moltzan

    i’m with jtradke. My boyfriend and I are atheists and we are pacifists. Probably the most I do is I read Dawkins at work on free time and I don’t see that as inherently violent. I guess I’m just annoyed at the “inherently violent” remark…

  • @TheChristian,

    You keep saying,

    the philosophy of atheism…

    There isn’t a “philosophy” of atheism. I’ve explained this a bit here.

  • Joffan

    Actually, thinking about it, those who tore down the posters were probably not reacting to the words at all, but to the “Descent of Man” image. That innocuous and widespread drawing seems to be an intrinsic vision-reddening outrage for certain creationist communities.

    Myself, I cannot see any issue at all with acknowledging that, as well as humans, we are all also animals, mammals, primates and apes.

  • Trace

    “I am simply offended by people who make assumptions about me,”

    Me too.

  • Ashley Moltzan

    Me too, as well as being offended by people making assumptions about me for not believing in a god.

  • Richard Wade

    TheChristian,
    I’m glad to learn that you, personally, take ownership of your feelings, including offense, and thank you for correcting me. Rather than explain to us why other Christians, who are apparently not as mature as you, so easily take offense, perhaps you could put that time into explaining to them how to grow up. Your help would be greatly appreciated. They just don’t seem to be willing to listen to us.

    Your comparison of burning the flag to tearing down the NRS posters is a straw man. People who demonstrate their displeasure by burning the flag are using their own property to do so. The posters were not the property of the school vandal and they were posted with the approval of the school administration. Tearing down someone else’s property is not justifiable simply because the student finds it “offensive.” The parent who wrote to the local paper very strongly implies that the vandal was fully justified in tearing them down because he was offended. Do you agree with that? If not, do you argue with Christians who do think that way? They don’t seem to be behaving in a way that Jesus might recommend.

    I agree with you that it is not wise to assume things about others. I assumed that you were taking the irresponsible stance on offense for yourself. You have denied that, so I accept that. I did not assume that you’re a fundamentalist or anything else. You might have been referring to someone else’s assumption.

    Now I would like to ask you to not make an assumption about me or many atheists I know well. Please stop attributing to us this inexplicable thing you call the “atheist philosophy.” Whatever the heck that is, I don’t practice it.

    My atheism is just this: I’m unconvinced of the thing you believe in. That’s it. That isn’t a philosophy. You don’t know anything else about me, my thought process or why I am not convinced. Whatever you’re talking about is based on assumptions.

  • centricci

    “Christianity – and any other positive religion or moral philosophy – seeks to unite; Atheism seeks to divide.”

    that is horseshit.
    organized religion erects artificial barriers where none need exist and then tells its followers to attack the people on the other side of those barriers.

    there is no unity in that.

  • monkeymind

    (Is it not comical that a high-school student can actually believe that he has the “solutions” to any problem not written in his textbooks?)

    Now I’m offended on behalf of Skyler and high school students everywhere.

  • monkeymind

    Yet more evidence, if needed, that the Taking of Umbrage is now a holy rite.

  • dkahn400

    @TheChristian

    Yes, the famous red-herring argument used by atheists. No, Atheism is a philosophy because you necessarily have a rationale for a lack of a belief in a deity. (In fact, the article “a” already contains a supposition.)

    By “article” I’m not sure whether you mean the indefinite article in “a philosophy” or the “a-” prefix in “atheism”. Either way you are wrong.

    An atheist may be a philosopher (although most atheists aren’t) but atheism is not in itself a philosophy or even a collection of philosophies. The “a-” prefix simply means “without”. A philosophy is a rational system of thought, not simply a rationale which is nothing more than a reason or justification. There is no objective evidence for a deity so belief in one is founded on faith. Absent blind faith, and absent objective evidence, there is simply no rationale for belief in a deity: the opposite of your assertion.

  • sc0tt

    TheChristian Says:

    Incidentally, why does Skyler and this blog have to make such a fuss if the point of Skyler’s society is merely to discuss scientific and rational issues? Why do all of you feel the need to emphasize the “atheist” aspect of it?

    The reason the atheist angle is under discussion is because he was denied the authorization to start a group called the “Fellowship of Atheist Athletes”, for presumably no reason other than his use of the term “atheist”.

  • @TheChristian, you seem to using non-standard definitions of the words “violent” and “atrocious”.

    I realize that some theists are bothered by the mere existence of people that don’t believe in God and are particularly bothered by any organization of people that don’t believe in God. But to say that the existence or organization of such people is “violent” or “atrocious” is really a commentary on the mind-set of the people that are offended, not on the people who don’t happen to believe in a God. Other than that, have a nice day.

  • Greg

    its always surprising to me the adversity that many Atheists are subject to. I graduated HS back in ’99 and was openly Atheist all my years in HS and a bulk of my friends were non-religious too… and this was in a town of about 2500 people on the coast of Oregon. Going back to college, and joining the campus Atheist group, I’ve learned I had a pretty unusual experience. It’d be nice if other Atheists could have that aspect of their lives as easy as mine.

  • Jeff Dale

    @TheChristian:

    And that is the real problem with atheism; no matter how friendly atheists are or how much they participate in charity, the philosophy of atheism itself is an inherently violent and discriminatory philosophy.

    It is something like a cute Fundamentalist cartoon which is used to train suicide bombers. The trainer might be very congenial, up to the point of donating money to hospitals treating victims of suicide-bombing, but his or her teaching material is far from congenial.

    This isn’t even a caricature of atheism. It’s just completely mistaken.

    It’s already been pointed out that atheism is not a philosophy in and of itself. Maybe what you mean is that philosophies can be constructed with atheism as one of their core tenets. I’m not sure that’s really so, because atheism doesn’t inherently contain anything to motivate behavior. Maybe it’d be better to say (if this is what you mean) that people have bad motivations that are restrained by theistic belief and therefore unrestrained in someone who is unconvinced of the truth of theism. You might even be thinking of some examples from history. There are sound rebuttals of such arguments. But if this is a fair statement of your view, please say so, and perhaps this dialogue will be more constructive on both sides.

    the subtitle of the poster is “Non-religious Solutions”, which therefore implies that Religious Solutions are all “unscientific” and “irrational”.

    I’m going to differ from some other atheists here and grant that your interpretation of the meaning of this description is probably more or less what the club organizers had in mind. But surely they didn’t intend to offend; they were trying to attract members who agreed with them. And since you’ve pointed out that you yourself were not offended by the poster, I suspect you’ll agree that the level of offense (if any) was not nearly enough to justify any legal or vigilante action against the poster. Comparable in my mind would be a Christian club putting up posters saying something like, “Atheists are Mistaken. Come learn about the solutions provided by God.” Shrug.

    But I have a more serious objection to your claim that religious people are not “renowned for critical thinking”.

    I’m also going to side with you on this point. I happen to think that atheism is well supported by evidence. I do not say that there’s no possible way that “God” exists, but I do think it’s fair to say that the likelihood is very small, and that even if he does exist, any god resembling the one worshiped by modern Christians could not possibly condemn me to hell for my sincere, well-founded disbelief. (Pursuing this line would be a lengthy exercise for which I don’t currently have the time, but I mention it to give context to my next point.) Having said that, I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude that theistic believers are, necessarily, poor critical thinkers. We all have biases, mental shortcuts that sometimes help us, but sometimes impair critical thinking in certain areas. An atheist with sound reasons for disbelief may be unreasonable in other areas (including, perhaps, his/her reaction to theistic assertions). Likewise, a theist, even if he/she is unreasonable in religious life, can be a paragon of critical thinking in other areas.

    And, as I try to explain to other atheists whenever I can, I think it’s fair to say that some people can be reasonable in their theistic belief, simply because they either haven’t been exposed to the evidence supporting atheism, or have absorbed religious ideas that make such evidence seem unconvincing. If anything, the fact that we engage in these arguments is a compliment to the theist’s capacity for critical thinking. I think it’s much more realistic, and much more helpful in debate, to focus on the errors (as we see them) of theistic belief, without the distraction of the additional (implied) claim that there’s necessarily something wrong with the theist who holds that belief.

    the core premise of Atheism itself is to offend theists. (The semantic argument of whether Atheism is merely a lack of a religion is irrelevant here.)

    Christianity – and any other positive religion or moral philosophy – seeks to unite; Atheism seeks to divide.

    This, too, isn’t even a caricature of atheism.

    The argument that atheism is merely lack of theism is relevant here, because it is a sufficient explanation for what atheism is (and therefore precludes tacking on some purported goal of offensiveness or divisiveness). But people who are a-theistic do form worldviews that incorporate their atheism, just as theists do with their theism. And atheists, just like theists, don’t always behave well from within those worldviews. This says nothing about atheism itself, so let’s talk about the behaviors.

    Atheists sometimes insult theists. Well, theists also sometimes insult atheists, and for essentially the same reasons.

    Atheists sometimes act in an offensive manner, but I think you’d have a hard time demonstrating that (in those cases) the motivation is likely to be atheism, or that such behavior is more likely from an atheist than from a theist.

    Atheists sometimes try to persuade theists that they’re mistaken in their belief. Perhaps that seems divisive to you, since it may lead to some of your friends and family “switching sides.” Well, theists try to convert us too. And claim to have an omnipotent, perfectly moral being on their side. And are in a strong majority with public opinion on their side. And (not always, but too often) teach their kids that our “side” is immoral and dangerous.

    Divisive? That not only isn’t a core element of atheism, it’s antithetical to what most of us actually believe. Most atheists describe themselves in terms more or less consistent with humanism, which IS a philosophy. They might not always perfectly live up to the ideals of humanism, but that’s because they’re no more perfect than any other human, not because humanism is problematic. Humanism is not far from the way many Christians (even in the USA) actually live in their own faith, apart from the absence of deity. Humanism, at its core, is explicitly opposed to divisiveness and supports respect for human rights and dignity; thus it is no more divisive than even the most benign, accepting form of Christianity.

    I argued that atheism is inherently violent, because its core is the implicit deliberate insulting of religion. Since Atheists cannot provide a logical proof to the non-existence of God, atheism has to resort to demeaning religious belief to keep itself alive. Implicit Equivocation: a wrong understanding of something is not the proof that that thing does not exist.

    First of all, insults are not violence. A pattern of insults can incite violence, but when’s the last time you heard of someone inciting violence to promote atheism?

    Secondly, as pointed out before, atheism doesn’t contain anything, so it can’t have insults or anything else at its core. And as I said above, some atheists and some theists engage in insulting or offensive behavior, each sometimes inspired by their disagreement with the arguments of the other “side.” This is not attributable to atheism any more than it’s attributable to theism. If atheistic arguments sometimes seem to “sting” more, it could very well be that they’re harder to rebut than their theistic counterparts.

    Thirdly, atheism doesn’t have to do anything to “keep itself alive.” Disbelief has appeared over and over again, in different times and places independently, wherever people have been unconvinced by the theistic assertions that were popular around them. It’s only in recent times that more people have felt secure enough in their persons and livelihoods for cautious expression of their disbelief. (The extreme persecution of earlier days suggests a deep-seated insecurity in maintaining a belief system that can’t stand on its own merits.) Do atheists “demean” religious belief? Well, some atheists argue that it’s a mistake, and a subset of those will sometimes take the argument too far and become insulting. But the same is true for theists when speaking of atheism. Is that a core tenet of theism?

    Finally, I can’t speak for all atheists (we’re as different as non-stamp-collectors), but I do not think atheists in general are laboring under a “wrong understanding,” but have instead arrived at a position that is well supported by evidence, as I said above. We do not have to prove that your god doesn’t exist, any more than you have to prove that Russell’s teapot doesn’t exist. All the apologetic arguments have been soundly refuted, and there are several atheistic arguments that have not been successfully refuted. (The argument from evil is just the most well-known example, but it’s not the only one.) These results cumulatively either make the likelihood of an omnipotent, perfectly moral being vanishingly small, or force the theist into a position where his/her words could have any meaning at all, and therefore are empty of content.

    You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to look at the arguments (and I don’t have time to trot them out here, now). You can go on thinking we’ve made some mistake in our analysis. But you should understand that there’s no equivocation. Disbelieving a proposition on the basis of evidence that leans very strongly against it is something all people do all the time, in all areas of our lives (not just religion). I disbelieve in your god for the same reason that you disbelieve in Zeus, Thor, and Quetzalcoatl.

    For my part, I hope you will continue to join in these discussions. You don’t sound like someone who would be daunted by hearty opposition. I happen to think that both theists and atheists, broadly speaking, ought to try harder to communicate effectively. You should not, and need not, be hesitant to express your views, though I hope you will give serious thought to these views of what atheism actually is, given that they come from actual atheists. No divisiveness.

    Peace.

  • Danny

    On a non-debate note, I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a freethinker’s club at my own high school, and this is the nail in the coffin. I’m committing. Great find Hemant!

  • Tony

    iven my handle and my perspective, I did expect fiery comments. (I wonder if “TheAgnostic” would be treated differently.)

    It isn’t the handle that awoke the ire of the readership of this blog. It’s the breathtaking inanity of your comments. For example:

    it is that what is implicitly promoted by the posters is atrocious.

    You have a very strange definition of “atrocity”.

    the subtitle of the poster is “Non-religious Solutions”, which therefore implies that Religious Solutions are all “unscientific” and “irrational”.

    Only to a paranoiac who is seeking to be offended.

    Sarah, I did not argue that all atheists are violent; I argued that the philosophy of atheism is itself violent.

    That’s a claim that requires a LOT of explanation. On the surface it is utterly absurd. Perhaps you have a depth of contemplation I haven’t been able to appreciate. More than likely you’re simply blowing smoke.

    the core premise of Atheism itself is to offend theists.

    No it isn’t.

    Violence can be either verbal or action, or both.

    I would venture that anybody who believes that violence can be verbal is lucky enough to have never encountered actual violence.

    I argued that atheism is inherently violent, because its core is the implicit deliberate insulting of religion.

    Insults are not violence. Don’t be soft.

    (2) Hell is not a place; it is a state of distance from God.

    If god is that Abrahamic monster, hell sounds like paradise.

  • Parse

    Hi TheChristian,
    First, thanks for sticking around and clarifying/explaining what you meant.

    TheParse, I am not operating from a persecution complex, nor do I need to be, since I am not in any way related and involved in the events. So as such, I am in fact a far more dispassionate observer than all of you, unless Atheists are by some peculiar law of nature always more dispassionate than Christians. Well, you certainly don’t seem to be suffering from humility, at least. I attributed persecution to you, because you went far out of your way to find the contents of a relatively innocent poster offensive. Despite your assertions in your comments at 12:40 and 12:55, in your initial comment you said it was: BUT it is offensive. There is no equivocation, no hint that you are still talking about ‘a’ religious person. It is clear that you are talking about your own views, especially when seen alongside your other comments so far today. There is no “BUT it can be offensive”, or “To the religious” in that paragraph. Given your other statements about atheism, it is clear that you find the very concept offensive.

    Your reply is committing Equivocation. The name “Christian Athletes” does not imply that Non-Christians are not athletic, just as a “Non-Religious Science and Reason Society” would not imply that the religious are not scientific or reasonable. See, your argument here would be valid – if Skyler’s organization was named the “Non-Religious Science and Reason Society.” It is not. It is called the “Non-Religious Solutions Club,” which can get abbreviated to the NRS Club. How is my asking you to apply the same standards to all clubs equivocation?
    … one would expect Skyler to promote his poster with “if you want to have solutions that are non-religious – that is, scientific and rational – please join my club.” And that, if you see past your blinkers, is certainly offensive. Ignoring for the fact that Hollywood is NOT a reliable source for the mindset of students, I am impressed by your ability to contort logic. You a) make assumptions about what Skyler thinks, b) attribute a completely separate argument to the poster than is made on it, c) find the separate argument to be offensive, d) expect your interpretation to be the only one possible. If Skyler had said what you attributed to him, I would agree that you could see it as offensive – but he didn’t. His poster says “Meetings involve the discussion of various current and long-running topics with a scientific and logical view.”

    Distributing Christian Flyers and the style of flyers themselves may be offensive, but the core of Christianity itself goes against offence. The whole purpose of Christianity to tell people not to offend each other. Except for that part in Matthew 10 where Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Seems pretty explicit that he’s telling people that he will cause strife and divide families, and, dare I say, offend each other.

    Christianity – and any other positive religion or moral philosophy – seeks to unite; Atheism seeks to divide. That certainly seems to explain why Hemant is able to draw a crowd here, because he seeks to divide us apart. Snark aside, I would strongly encourage you to set your blinders aside, and take a good, long, neutral look at atheism, atheists, and nonreligious communities. The viewpoint you are approaching us from is filled with laughably inaccurate statements; you reflect poorly on yourself and your beliefs. I recommend you read St. Augustine’s words and reflect on them, before you come back.

  • muggle

    BoomerChick, can we lower the age to 50. I only turn 52 this February. AARP starts at 50. So why not Atheist Senior Centers?

    (Man, that would be so cool.)

    This time I am ignoring rather than feeding the troll. I’ve had enough of that nonsense!

  • dkahn400

    @danny – You’re a star. Good luck with your project though I think you might look for a more suitable metaphor than a “nail in the coffin”. 🙂

  • TheChristian

    Travis,

    Yes, I know of your argument; I read the same argument in expanded form, on about.com’s Atheist section. Atheism itself, being the lack of belief in a god, (Note: Common Equivocation: “God” is not equal to “god”) does not define who you are, since it is a negative. (Epistemologically, it does actually define what you are, but let’s leave that aside for now.)

    Richard,

    Thanks for your swift reply.

    (1) It does take two hands to clap. On one hand, you could argue that the Fundamentalists need to “grow up”; on the other hand I would argue that people like Sarah need to grow up as well. And Dawkins, and Hitchens, before they want to knock down religion, need to study it properly. There are three “branches” of religion: Esoteric, Orthodox and Popular. At most, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Shermer and so on and so forth have only managed to rebut the Popular “branch” of Religion. The Agnostic Mark Sharlow – a physicist by training – provides a well-reasoned analysis of Dawkins’ caricatures of various agnostics and simplistic readings of scientists like Einstein and philosophers like Spinoza. He also echoes theists in mentioning how Dawkins has failed to argue against Orthodox Religion. For instance, Dawkins argues against the First Version of Anselm’s Ontological Argument, the version which Anselm himself felt to be inadequate; instead Anselms Ontological Argument has a second version which is much harder to tackle, and which is totally impervious to Dawkins’ playground reductio ad absurdum.

    However, the reasons you give for becoming an atheist are positive statements and do define what you are. And the reasons, when assembled together, provide a rationale system for becoming and atheist, and therefore may be legitimately considered a philosophy of atheism.

    (3) Yes, I was trying to empathise with the parent and her daughter, and help you people empathise with them too. Apparently, I need a better technique … it doesn’t seem to have worked…

    (Clarification: “Empathise” does not mean “sympathise” or “agree”.)

    (2) I will concede this point to you, since I confess that I don’t know much of American life except what is shown on Hollywood and Disney. But I vaguely remember about something called Freedom of Expression that is a cherished American value? Perhaps you could enlighten me in how Freedom of Expression applies to flag-burning but not to tearing down of posters some people find offensive?

    (4) See my response to Travis above.

    (5) And again: do not make assumptions about what I believe in. Well, except for one: I believe in the historical reliability of the Bible from Genesis 11 onwards. (This does not imply the corollary of believing that Genesis 1-10 is pure fiction.)

  • TheChristian

    Centricci,

    Fallacy of Equivocation: The people who are part of Christendom is not equal to the philosophy of Christianity.

    dkahn400,

    “article” refers to the “a” in “lack of belief in a deity”. And you do not need to be a philosopher to have a philosophy.

    Jeff,

    (1) I admit, I am using a “non-standard” definition of “violent” and “atrocious”. (The Postmdernist would argue if there is a need for “standard” vocabulary in the first place.) My definition of “violent and “atrocious” (which in my usage are synonyms) derives from my experience of being bullied.

    (I was bullied neither because of my religion nor by religious zealots of any following, just to be clear.)

    (2) I am saying that the philosophy of these people contains a violent and atrocious attitude, not that their existence itself is violent and atrocious.

    And incidentally, “violent” and “atrocious” are being used to fit into the Framework of Discourse that is “standard”. In my framework, I would use “divisive-deceptive” instead.

    And again: “god” is not equal to “God”. Using both terms interchangeably is committing the Fallacy of Equivocation.

  • Richard Wade

    TheChristian,
    I’m confused by your comment of January 11th, 2010 at 8:21 pm. After you said “Richard, Thanks for your swift reply,” You wrote a long paragraph that seems to be addressed to my remarks because it mentions the phrase “grow up.” The rest of that paragraph is about rebuttals to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Shermer. I’m sure all that philosophical combat must be terribly interesting to somebody, but it has nothing to do with me or my atheism. I have not read much at all of any of them, and I do not base my atheism on the writings of any author. To quote myself from the end of my last comment:

    My atheism is just this: I’m unconvinced of the thing you believe in. That’s it. That isn’t a philosophy. You don’t know anything else about me, my thought process or why I am not convinced. Whatever you’re talking about is based on assumptions.

    Which makes your next, shorter paragraph puzzling to me:

    However, the reasons you give for becoming an atheist are positive statements and do define what you are. And the reasons, when assembled together, provide a rationale system for becoming and atheist, and therefore may be legitimately considered a philosophy of atheism.

    That makes no sense at all if it’s responding to what I said. I’m thinking that you are trying to field so many different people’s dialogues with you that you’re getting some mixed up, or in the bustle you’re forgetting to label your replies to different individuals. This is very obvious in the numbered paragraphs of the rest of that same comment, in which clearly you are talking to somebody else, but there is no name indicating who.

    If you like, with your permission and instruction I can go into the site and insert lines with names that will clarify to whom you are responding. I’ll be very careful to place them exactly where you indicate, so that you don’t have to write all that stuff all over again.

  • TheChristian

    Jeff Dale (are you the other “Jeff” as well?),

    (1) See my reply to Travis in my previous post. You can be areligious by the “standard” definition of religiosity, but you cannot be aphilosophical unless you are a logical contradiction.

    (2) I think both you and the irate parent are committing the same logical fallacy in your arguments, albeit from different perspectives: Post-Hoc-Ergo-Propter-Hoc. [Fallacy of False-cause; Correlation does not imply causation.] The offensiveness of the poster (to the un-specified Christian) is a quality independent of Skyler’s intentions. Neither caused the other.

    I am not offended by the direct semantics of the poster, or by its diagram. (When I was young, I read a book on the entire Tree of Life. One of my dreams was to be a paleontologist.) But I am puzzled as to the necessity of associating it with Atheism. After all, famous scientists like Newton and Pasteur were Christians and famous philosophers like Rene Descartes as well. (And just to stress the point, Descartes, who is regarded as the Father of the Enlightenment, was a dedicated Roman Catholic from birth to death.)

    (3) “God exists” is a tautology like “A triangle has three sides”. So it cannot be false. Why the existence of God is a tautology would need an entire post to explain (perhaps Hemant would give me space) but in summary, it is because God is Existence, and saying that “Existence exists” is a tautology.

    And naturally, this means that God is not an Invisible Pink Unicorn or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. And neither is God a “he” – or a “she”, as the Gnostics thought.

    Therefore, God does not condemn you to Hell. If you disbelieve in God, then you disbelieve in Existence, and therefore you have condemned yourself to Hell, which is exactly Eternal Death.

    A Brilliant classical Illustration of this is in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, where he depicts The Philosophers’ Hell. The philosophers are huddled together, with their heads facing the ground, trying to work out whether God exists, whilst God is literally hovering above them.

    An excellent modern illustration is in the movie What Dreams May Come, which stars Robin Williams. Robin Williams plays a dead man who goes from Heaven to rescue his wife from Hell.

    (4) I have read the Atheist books, and so far, I am inclined to agree with the Agnostic Mark Sharlow who argues that they are shallow engagements with theistic arguments. Shallow Engagement is not proper engagement. I applaud your effort at trying to engage theists, but please try to engage their arguments properly.

    (5) Actually, I think that the terms “atheism” and “theism” are problematic categories.

    Firstly, they have strayed from their etymologies. The “thei” in both comes from the Greek Word Theos, which means Truth or God. So if I wanted to give a directly-translated definition of “atheism”, then “atheism” is “the lack of belief in Truth”, which isn’t exactly a very flattering description.

    Secondly, the “Theos” in Monotheism and the “Theos” in Polytheism and Pantheism (not to mention all the other in-betweens) are qualitatively different from each other. For instance, the idea of “person” when used in the Trinitarian doctrine is very different from the idea of “person” when used in reference to say, the Greek gods, or even the Trimurthi.

    8) Atheism is at least categorically divisive, if not “morally” so.

    9) No, you don’t intend to be socially divisive. But nonetheless atheism involves an ontological division between “theists” and “atheists”,a delineation which is faulty in itself.

    10) I cannot think of a modern example at the moment, but a ready example from history might serve: The French Revolution. The French Revolutionaries were determined to make France into a modern, rational, atheistic state; therefore they executed many priests and burned down many Churches in their De-Christianization Campaign held during the Terror.

    12) Persecution is done with the name of religion, but with fundamentally-political reasons behind them. The real purpose of persecution is to preserve the power of the Clerics, not defend the purity of the religion.

    13) Right; all the apologetic arguments have been refuted; the same way Dawkins has managed to refute St Anselm’s argument, which is to say not at all. Although the onus on the arguments not being refuted is not solely with the atheist, but also with his/her theist opponent who has not completed any of the arguments properly.

    I would say that presuppositional apologetics is a sound method with a sound aim; the problem is that nearly all the Evangelicals who try to use it end up abusing it, so that instead of providing the presuppositional argument, they flood the discourse with their own list of pre-suppositions.

    The popular Euthrypho argument against Monotheism is an abuse of Socrates. In the first place, Socrates was arguing against the Greek gods, not against God. In the second place, people who try to apply the Euthrypho Argument to Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Ba’Hai or even Hinduism are falling into the same trap that Euthrypho fell into, showing that despite all pretence, they are not thinking like Socrates at all.

    Without going too far into Theology, the Argument from Evil – if one understands Christian Doctrine properly – can be refuted with the line “Evil exists only in the human experience”, or to paraphrase Descartes, “I think that it is evil, therefore it is evil”.

    14) I disbelieve in Zeus, Thor (actually Odin is a better candidate) and Quetzalcoatl as they are represented in popular literature. But since “Theos” is derived from “Zeus” I can’t really say that I disbelieve in Zeus without contradicting myself. In fact, I rather think that Olympianism is a corruption of First Religion, whereas the Monotheistic Religions preserve First Religion.

    15) I agree, though of course I hope the converse. I believe that deep down all people believe in God, only that the commonality of our belief is obscured by the defects in our worldviews, or as the Bible would put it, Kosmos, which stem from our falling nature.

    If we could all be child-like – as Jesus tells us to be – and drop our Kosmos, we will all be one again: one with ourselves, one with God, and one with each other.

    16) Same to you. And Good night. (I must sleep now.)

  • TheChristian

    Richard,

    Once again, thanks for your swift reply. I checked back my comments, and no, they do not need re-labelling (phew!)

    (1) You commented “they are not willing to listen to us”, so I was trying to explain why with the long list of philosophers. I apologize if that intimidated you. If you had said “me”, I would have responded differently. Since – according to the standard argument – atheists are merely “non-stamp-collectors”, I suppose that some of the “non-stamp-collectors” must be interested in philosophical debate.

    (2) You said “heck! I do not practice “the atheist philosophy””; so I was trying to give you what I define the atheist philosophy as.

    (3) You don’t need to.

    Post-script: I number my paragraphs after the paragraph numbers (implicit) of in the post whose paragraphs I reply to. I do that so that I don’t miss out details in any post. Most of the time it works.

  • Richard Wade

    TheChristan,
    Ok, understood. By the way I didn’t find the long list of philosophers “intimidating,” just irrelevant to me. Thank you for your patient responses.

  • Jeff Dale

    @TheChristian:

    (3) “God exists” is a tautology like “A triangle has three sides”. So it cannot be false. Why the existence of God is a tautology would need an entire post to explain (perhaps Hemant would give me space) but in summary, it is because God is Existence, and saying that “Existence exists” is a tautology.

    You don’t actually think any of us disbelieves in existence, do you?

    So, you define “God” as existence. Not sure if we need a long explanation of that, but one thing does need clarification. The moment that you attach anything else to all of “existence,” you’ve created something that can be believed or disbelieved separate from existence. For example, if you argue that “existence”/”God” has a rational will, you’ve made it possible for someone reasonably to argue that all of “existence” doesn’t have a rational will. Having a rational will is not included by definition in “existence.” So unless you’re prepared to say that “God” is nothing more than “existence,” i.e., the combination of all things in nature as they are, you can’t regard “God exists” as a tautology.

    Or, since you brought up ontological arguments, we should note (with Kant) that existence is not a property. Or at least, if we define existence that way, it becomes meaningless. I could say, I’m thinking about a blue spotted frimfploog, and now you’d have to say it exists. So just because you define “God” as “existence,” or include “exists” among his properties, doesn’t mean he actually does exist.

    (4) I have read the Atheist books, and so far, I am inclined to agree with the Agnostic Mark Sharlow who argues that they are shallow engagements with theistic arguments. Shallow Engagement is not proper engagement. I applaud your effort at trying to engage theists, but please try to engage their arguments properly.

    Maybe you’re responding to someone else in this instance, but if not, you’re reading something into my words that isn’t there. I didn’t say that I got my knowledge of atheistic arguments from the atheist books you’ve read, whichever those might be. In fact, I was only stating my conclusion, not the arguments leading up to it, and only to give context to my subsequent point. Now, if I understand you correctly, your defense against atheistic arguments will be that “God” is simply all of existence. But as I’ve pointed out, that’s equivocation, because if you attach anything else to that concept, you’ve created something to which the atheistic arguments can be applied.

    Atheism is at least categorically divisive, if not “morally” so.

    9) No, you don’t intend to be socially divisive. But nonetheless atheism involves an ontological division between “theists” and “atheists”,a delineation which is faulty in itself.

    Well, by those lights, any category is categorically divisive. And even if you just limit the categories to atheism and theism, why is it any more the fault of atheism than of theism that this divide exists? We didn’t make the theists adopt their belief systems.

    And when you say atheists “don’t intend to be socially divisive,” then follow up with “But nonetheless…”, you’re implying by this juxtaposition that atheists are socially divisive in effect rather than by intent. Again, if the existence of atheists causes a division that theists wish weren’t there, that’s not the fault of the atheists.

    10) I cannot think of a modern example at the moment, but a ready example from history might serve: The French Revolution. The French Revolutionaries were determined to make France into a modern, rational, atheistic state; therefore they executed many priests and burned down many Churches in their De-Christianization Campaign held during the Terror.

    OK, now I think I see what you’re getting at. This example will serve; I’ll try to condense without muddling the point of the argument.

    Presumably, you’re familiar with the “Ancien Régime“: the sharing of power in France among the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the Roman Catholic Church, which lasted from the 14th Century until the Revolution. The people of France were jointly oppressed by the hegemony of these three powers. The Church was the largest single landowner, was exempt from paying taxes, and had the right to levy tithes against ALL the people, regardless of their religious opinions. As the revolution took its early shape, and it became clear that the Church was losing its position of power, the clergy voted to join the new National Assembly, and ultimately became employees of the state, which had nationalized the Church. Then, the National Assembly started requiring that the clergy swear oaths of loyalty to the state. A slight majority did, but the fact that so many refused led to anti-clerical legislation and persecution. In the Reign of Terror that soon followed, a brief but bloody spasm of purges in which the anger of centuries of oppression finally came fully uncorked, the Church was, for obvious reasons, a prominent target, and to that extent there was atheistic sentiment among certain important factions of the revolution.

    To sum up, the atheism which you portrayed as a prime motivator of the revolution was actually a reaction to clerical tyranny, not to mention clerical collusion with monarchical tyranny, swept up in the military and existential fervor of revolution, and not a principled philosophic position. Again, the condition of being unconvinced by theistic arguments doesn’t inherently contain anything that would motivate people to attack clergy and bring down religious institutions. Conversely, if you give people a reason (i.e., tyranny) to attack clergy and bring down religious institutions, people will choose their actions on the basis of that reason, not on whether they happen to believe the religious propositions held by those clergy and institutions. The argument that conflagrations like the French Revolution are somehow even incidentally an expression of atheism per se is utterly baseless.

    The popular Euthrypho argument against Monotheism is an abuse of Socrates. In the first place, Socrates was arguing against the Greek gods, not against God. In the second place, people who try to apply the Euthrypho Argument to Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Ba’Hai or even Hinduism are falling into the same trap that Euthrypho fell into, showing that despite all pretence, they are not thinking like Socrates at all.

    It doesn’t sound like you’re seeing the message of Euthyphro. It is simply this: piety precedes divine judgment, temporally and logically. Or more generally, moral rightness is an inherent quality of an act, sensible to our own natural judgment, and not derived from or imposed by a god’s opinion of it. I am aware that the original argument was applied to polytheism, but it works against monotheism too, in a somewhat different way. Suppose that there is exactly one god and we want to determine his opinion of two separate acts, judging them to be either morally right or morally wrong. If the acts are similar enough in their particulars, our opinion of the moral rightness of both would be the same. This god’s opinion of both must, of course, either be the same or different, logically. If his opinion is different, and if his opinion is the basis of morality, then the same particulars are both morally right and morally wrong, which is a contradiction, or at the very least demolishes any concept of morality and replaces it with an amoral absolute authority, in which this god could declare anything morally right, no matter how much it might shock our moral sense. But if his opinion is the same, he is merely agreeing with our moral judgment, which we were able to come up with on our own, and the divine stamp on morality is irrelevant, an unnecessary added assumption that we’d only buy into if we had some other, independent reason for thinking that this god existed. The only way around this dilemma that I’m aware of is to argue that “God” gave us our moral sense, but that clearly is much less likely than the well-supported naturalistic explanations for evolution of morality.

    Without going too far into Theology, the Argument from Evil – if one understands Christian Doctrine properly – can be refuted with the line “Evil exists only in the human experience”, or to paraphrase Descartes, “I think that it is evil, therefore it is evil”.

    I might just be worn out, but I don’t see how this refutes the Argument from Evil. Sorry, big anticlimax to an otherwise meaty post on my part. Cheers.

  • dkahn400

    Atheism is not a philosophy, it is simply non-belief in a deity.

    No, Atheism is a philosophy because you necessarily have a rationale for a lack of a belief in a deity. (In fact, the article “a” already contains a supposition.)

    “article” refers to the “a” in “lack of belief in a deity”. And you do not need to be a philosopher to have a philosophy.

    You appear to be simply playing a game with language. There is no supposition implied in the indefinit article if it simply means non-belief in any q

  • dkahn400

    @TheChristian

    Atheism is not a philosophy, it is simply non-belief in a deity.

    No, Atheism is a philosophy because you necessarily have a rationale for a lack of a belief in a deity. (In fact, the article “a” already contains a supposition.)

    “article” refers to the “a” in “lack of belief in a deity”. And you do not need to be a philosopher to have a philosophy.

    You appear to be doing little more than playing a game with language. There is no supposition implied in the indefinite article; it simply means non-belief in any deity. Whether or not a non-philosopher can have a philosophy is beside the point. A philosophy is a system of rational thought. Simply refusing to accept someone else’s delusion, or apparent delusion, does not constitute a philosophy.

  • Joffan

    TheChristian; I’ll echo Jeff Dale and note that you need to catch up on your philosophy. Existence is not a property. Lots of (historical) brainpower was wasted on this misunderstanding before it was cleared up, but it’s clear now. Therefore you cannot merely define something into existence, whether it’s God, unicorns or bootlaces. You have to establish whether something exists separately from its definition (I can do this for bootlaces).

  • TheChristian

    dkahn400,

    The use of the article itself implies that the object is quantifiable.

    Rationality of a system is the quality of a method, not the quality of its start-points.

    Jeff Dale,

    (1) I am not attaching; I am equating. And no; Existence is not the sum total of everything that exists; it is the enaction/application of the metadata that specifies what qualifies as an existent entity. Existence does not refer to the set of existing entities, but the Principle that validates their Existence. The becoming of a Rational Will is thus a component of Existence, otherwise a Rational Will could not be an existent entity, whatever entity you wish to classify it as.

    As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, God is “The Principle of Existence in Action“. “Principle” is not so difficult to understand; but few people grasp what “in action” means. Perceiving a series of frames is easier than perceiving an onion-skin containing all the frames. (If you don’t understand the IT metaphors, feel free to seek clarification.)

    (2) Existence is not a property; It is the Action that brings about properties; so I guess that I a agree with Kant, in a way.

    (3) Well, you made a point about wanting theists to engage with atheists (I think you did.) That is why I gave you a paragraph to explain why (more sophisticated) theists do not bother to engage with atheists at the moment.

    (4) Haha, great tautology. And why atheism is faulted i because atheism is the aspect that is affirming the negative. I’ll suggest an analogy: Go and look at beginner art classes on “negative space”.

    (5) Honestly, just look at Sarah’s and Olivia’s replies to me, and you have “the effect”. Hitchens and Harris essentially produce works of the same tenor, except that they are more expanded in detail.

    (7) Hmm, I have read up enough on the Revolution – and studied it in school – to know that your perspective is flawed.

    I know atheists like claiming that the Roman Catholic Church used to be the largest landowner in Europe, but that is problematic, because it assumes a political unity that the Church has not really ever had, from its earliest times. The Papacy and the Church are politically assymmetric. Officially, the Pope is the doctrinal head who only steps in to adjudicate situations. Apart from St Peter’s Pence, the Holy See does not have any other direct administrative authority. The Inquisition or Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith is part of the Doctrinal/Magisterial authority, not its temporal authority. Because the Pope is only first among equals – and has a moral obligation to at least appear so – each Diocese is run by a bishop, who is administratively independent of the Pope, except for St Peter’s Pence and the consecration of the Bishopric. Similarly, purely administrative tasks in each of the parishes are carried out by the priests, not the bishops; except for the ordination of priests, which is done by the bishop. And again, each monastic order has its own structure independent of both the parishes and the See.

    In fact, this ecclesial “separation-of-powers” is what allowed a Byzantine Emperor to engineer the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Back to France; The Pope did not own any lands in France, not even the church-grounds e.g. Notre Dame did not – and still does not – belong to the Pope. The lands in France were owned by the local French bishops, many of whom had become corrupt and taken on the airs of the secular nobility, and even had peerage titles to match. (St Peter and St Paul would have been disgusted at these “bishops”.)

    Conversely, the parish priests in France were very poor, and were just as robbed of their livelihoods by their corrupt superiors just like the peasants that they ministered to. The priests voted to join the assembly because they were resentful of the Bishops, not because they were afraid of the Church losing power. The Bishops joined the nobility because they wanted to preserve their personal power.

    The Monarchy was part of the nobility, that is the First Estate. The Ancien Regime, despite its name, was an invention of Louis XIV, who is famous for “C’est Qe Amoi” (“I am the nation”). Similar to Henry VIII, Louis XIV put himself socially at the top of every hierarchy in France. He embraced the Galican Heresy, which is a Franco-Centric Catholicism. This caused papal consternation, but it also increased the political independence of the corrupt bishops from Rome, since there had been a latent tension since the Conciliarist Crisis which elected three different Popes at the same time, including one at Avignon in France.

    But although the Priests and the Peasants supported the Revolution against the excesses of the nobility – both secular and ecclesiastical – they were not in tune with the other aspects of the Revolution. And as the first few months of the Revolution drew on, the extreme devotion of the Revolutionaries to what Kant would call Pure Reason alienated Paris more and more from the countryside; and the boorish behaviour of the Sections were not particularly encouraging either. After the execution of Louis XVI, the Pope issued a Papal Bull condemning the Revolution. It was in light of this that the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic sections of Prussia began to agitate for war against France. (The Holy Alliance is not formed randomly out of thin air, as many history books suggest.)

    And the rest is history that I think you are familiar with.

    9) Atheism was not a motivation for the Revolution, but it became a characteristic of the Revolution later on because many Revolutionaries were atheist. The Revolutionaries only realized this after Robbespierre set up his infamous Festival of the Supreme Being. What his colleagues and later historians fail to grasp is that the Supreme Being is the alternative to the Christian God that Robbespierre aimed to displace. The Supreme Being is the symbol of perfect Humanity, which necessarily has to exist if a perfect God doesn’t.

    (to be con-d)

  • dkahn400

    @TheChristian

    The use of the article itself implies that the object is quantifiable.

    Rationality of a system is the quality of a method, not the quality of its start-points.

    The meaning of that, assuming there is one, is too obscure for me, I’m afraid.

  • monkeymind

    The Christian:

    Can you elucidate the philosophical/syntactical implications of the following types of non-belief:

    non-belief in Santa Claus (no article)
    non-belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (definite article)
    non-belief in fairies (no article)
    non-belief in a deity (indefinite article)

    Also, what are the implications for Russian atheists, since that language has no articles?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  • theChristian says

    Jeff Dale (are you the other “Jeff” as well?),

    Two different Jeffs. I always include my little cutesy “Jesus” avatar with my comments. I’ll try to start calling myself “Jeff P” so others can reference my comments without ambiguity towards Jeff Dale or any other Jeffs.

  • TheChristian

    Jeff Dale (con-d),

    (10) Hmm, it seems that I am thinking in a way that is too convoluted for the issue at hand. Since you are much-better-schooled in Plato and Socrates than I am and have managed to come up with such a down-to-earth understanding of Socrates, perhaps you could enlighten me somewhat. So, to begin, I would like to seek clarifications on what you have just posted:-

    (a) Is A divine judgement divine in that it is made by a god, or does a god make a divine judgement because it is divine?

    (b) What is the “particulars” which determine moral rightness?

    (c) I see that the directly observable facts of the actions would remain the same in either case i.e. whether the god was following the amoral absolute authority or not. But I am confused at how an amoral authority can arrive at an absolute state. To explain my confusion, perhaps I might illustrate, if you would permit me. In Quantum physics, there is a concept called a spin-state. As I am sure you would have heard before (given your apparent knowledge of philosophy – correct me if I am wrong) the German philosopher Gerrard Schroedinger was skeptical of the validity of such a property of physical matter and illustrated his skepticism with his famous cat-in-a-box analogy. The whole argument was that if the spin-state was neither positive nor negative, then the cat is neither alive nor dead. I happen to agree with him; do you see why?

    (d) Is nature not amoral?

    (11) It denies the existence of Evil as a “real” entity.

  • TheChristian

    dkahn400,

    when we say “1 of x”, we are grouping many things together and calling the collective “x”. Saying “a x” is synonymous with saying “1 of x”.

    An argument by itself consists of a set of premises and a conclusion. Rationality is a comment on the relationship between the premises and the conclusion, or how the person derives the conclusion from the premises. The truth-value of either the premises or the conclusion itself is not relevant to the rationality of the Argument.

    What pre-suppositional apologetics tries to show is that Christian premises can be supported more rationally than materialist premises. But several pre-suppositional apologists mix up premises with conclusions, and so their analyses become jumbled.

    Where Pre-Suppositional Apologetics fails is in that it assumes that atheist conclusions are necessarily all wrong just because the premises are wrong. But an irrational argument with one or more false premises can still have a true conclusion.

    Monkeymind,

    *Shakes head*. All of them have the same implications:

    (1) The object is identifiable.

    (2) The object is quantifiable/countable.

    More specifically,

    (1) “Santa Claus” is a Proper Noun, thus it (the phrase) has an implied definite article.

    (2 & 4) “the” and “a” only differ in terms of scope; they both still imply that the object in question is countable. (Countability and Existence are not correlated, so your use of FSM does not demolish my argument, nor would the IPU, or the IB7.)

    (3) The “uncountable” plural form is merely a collective reference to many indefinite singulars, so the argument in the previous paragraph applies.

    Sorry, if you want to argue against me, you have to do much better than what you have done.

    Jeff P,

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • monkeymind

    Sorry, if you want to argue against me, you have to do much better than what you have done.

    Indeed, I would be ill-advised to argue against you.

  • Jeff Dale

    (1) I am not attaching; I am equating. And no; Existence is not the sum total of everything that exists; it is the enaction/application of the metadata that specifies what qualifies as an existent entity. Existence does not refer to the set of existing entities, but the Principle that validates their Existence. The becoming of a Rational Will is thus a component of Existence, otherwise a Rational Will could not be an existent entity, whatever entity you wish to classify it as.

    As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, God is “The Principle of Existence in Action“.

    It doesn’t matter how you reshape your assertion. You’re still trying to argue that “all of existence” is somehow unified into a being. I’m pretty sure you have no evidence for this, and I don’t see any reason to think that it might be so. Imagine if “all of existence” were much smaller than it actually is. Imagine that it were limited to you and me in a room with a table and two chairs. Then “all of existence” would consist of four walls, a ceiling, a floor, two people, and some furniture. But to assert that all of those things collectively comprise a being is not necessarily true. The same is true of “all of existence” as it actually is. It may not be logically impossible that the entire universe and everything in it, along with all the principles underlying it, and anything else you want to add, collectively is a being called “God” who has a mind and is interested in our fates, perhaps listens to prayers, etc. But it is obviously not necessarily the case, and seems extremely unlikely to me. “Having a mind” is a separate property that must be justified; it is not automatically true of “all of existence.”

    (3) Well, you made a point about wanting theists to engage with atheists (I think you did.) That is why I gave you a paragraph to explain why (more sophisticated) theists do not bother to engage with atheists at the moment.

    You seem pretty sophisticated, and you’re engaging with us.

    (4) Haha, great tautology. And why atheism is faulted i because atheism is the aspect that is affirming the negative. I’ll suggest an analogy: Go and look at beginner art classes on “negative space”.

    But why should atheists be faulted for opining that there’s no “God”? That’s absurd. Maybe you’re just equivocating on the two meanings of “negative.” If I look outside and say “it’s raining,” then you look outside and everything looks dry to you, should I fault you for saying “it’s not raining”?

    (5) Honestly, just look at Sarah’s and Olivia’s replies to me, and you have “the effect”. Hitchens and Harris essentially produce works of the same tenor, except that they are more expanded in detail.

    You don’t seriously think that atheists as a group have been more “socially divisive” toward theists as a group than the other way around, do you? I don’t even have to go back to past centuries of persecution. Just look at the fact that atheists practically can’t get elected to public office in the U.S., regardless of their qualifications, while people with decidedly thin qualifications can garner a large percentage of the vote because of their heavy-handed expressions of “faith.”

    What’s different now is that religion is no longer quite the taboo subject it once was. So some people who in earlier years would have held their tongues are now speaking their minds. Many religious people are not used to having their belief systems held up for scrutiny and criticism. But there’s no reason why religion should be exempt when all other subjects are open to frank discussion.

    (7) Hmm, I have read up enough on the Revolution – and studied it in school – to know that your perspective is flawed.

    There are a few points I could address here, but it’s not really necessary to get into detail. The point is, none of what you’ve said changes the fact that atheism per se was not the motivating force of the French Revolution, as you’re trying to argue. It was one prominent thread among many in the larger context of reacting against the oppressive old order, in which church colluded with monarchy. The church’s oppression might’ve led some revolutionaries to conclude that religion was corrupt and therefore, perhaps, there is no “God.” Other revolutionaries were probably already atheists for other reasons. Some might even have adopted atheism simply to accentuate their opposition to the church. But in all these cases, they were reacting to oppression, same as all the other revolutionaries who continued to hold onto some form of religious view. If there were an officially atheist state in which theists were subject to centuries of oppression, and the theists got fed up and started attacking the atheists in power and establishing a church in their place, we wouldn’t say that it was something inherent to theism that led them to do this.

    (10) …
    (a) Is A divine judgement divine in that it is made by a god, or does a god make a divine judgement because it is divine?

    If by “divine” you mean something like “of God,” then of course “divine judgment” is divine because it is made by a god. But I assume you’re addressing the question of morality.

    If there is a god, and morality is defined by whatever seems good to him, then morality is arbitrary. He could decide that mass murder is moral, perhaps because it might reduce the problem of famine in the world, or perhaps because he finds blood spatters aesthetically pleasing. Our judgment of the matter would be irrelevant; our job would be only to obey, and hope he likes us. And if you argue that your god wouldn’t deem mass murder to be moral, you’re appealing to a standard of morality that’s independent of your god.

    But if there is a god, and morality is defined independently of him, then he is simply forming judgments within a moral framework that already exists. Thus, morality is something that is open to exploration with our own judgment, and doesn’t come from the god.

    (b) What is the “particulars” which determine moral rightness?

    I just mean whatever the facts of the case happen to be. So for example, let’s say that Fred grabs a big knife and starts chasing Franny, brandishing the knife and shouting threats. Franny runs until she’s backed into a corner from which she can’t escape. But she finds a big rock, which she picks up and hurls at Fred’s head. Fred passes out and soon dies. These are all the particulars of the case. We could easily substitute other weapons for the knife and/or the rock, so those particulars aren’t what decides morality in this case. Franny had sufficient evidence to conclude that Fred intended to harm her, and once she was backed into a corner, she had sufficient evidence that the rock was her best or only hope of saving herself. Thus, her act was justified self-defense. Those particulars are the ones that determine our moral judgment.

    (c) I see that the directly observable facts of the actions would remain the same in either case i.e. whether the god was following the amoral absolute authority or not. But I am confused at how an amoral authority can arrive at an absolute state. To explain my confusion, perhaps I might illustrate, if you would permit me. In Quantum physics, there is a concept called a spin-state. As I am sure you would have heard before (given your apparent knowledge of philosophy – correct me if I am wrong) the German philosopher Gerrard Schroedinger was skeptical of the validity of such a property of physical matter and illustrated his skepticism with his famous cat-in-a-box analogy. The whole argument was that if the spin-state was neither positive nor negative, then the cat is neither alive nor dead. I happen to agree with him; do you see why?

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at, but that might be a failure on my part. In any case, my clarification in (a) above might help.

    (d) Is nature not amoral?

    Nature as a whole is amoral, but our natures are moral, because they have evolved to be that way.

    Without going too far into Theology, the Argument from Evil – if one understands Christian Doctrine properly – can be refuted with the line “Evil exists only in the human experience”, or to paraphrase Descartes, “I think that it is evil, therefore it is evil”.

    I might just be worn out, but I don’t see how this refutes the Argument from Evil.

    (11) It denies the existence of Evil as a “real” entity.

    Well, OK, evil isn’t a “real” entity. I don’t see any reason to believe that metaphysical constructs (including “God”) actually exist in reality. But I don’t think that the “evil” referred to in the “Argument From Evil” is purely subjective. Maybe it’d be better to say something like “unnecessary suffering and/or death,” but whatever you call it, it clearly does objectively exist. For example, innocent children die of diseases, violence, and natural disasters all the time. There is no satisfactory refutation to this argument that doesn’t involve surrendering all judgment of right and wrong to “God” (Euthyphro again). Try any theodicy you like.