I wrote that essay about atheism after taking part in a panel discussion about religion at CUNY in December 2009. I am always being asked why I'm an atheist and not an agnostic, as if I were some sort of dogmatist. Instead of explaining it over and over again, I thought it would be useful to write it out. I hope it helps clarify people's thoughts. I don't expect it to convince theists, but it may help atheists formulate their views.
Astute readers will notice that I misspelled "lava" as "larva".
Last Sunday I saw on TV the best women's tennis match I've ever seen, between two Belgians, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin--goddesses both.
Video of the \\\"Varieties of Nonbelief\\\" discussion here:
Thanks for the valuable link, Rob.
But how did you manage the inverted slashes in your comment and what do they mean?
What I liked most was that somebody (I forget who, but Colin didn´t voice anything I understood to the problem) said fundamentalists and Dawkins belong to the same category.
I remember having seen the book in the windows in German "Gotteswahn" and having been astounded then by the sheer stupidity of using a psychiatric term, firstly, and calling belief a delusion at all, secondly. I reflected shortly on editors and translators and decided to have a look at the inside.
The way he generalizes reminds me of dime novels, so do the clichees, and I found only a faint curiosity that might befall me watching a centipede managing his numerous legs. The way he treats language is ... not a reason to buy the book, though it might be handy now to criticize him harder.
He sells well and is widely known, I admit. But the unquestioning assurance of being right in all instances indeed puts him in the very near vicinity of fundamentalists.
Perhaps he owes his reputation to people confusing Dawkin with Darwin? The name is awfully alike and "this atheist, don´t you know, Dar, Daw, what was the name" for instance might mean either.
Concerning polytheists, Rob: I personally believe in one God, which is called differently by various religions (or people), I happen to be a Christian, but dont deny others the right to believe their way. Polytheism is after all only a way to split God up in different aspects.
You are right, our moral and ethical standards are still based on the ten commandments. Alas, those humanistic chaps are ashamed of their spiritual ancestry. Glad y o u aren´t.
but thanks ! :)
The debate is particularly fascinating. When asked whether the non-existence of God can be proved, Russell replies, "No, I should not say that. My position is agnostic." A transcript of the debate can be found here:
I estimate Russel highly, I almost entirely read his history of Philosophy, of which, however, I do not remember the title.
In this case he apparently disproves one of the proofs of God´s existence. The relevant truth in this connection is that there are no positive proofs in favour of atheism.
Russell claims to be an "Agnostic", due to the fact that he thinks the proofs in either direction (for or against God) are not enough to make a person able to declare himself an Atheist, and he seems not inclined to declare himself a Theist. His counterpart, on the contrary, does think there are enough proofs for Theism and tries one of the proofs on Russell.
Is there a God or isn´t there? About the definition of God there seem to be no misunderstandings. What are the consequences if there is no God? Russell seems to have a few words to say to that, but he lets his controversary do the most of the talking, no doubt in order to have more freedom to gainsay him. Arguments in favour of Atheism, or indeed of Atheism, are feeble, as aforesaid, and he knows that.
Now what are the consequences indeed? Well, for instance I have the impression that God is strictly against people like the Inca and Voodooo priests that create the impression that God is voracious and likes to have innocent virgins consecrated to him and consequently killed.
I am perfectly aware that this view on History as a Stage for God seems peculiar today.
It is not that I personally am in favour of the genocide in South America, but the reason why the Spanish succeeded, I do think, is that their "religion" was not agreeable to God. Or to the "Weltgeist", as you will have it.
As long as people continue, in general, to be humane towards each other, I think God willingly accepts to be called non-existent. He regards it as better than to be talked about just as if he was positively evil, I get the impression.
I have seen no-one come to any harm just because he is atheistic. God, it seems to me, knows only too well he exists and laughs about such matters. Now would an Atheist decline to go into Heaven after death, as soon as he finds out there is something - or someone - except Objects, Plants and Animals, and Human Beings in the World after all?
You really must be joking. As Hitchens is fond of saying, were our ancients really a bunch of thieves and murderers and pillagers, not having any inkling of right and wrong, until Moses came down from the mountain, and then they say "Oh, wow, we better stop all that."?? I think a little higher of them, and of non-Western peoples, and of ourselves. Morals and ethics didn't come from some mythical stone tablet.
of course china and persia and the whole african continent have a history wholly of their own, only i am not the right person to expound on it, simply because i dont know enough. i let buddhists explain buddhism, muslim their own faith and so on.
from the year zero on christendom is spreading around the mediterranean, at the year 1000 (roughly) the spheres of influence are spread into byzantium and rome, at the end of the middle ages and beginning of renaissance america is discovered and, bit by bit, peopled with europeans and develops a very special brand of different christian faiths.
as tó the "mythical stone tablet": i heard of a very similar stone pillar, erected by a certain hammurabi, even before moses. and not christian.
i really dont know how i earned your posting.
My own personal reactions is that we, as merely human beings, will never know e v e r y t h i n g !!
Not even if everything Einstein ever said was stuff and nonsense.
estimate the size of the universe?! one might as well study homöopathy more closely and stay sane. there, the more diluted the active agent is, the stronger it gets - i.e. its healing power.
and additionally there is a rumour that the most diluted active agent may contain no single atom of the original "active agent". still it stays active and has the power to heal.
we experience gravity, we can feel it. we experience the warmth of sunlight. but already magnetic attraction between iron and a magnet can only be measured (with the help of the iron that may "feel" it) ,
we dont see it, dont smell it, dont hear it. We deduct the existence of this power only from the movement of, say, a needle attracted by the magnet.
There may be other forces at play in the world besides the ones we see, mighn´t there?
indeed there might
BTW Not the size of the universe but the content. It comes from astronomical measurements so it is not just an estimate although it is of course approximate.
The post that I made above that you are responding to was posted in the wrong place. I made a duplicate post in the right place
I believe its putative "healing power" results from a widely recognised but hardly understood placebo effect.
I deny this.
I think, pharma commpanies want to sell their products and are against concurring homöopathy, acupuncture and so on.
Universities only hesitatingly accept profs giving lectures on such themata, because ,if they dont know why something works, they think they know it cant work at all.
Partly also perhaps because pharma companies sponsor them?
And, as far as I know, most homöopathic medicaments do contain molecules of the ative ingredient.
I was aware of your long posting under the other heading, but the difference between approximate measurement and estimate escapes me.
The nearer stars can perhaps be located by parallaxe, the farther stars have the tinge into the red said to be due to their high velocity.
Both is not the measurement with clock, tape measure and balance we know from everyday use, it is a far-fetched calculation that might prove fairly approximate.
But it is mass and energy, as you said, the posting is about. Might not the density also play an important role?
My comment was rather on the metaphoric side, though. "We" ususlly "see" only as far as a few crossroads, if we are not inside a room, in which case we can say we perceive "endlessly" less than there is in the universe (do you agee? It would interest me). "Mankind" as a whole, that is to say a few astronomers, can, in the course of a day, theoretically have a look at 72 circles the size of their objectives of telescopes (each glimpse taking 10 Minutes).the endless inside of a sphere light years large.
Nick, you partly agreed. Thanks. And whats BTW ? I am at loss
There are analgesic tablets against belly-ache or camomile tea (decoct), aforesaid tablets against toothache or biting on a clove.
Pharma Industry earns hard money on people who dont know those simple, mild, cheap methods.
One of the arguments against homöpathy is, believe it or not, that it cant damage anyone. "Anything that can help can also harm" is the relevant sentence of belief.
Camomile tea or cloves wont harm anyone either, but admittedly there are plants that do.
I read Wikipedia. on homöopathy. Superstition, they say.
I am not superstitious enough to believe Wikipedia in that respect, though I usually trust them. The second item google produced for me, though, seems serious enough to be a real help to anyone who wants to dig into the matter.
Anyone there with an ache and possibility to try my method, or is it superstitious also? Grandmothers might agree with me, and grandmothers usually are not state-of-the-art ;)
The "placebo" effect usually helps a drug to work that, without placebo, would work less.
Let us say it has something to do with the trust in the doctor that prescribes it.
Shall we call it distrust if an accepted drug doesnt work on a patient, or shall we say he, consequently, didnt take it long or regularly enough?
I call placebo a rather good thing, at least one feels a bit better.
Is pure placebo ever used except in tests?
Once I had to translate a study on a new drug and I know about those "blind" and "double-blind" tests.
BTW = "By The Way, ..."
The distinction I was drawing between estimate and approximate measurement is that an estimate does not need to be based on any measurement at all. By "measurement" we often really mean calculation because we do not usullay make direct observations of the value we are trying to determine which is usually calculated from direct measuerments of several different parameters. In measuring each parameter there are statistical errors that are introduced which will make the final value approximate.
e.g. The age of the universe is quoted as about 13.7 billion years but the actual figure could be somewhere in the range of something like12.5-14.5 billion years.
We certainly can currently only view less than 5% of the contents of the universe because dark matter and dark energy are currently both unobservable. It's possible that dark energy may not exist or have some other explanation due to us not having a complete understanding of gravity. Dark matter is looking more likely but whether we will ever be able to observe it at a distance is not clear. We may be able to measure the effects of it indirectly at a distance like in the Bullet Cluster. If Dark Energy does not exist or could have some other explanation and we are unable to observe dark matter then we would only ever be able to see about 20% of the universe. However, depending on how dark matter is distributed, it might prevent us seeing more distant objects that lie beyond dark matter, although we still might be able to see the distant objects because of an effect known as 'lensing'.
I think most people believe the universe is not infinite. We certainly can observe the radiation (cosmic background radiation) that dates back to the very earliest moments of the universe and we have viewed very distant objects back to about 13.1 billion years ago which given the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years would be at the edge of the universe. So we can see a lot of what is possibly observable. Given that the universe is not endless, the amount we can't see is also not endless. When I say "see" I am including all wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that we can detect (e.g. microwave, radio waves, X-Ray, optically visible to telescopes)
too sad. what is becoming of infinity? Do you leave me at least the possibility of future infinity in time or do you believe in red giants and white dwarves?
I personally usually use "infinity" (of space) rather in the sense of "disproportionally big".
It´s so cosy. ;)
It might leave us with infinity as a mere mathematically existent entity. This is, I think, not even as much as virtual existence.
One can calculate with the help of its illusion, but it doesn´t exist.
Rather like your concept of God. Or anyone´s concept of God, indeed, for one must admit this concept contains contradictions.
Rather like any "big enough" theory, like someone says, was it Russel? Gödel? I dont remember.
People here in this blog, it seems to me, are just complaining of Einstein`s theory and dark matter/energy. Though I wont state I understood the thing.
Mike: you dont mean ME when showing us the poem of "Storm", sniff ?! :(
I was able to laugh, I am glad to say. You may take this as heroism or pure stupidity.
Some cosmologists conjecture that our universe is but one of a possibly infinite(?) number of universes (the multiverse or metaverse). I think this is all pie in the cosmological sky. I dont think we would ever be able to prove it or detect anything outside our own universe.
As well as these distinct possible universes there is also the many worlds theory of quantum mechanics that says there are (I think) infinite possible number of increasingly divergent parallel universes. This is actually the mainstream theory of quantum mechanics but there are also some other theories where you can have a different version of reality.
Then as you say, there is the possibility that time is infinite. There appears to be a beginning point to our own universe. There could be an infinite cycle of expansions and collapses of our own universe - Big Bangs followed by Big Crunches. But as I explained before, from observations it looks like there will be no collapse of this universe and it will go on expanding forever, so there will be infinite time but probably nobody around to measure it. There is also a theory called the Big Rip whereby dark energy will actually rip all matter apart and presumably we will be left with nothing and arguably an end of time, but that theory also looks to be unlikely according to current observations.
If time is infinite and the universe goes on expanding forever at a faster rate, wouldn\\\'t the universe become infinite? Well, that would mean it would have to go from being finite to infinite and at what point would that happen? I would have to conclude that the universe will never be infinite spatially.
Nevertheless, I'm sure the placebic efficacy of homoeopathy is genuine and can be compared to certain aspects of prayer.
Double-blind authentication aside, even subjects who are actually told their prescription pill is just a coloured, sugary confection still sometimes report a degree of alleviation with respect to their problem.
And I think this is rather like the folk who plainly acknowledge their prayer to be nothing but a heartfelt soliloquy in an empty theatre, yet sincerely maintain its effectiveness.
I doubt anybody is certain about the mechanics of placebo but I wouldn't wish to derogate the concept - it really does seem to work.
So, I suppose I should concede that sincere prayer could induce a psychological benefit which may produce an epiphenomenal, palliative remedy - despite its obvious absurdity.
Dennett, in Breaking The Spell (2006) suggests that a type of shamanic placebo may have assisted early humans through a population bottleneck, leading to the residue of religiosity we witness in the world today.
I always think the will or wish to help is essential in a doctor - especially a doctor of psychiatry - since you mentioned olanzapin.- didn´t look it up now.
Yes I can have infinity as long as it stays theory. I found nothing to the contrary in your comment.
Personally I conceive the universe as endless. Call that an oldish theory.
It really was fun. Thanks !!
And I agree with what you say about the sine qua non of doctorhood.
I do have the "Codex Austria"; but there should have to look up the trade name. Could Google it. No, I am an interested lay person (with ample opportunity to study psychiatric doctors):
marcus, a very good comment!
the goddesses spelt with a small G. :) :) :)
Yes, I am working on a book about philosophy of physics--as well as one about disgust and death and another about conceptual analysis and metaphilosophy.
Despite still finding the joke funny (especially when it's rendered in our local accent) I don't like the indefatigable doggedness of its referent - the "pontiff", the "pope" of the "holy see", reincarnating like a geriatric Dr. Who, eulogising upon the groundless authority of his state's constitution.
So to bring him back to earth, Herr Ratzinger may soon (hopefully) be compelled to face the possibility of criminal citation relating to allegations that he assisted perpetrators of heinous crimes against vulnerable people, either willfully or through some sort of criminally careless irresponsibility.
It wouldn't be the first time in history that a prominent, dominant male has been implicated in "abuse" (it sort of goes with the territory, if you know what I mean) but I suspect (or do I just hope?) the modern democratisation of information may contribute to an explosion of mutual knowledge that will be difficult to reign in, or quell.
We've learned about a letter from an American bishop, addressed to Ratzinger's office, pleading for impeachment and justice with respect to serious criminal allegations; and another letter, this time from the alleged perpetrator, addressed to Mr. Ratzinger's office, is equally beseeching but reflexively so, for it calls for compassionate consideration towards the alleged perpetrator himself, due to his old age and ill health; and we've got the considered result of these formal requests: i.e. the alleged perpetrator was allowed to live out his days in relative peace, as if free from the responsibilities which justice demands, whilst his alleged victims were afforded some pity, but only because their "souls" (whatever that means) were believed to be in need of some type of salvation.
In any event, it seems the alleged victims were never allowed to find themselves in the vicinity of justice (remember: obstructing justice is a serious offence too) despite their earnest and proper petitions to that end.
Anyway, it seems that a group of lawyers have now appealed to the international criminal court, to the effect that Mr. Ratzinger should (as a matter of ordinary procedure within established protocols) be arrested and placed on trial with regard to these claims and be allowed to defend himself against these extremely serious allegations.
But I'm not holding my breath, so to speak, because I expect the Vatican state's supreme ruler may issue a tortuous and slippery explanation which everyone will feel forced to consider seriously - so far, all we've heard is the so-called "pope" cavalierly dismiss these serious allegations as mere "gossip" but the evidence is already weightier than the sort of fragmentary evidence which normally compels our law enforcement agencies to arrest alleged perpetrators of this type of crime. He ought to be remanded, pending fair trial.
Mind you, a common religious reaction to terrible events (such as hurricane Katrina, or the holocaust) is to pretend that such ordeals represent a kind of test, by god, of humanity's unquestioning faith - so, I'm "praying" the current clerical calamity isn't absorbed in that way.
And I REALLY don't want a single penny (never mind the purported £20 million) of our tax contributions to be used to police his impending visit to the UK, at the behest of our "queen" - something REALLY stinks here.
Sorry, all of you, I cant let this pass.
It is not "the pope" who is responsible for this. It has been the practice for decades now to hush everything up that suggests priests have also sexual feelings. If they have an illicit "affair" (which is due to the fact that they are human beings, and morally not "bad", considering it with secular morals, except in their relation to the church, the vow, and the money they earn under the condition that they live abstainingly) or they do really criminal things (like molesting children).
Have a look at Austrian or Italian papers currently (e.g. www.stephanscom.at) and you will see that countless cases are unrolled: 500 people have inquired (not each a case, they say) at one of the three institutions concerned with this: a church one (existing since bishop Groer has been allegedly molesting children, many years ago, a charge that he denied), a victim one (planning to sue the church) and an independent one, the chairwoman of which is a politician who does the job for free, so noone can say she is partial in favour of the church.
Over in America you get only half of the News, rolled into the sentence "the pope molested children". He didn´t, was only engaged in hushing things up.
Something is being done. And I trust our present pope (the one before would probably simply not have believed such things are possible, in these numbers! You dont expect every case got to Rome?) to get things better. If people were bound by law to tell the police if they saw a priest molesting a child, we would have by far less of these cases, I expect.
And thanks, Mike, for your kind words some days or a week ago.
I wasn't thinking about taunting anybody when I typed that (I was genuinely shocked) although I take your point: it's possible I misunderstood, due to the lack of prosody.
Of course I'm sorry if anybody feels bad because of anything I write.
Still, each category of behaviour is, in the case under discussion, criminal.
And each category of behaviour is emboldened by the other.
Alan wrote: "Herr Ratzinger may soon be compelled to face the possibility of criminal citation relating to allegations that he assisted perpetrators of heinous crimes..."
This suggests, and also you suggest, a criminal action.
The Pope is not a criminal.
I had reffered to the impression, generated doubtless by the press, that it is criminal not to punish criminals according to what they deserve.
It is regrettable the "perpetrators" have not been all found out and punished before, but it is not a crime. Be careful of the words you use, Colin.
You simply would prefer if everyone was of your opinions.
You accuse me of "total falsity", and this is the only remotlely misunderstandible issue you can find?
I had promised to keep out if you stopped insulting me.
But I do not like to be referred to as "this person", as you may imagine.
But it was a gruesome misreprsentation of hierarchy in the Catholic Church that brought me back.
You are loosing hold on your temper, Colin. "Arrogance, violence.." and so on. You are speaking of the head of a Church.
What the laws in your country are regarding such issues, I do not know.
I completely agree with what you wrote. I was only trying to defuse the situation and avoid provoking more anger from someone who had already been told by the host of this site not to make any further comments here.
Last week Prof. McGinn wrote that atheists "make up in morality what they lack in belief; whereas believers have to do so much work to believe that they have no energy left over for morality" But as the scandal continued to unfold this past week, the only belief I could see the Catholic Church expending energy on was the belief in its own right to exercise power. (When the New York Times reported that as many as 200 deaf boys were molested by one priest, the church was outraged. Outraged over what? The molestation of 200 deaf boys? No. They were outraged over the reporting of the New York Times.)
Shortcomings and errors! How wonderful that the pope embodies moral truths.