I remain bemused by belief and gullibility

Why are we so gullible? The other day, I saw a video shared on Facebook – featuring a bodybuilder versus a martial artist. The share stated that it was evidence that big muscles don’t make you a fighter, and the article showing the video carried on about the number of black belts owned by this particular martial artist, and went on to describe how he schooled the bodybuilder, even slapping his ears after pinning him down for extra humiliation, and then allowed a female student to take the man on, after the man asked her if she “wants to do my dishes”… I found the video eventually again now. Let’s see if you see what I saw, or what that article described…

 

Did you see what I saw?

I saw a video that was 100% staged. Disclosure: I did not watch to the end. I closed the browser tab in disgust just after the guy taunted the woman student about doing his dishes.

There are a number of things wrong with this video, and I’ll just list the most obvious ones:

  • Why does he remove his shirt? If he’s there to fight, he would fight, and taking the time to remove your shirt is not a great way of getting a fighting advantage. Unless of course, if the point is to show your muscles and demonstrate that they are not as good as a black belt in a totally staged video.
  • His dialog – and I call it dialog because it is poorly scripted – is quite pathetic. (Excuse me if I get this wrong. I only watched half the video… once… and I am not going to watch it again.) “I’m back… something about an apology”… and then later to the girl, “What, you wanna do my dishes?”. It sounds like the sort of stuff you’d hear at the start of a porn movie; poor acting of a bad script by people better qualified to do other things, such as swallowing penises while making fake gargling sounds.

I’m not claiming that a martial artist couldn’t beat a bodybuilder – I don’t know. But I do know that this video was fake and staged. The bad acting alone was enough for this to be obvious to me straight away, and I was unable to maintain interest in watching the video to completion.

And yet that isn’t what anybody else on Facebook saw. They really saw somebody fighting, for real, not a staged video. They were convinced that it was real and that the bodybuilder was “schooled”, presumably for the second time, despite the obvious staging of the video. Why? Should I really ask this, considering that people believe professional wrestling like WWE is real too?

But this is different to professional wrestling… Presumably the people who enjoyed this are martial artists or martial art enthusiasts. The article waffled on about the guy’s six black belts, and listed his accomplishments as a world renowned martial arts expert. So this was framed with a biased article, and his achievements did look rather impressive. But that isn’t a reason to accept them at face value. In reality, no matter how famous this Bryce (I forgot his surname) guy is, and no matter how impressive his qualifications and achievements may be, if he has to resort to staged videos to show off his skill, one should be highly skeptical of all his previous claims.

This reminded me of an argument that was forced on me by a lady at work a few months ago. She brought up religion, and argued with me about my lack of belief. When I explained my position as simply as possible – I don’t believe there is a god because there is no evidence for one, she asked me why evidence is important. Baffled, I replied that if there is no evidence for something, that thing is most probably not true. It’s that simple. And she scoffed at that.

She insists that she knows god exists. And I can’t argue with that.

Nobody can know that something exists, having never seen that thing, or any evidence for that thing whatsoever. (Edit: Theist debaters often argue that “atheists” – quoted as it is a straw man – have faith in science because we have not seen atoms, molecules and so on. But having learned about certain things that are based on hundreds of years of science and accepting that the experts are on the right track, as well as knowing what goes into a scientific theory… is not something that is fair to compare with an unsubstantiated hypothesis about the existence of a deity, unchanged for thousands of years because that’s how dogma works.) You can believe anyway, and that’s what faith is – believing despite a lack of evidence. But then you need to understand that you do not know anything of the sort. You are indoctrinated. That is, you were taught to believe in god (whichever one it may be) before you were old enough to think critically, and as an adult, you no longer question this. She refused to accept this, even though it is clear and undeniable fact.

This is something that I have understood since I was a teenager. You can not possibly know that there is a god. If it was knowledge, then everybody would know and atheism would not exist. My position as an atheist is not one where I profess knowledge in the unknowable… I simply reject the claim that a god exists, especially when such a claim comes from somebody who simply assumes it to be true, without any actual knowledge, and does not know the difference between knowledge and belief. And after partaking in online debates for some time now, I can say that I know this is always the case. Every theist who debates does not know that god exists, but does believe that they do know. (And starting with the assumption that your claim is true leads to terribly fallacious arguments – generally arguments from ignorance and circular reasoning; with the occasional straw man of the opposing view.) Some are not honest about this detail though, although I remain uncertain whether they are aware that they do not know the difference between belief and knowledge, as well as that they cannot possibly “know” that god exists because they feel it.

Going back to that video, and other cases where people credulously accept things presented to them because it fits their preconceived beliefs… I have a feeling that there is more to this… No, I don’t mean that there is more to life than this; there must be more to the psychology of belief. I am left with questions, not answers. Why do some people, most people, accept things like religion, WWE and other obviously staged videos, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, astrology, and other bullshit as real? And why is it that some of us, few of us, can tell that such things are bullshit? It’s not just about detecting bullshit either… There are skeptics who are also religious – people who think critically about every subject except their religions. There are plenty of otherwise intelligent people who hold unfalsifiable beliefs.

And yet many atheists, like myself, come from religious backgrounds. Somehow some of us see through the illusion of knowledge and reject the belief. It took me years to become comfortable with my disbelief, and years more before I became confident enough to speak about or write about it. But I do wonder why I rejected it, while someone like my brother did not. It’s not about intelligence.

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No true atheist?

I just read this excellent article, which I suggest you read too.

The article states several points well, but what really struck me was when the author mentioned being accused of not truly being an atheist. I’ve been criticized with that too, and I’ve also seen that criticism used in more general terms by theists when debating atheists on Facebook atheist versus theist debating groups.

It seems to underpin a particularly strange belief, one perhaps best paraphrased with their own meme’s line “There are no atheists in foxholes”. A belief that is, of course, utterly mistaken. (A belief possibly rooted in psychological projection. A person who can not comprehend disbelief might think, deep down, that everybody else also believes. Hence there are no real atheists, just believers who believe the opposite of theists. So to such people, atheism is an ideology or a religion that represents the polar opposite of theism.)

Often the criticism comes from the point of view that my (or others) admission that we do not know (and can not know) that there is a creator, must mean that we are not truly atheists, but rather are agnostics. Often when debating in groups, those kind of comments are targeted at “science” in general terms, as if, since science can not explain how life originated, we should discard evolution and choose instead to believe in the nonsense made up by primitive people thousands of years ago. In reality, there is plenty that science doesn’t know, and that’s OK. There is plenty that I don’t know too, but it doesn’t mean that I should accept magic.

It comes down to an apparent misunderstanding of what atheism is. I am perfectly comfortable to say that I don’t know certain things, like where the universe came from and how life originated. I’m also perfectly comfortable to say that I am absolutely certain that every single god ever worshipped by man, was also created by man. So while I can’t deny that a theoretical god might exist, I can and do deny the existence of every god that every person has ever believed in. If that doesn’t make me an atheist, I do not know what it makes me. I certainly do not believe in any god or gods, and that makes me an atheist by definition… a label I am proud of.

So please do not redefine what you believe atheism to be when atheists don’t fit into your mould. Consider instead that your impression of atheism is wrong. I have spoken to enough other atheists by now to be quite confident that, even though I came to my views and beliefs (and lack thereof) completely alone, I am a fairly typical atheist. So don’t tell me I’m not just because you don’t understand. It’s annoying.

How to persuade an atheist to become Christian? (It’ll never happen.) A rational look at belief versus knowledge.

Somebody shared this absurd WikiHow article to one of the Facebook groups I’m in…

JesusIsBullshit

The wiki is hilarious for all the wrong reasons and I recommend it to all atheists who have the patience to read so much nonsense. I’m not going to address every point from that wiki. Instead I’ll use it as a starting point for this short argumentative essay about belief.

The wiki goes off the rails right at the beginning when it recommends that you “put yourself in your friend’s shoes”. Later it reads Try to understand their key disbelief. But you can’t. If you truly understood the atheist point of view, you would also be an atheist.

The writer assumes not only the existence of God, and that following Jesus is the only path, but also makes some assumptions about your choice to be an atheist. The reasons proposed in the suggestion of understanding why your friend is an atheist are simplistic and none of them, of course, is that you chose atheism because there isn’t any evidence for any god. That’s right, I said any god. There is neither evidence for any of the thousands of gods that humankind have worshipped, nor is there any reason that the Christian god(s) should be held in any higher regard than any others.

What is belief, and why does it apply to theism but not atheism?

I am truly sick of the accusation that atheism is also a belief, that my choice not to believe in any god is equivalent to a belief system or an ideology. I’ve read many arguments where theists try to be rational or logical, and although they think they are, they never quite succeed. At it’s core, the problem seems to be that people do not know the difference between belief and knowledge.

To make an example, I know that the sky looks blue. I know that on a sunny day, when I get out of bed and open the curtains, and look up at the sky, it is blue. I know this even at night – that the following morning, the sky will be blue just like it was yesterday. I also know that water is wet. These things are obvious to me, and even though I had to learn them as a child, once learned they became knowledge.

In much the same way, a Christian knows that God exists. It is obvious to such a person that God exists, and that his son Jesus died for their sins. They know this because they learned it as a young child, and subsequently it was reinforced right until their adulthood, then further reinforced by others who were taught the same thing, as well as thousands of figures of speech and parts of modern culture that emphasize this “truth”.

Do you see where this is going? A Christian knows that God exists just as I know that the sky is blue. Except they have never seen God, or any evidence of God. Nobody has, although we are expected to accept without question that people did see God thousands of years ago. They think that they know God exists, but this is something that can not be known. This is belief, not knowledge. After you believe something for long enough, it seems obvious that it is true. In reality, whether or not any god exists can’t be known one way or the other, but what is known is that nobody has ever seen God, and that every religion was created by man; every holy book was written by man and passed down for generations. Understanding this is the key to understanding atheism. I don’t believe that there is no god, but I do recognize that all gods ever worshipped were created by man, and that there is no evidence for any god. Thus I don’t believe in any god because disbelief is the only logical choice.

It didn’t take any great catastrophe or personal crisis for me to reject my Roman Catholic upbringing. I always had my doubts but thought I was alone. Then one day when I was sixteen years old and an atheist scoffed at the idea of theism, I knew immediately that they were right. (OK, I exaggerate. But once I knew that my doubts were not isolated, it took less than thirty seconds for me to reject my religious indoctrination.) I kept up the pretence of being a Christian for a while, but knew right away that religion was a waste of time. There is no way that any person will ever convince me that any god exists. The only thing that would convince me is if God showed up himself, and that’s never going to happen.

It would be a mistake for me to say that there obviously is no god and that all theists are stupid. I’d be making the same mistake they make by assuming that what is obvious to me should also be obvious to them, and that anybody who doesn’t see this is stupid. I’d be falling into the same trap of confusing belief with knowledge. (In some Facebook groups that I belong to, I’ve witnessed other atheists call theists stupid all the time, and I take the time to point out their error where I can. Nothing defeats your cause more than a poor argument. Calling people stupid merely because what’s obvious to you isn’t obvious to them is as poor an argument as one gets. It lowers you to their level and makes the argument that atheism is a belief true, because you are arguing from your own belief rather than logic or reason. Of course there are stupid theists, but there are probably just as many stupid atheists. Idiots are everywhere.) Returning to the point of confusing belief and knowledge from before the parenthesis… However, this is a bit of a false equivalence, isn’t it? God himself is a man-made concept, an invention to explain the unexplainable. It shouldn’t even be worth discussing, except so many people believe in it.

That’s all that God really is when you think about it: an explanation for everything that can not be understood by inventing a creator that also can’t be understood. Then they make a straw man of atheism by claiming it insists everything was created from nothing, although theism is guilty of just that… This God, for which there is no evidence, created everything from nothing with but a wave of the hand. And every argument for this god, such as the argument from first cause, tries to come up with a reason to assume the existence of God without question.

Their arguments try to avoid the question of where this god came from completely, and when I’ve asked it, the response has been mixed; sometimes ad hominem (Sticks and stones baby, but taunting me doesn’t answer the question), sometimes anger, sometimes an attempt to divert my attention elsewhere, once even the ludicrous claim that God’s existence is “a posteriori argument”, but never a straight answer. Because there is no answer. When you invent a god to explain everything, you think god is the answer. Either you must realize that this gets you nowhere further than the atheist, who says “I don’t know where we came from” because you don’t have an explanation of where your made-up god came from, or you must realize that you believe in God because you believe in “God’s Word” or something similar… In other words you believe in God because you believe in God – a circle. The logic is missing from every such argument because one has to start with the assumption that god exists, then ignore all evidence to the contrary while latching onto anything that supports it. They are all guilty of circular reasoning, and are all arguments from ignorance.

For those who don’t know what an argument from ignorance is, it is the argument that something must be true simply because it can’t be proven false. This is the crux of the argument for God. Nobody can prove God doesn’t exist, therefore He does. (Hopefully I don’t have to explain how illogical that argument is.)

The fact is, the unshakeable faith of the person who wrote that Christian wiki could have been just as unshakeable, but in some other god, if they happened to be born into a different culture or geological area where some other religion is more popular. Isn’t it funny how the religion of everybody’s parents is always the “true” one? That person’s faith in the Bible could have been faith in the Torah, or the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or the Vedas, or any other religion if they had been indoctrinated into a different religion. And they would then have known that some other god is the true god just as I know the sky is blue. But the reality is, the sky is blue, and all your gods are fiction.

Conclusion

The purpose of that wiki may not be quite what it seems. The method presented, which comes down to telling the atheist about your personal relationship with Jesus and your fellowship with other Christians, will not work on any atheist I know. It especially won’t go down too well when the atheist points out that believing in Jesus is no different to believing in any of the other deities that humankind have worshipped in the last few thousand years, and that one can feel a sense of fellowship and community in any group. (No belief in any gods required.) The wiki seems to be more about making happy clappies feel good about themselves, not about converting atheists.

In my first paragraph under the “What is belief…” heading, I stated that the argument for theism is not logical. My reason for this should be clear: An argument that starts with the assumption that God exists even though there is no evidence to support this assumption, and looks for excuses for that assumption not to be questioned, as stated by, for example the argument from first cause, is not logical. It is the antithesis of logic. If you make such an argument, you should not pretend to be logical. It also doesn’t make sense to fabricate your own distorted science, as done by creationists, to argue against reason. The position of theism is one based on belief in the assumption or the presupposition that God exists despite no evidence to support this position. Belief after years of indoctrination results in the mistaken idea that the believer knows the belief to be true, which is thus an illusion of knowledge.

I knew the difference between belief and knowledge back when I was sixteen years old. My Religious Instruction teacher in my last year of high school knew it too. When he asked the class to write questions anonymously on small pieces of paper so that he could answer them, he was stumped by my question. (What’s the difference between your belief in God and a child’s belief in Santa Claus?) His answer came down to “It’s a question of faith”. I used to think that all theists understood this, but lately I have realized that they often do not. You should not assume that an atheist lacks knowledge of your religion and that they just need to hear the good news. Chances are that they know your religion better than you do. That’s why they’re atheists.