If belief in something requires a permanent suspension of disbelief, and no evidence supports the thing, that thing is probably not true

We’ve probably all met somebody who believes in the existence of literal angels. Not fuzzy wuzzy guardian angels where the person makes vague statements about being watched over and it is ambiguous whether or not they really mean it, but somebody who actually thinks angels are real. It’s always a man or woman into New Age woo, or some other kind of religious extreme. And we all react the same way. We say nothing to their face but go away thinking they’re out of their fucking mind, but harmless enough, so we forget about them. That’s just aunty Carol, who believes in angels and Tarot and healing crystals and talking to Jesus. She’s sweet and nice and she shouldn’t be locked up in a padded cell because her belief doesn’t do any harm.

Likewise, when homophobic uncle Richard claims he talks to Jesus, who comes down from Heaven for a cup of tea and a chat about those nasty homosexuals, we know that person is not quite right in the head about either god or his self-hating repressed sexuality. (Aside, here’s a newsflash for homophobic Christians who love talking about gay sex: Straight people never think about gay sex.) Interestingly, his belief includes prejudice for a minority and does do harm, but because it is part of his religion, we ignore that. (But that’s not my topic for today.)

And yet, to believe in a religion like Christianity, as so many do, requires one to accept that god and his angels used to come down to Earth, two thousand odd years ago, but they don’t any more. So when did they stop? Why would they stop?

We know that anybody who claims to speak to god and angels now is insane. (I’m choosing to focus on people we’ve all known who are thought to be eccentric. Not obvious con artists who run their own religions and make money, or the suckers who believe in them. And I assume none of those types read anything here.) Yet to believe that this used to happen thousands of years ago requires living with a permanent suspension of disbelief.

This, among other things, is the truth that dawned on me back when I was sixteen years old. The main difference between now and two thousand years ago is we are a lot less ignorant than we were then. Deities don’t come down to Earth now, and they didn’t then. Angels don’t come down to Earth now, and they didn’t then. Because deities and angels aren’t real. All supernatural things aren’t real. It’s all pretend. Deep down, if you know that anybody who claims to see those things today is mistaken, you know that those things were never real. So you have to suspend your disbelief. You have to lie to yourself and pretend, just like when you watch a movie. And you believe those lies you tell yourself. That’s the difference between believers and atheists. We stopped pretending.


Noteworthy, I think… I generally avoid arguments like this because theists into debating often make what they believe is an equivalent argument, asserting that we all “know” their god is real and are “angry with him”. Apart from the “angry with god” thing which is an argument they’re taught to repeat parrot-fashion, the part that we “know god exists” is an example of psychological projection, a method of avoiding the argument by projecting your own beliefs onto others. But I do think that when it comes to suspension of disbelief, my argument is valid. I’m not saying you “know” god isn’t real but that you do recognize when certain claims are crazy, while holding beliefs similar to those claims and lying to yourself, or avoiding thinking about them entirely, to continue to hold them. Hence today I’m publishing this argument anyway.

Maybe me being an atheist was inevitable in this sense… I was unable to avoid thinking about these things, and also unable to lie to myself about them. Discarding those beliefs was a natural part of me growing up.

 

Revisiting the argument from morality–one of the most peculiar non sequitur arguments from religious apologists

It sucks being on a Facebook ban yet again. While I do end up writing more here, this blog lacks the engagement I crave… It gets loads of views but not much interaction which differs quite a bit from the dozens of reactions and comments I’ve become accustomed to on social media. Anyway, while I’m a Facebook ghost, lurking there and reading without being able to interact, I do find some gems to use for writing material.

Case in point, this.

Comic

Any atheist will spot the main problem with this right off the bat, namely that someone who grows up in a secular household will not make that association; they will not connect morals with a deity. So they would never ask the question asked at the bottom of the first panel. Without that association, the straw man set up in panel two could never happen. Not that anyone would claim that evolution “does away with morals”. Not anyone who knows what evolution is.

Evolution is about the gradual change of living organisms over time. We humans, the most advanced species of great ape on the planet, are social animals. Our society depends on us cooperating with one another, and we tend to care for each other through empathy with them. We’re emotional animals and we project our emotions onto others. Do you think it would be an evolutionary advantage for us to do harm to each other? Obviously selfishness benefits individuals but when it goes too far, it harms the group, and being smarter than other animals, we have evolved rules and laws, customs and values, and we find ways of punishing those who don’t adhere to the rules, which at the most basic level are all about empathy we feel for one another.

It should be fairly obvious that if someone right now goes out with a gun and starts shooting random people, sooner or later someone who is responsible for enforcing the law will stop that person. Likewise, if someone went into a public place thousands of years ago and just started beating everybody with a big stick, whoever was responsible for enforcing the rules there would stop them. And thousands of years ago, there was no Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or any of the other gods currently worshipped.

Religions are a part of our social structure, just like courts of law. If you go to any worldbuilding forum and read the questions, which are generally in the form, “How do I build a cooperative society where the inhabitants do X and not Y?”, there are invariably answers suggesting using religion to control the members of society, using religion to create and enforce rules. And religion often does that, enforcing a set of quite arbitrary rules about what you can and cannot wear, what you are allowed to eat, and so on. But those rules are arbitrary and rely on an already existing framework of morals and values.

In short, morality exists before gods. God doesn’t tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, but rather, we create gods who only know what right and wrong is because they are based on us. Gods are thus projections of an idealized human, with our rules, our morals and values, and our culture. That’s why there have been so many of them over the years.

From Wikipedia:

Psychologist Matt J. Rossano muses that religion emerged after morality and built upon morality by expanding the social scrutiny of individual behavior to include supernatural agents. By including ever watchful ancestors, spirits and gods in the social realm, humans discovered an effective strategy for restraining selfishness and building more cooperative groups. The adaptive value of religion would have enhanced group survival.

Not that the quote proves anything… My point here is to demonstrate that my view is not unusual.

I see I haven’t even mentioned anything about the argument from morality, the religious apologists argument that god is the source of all morality, and therefore if objective morality exists, god must exist. Honestly I shouldn’t need to. It doesn’t take anything other than common sense to notice that morals and values differ by both geographic region and time. Morals change drastically as society changes, and you won’t, for example, find people burning anyone for witchcraft in modern Christian societies of the West. That’s because morality is subjective. Without objective morality, which the religious apologists claim originates from their god, the argument from morality is clearly nonsense. I refer to it as a non sequitur because it does not follow logically that morals come from a god. Of course, believers in different gods all use the same argument for their specific one, making the whole thing quite silly.

Also, in practice, such as with your typical keyboard warriors for Christ on Facebook, they never make the whole argument. Instead they generally write something else, wherein a premise assumes that atheists don’t have morals.  It makes debating them a complete waste of time because to do so, you will need to point out that their premise assumes an argument from morality and the existence of objective morality. Normally this isn’t even something they want to debate. It’s just something they assume true so they can get on to the subject that really matters to them, which is some derived bullshit not even worth considering. Actually that’s where debates with theists come apart… we ask for evidence and point out that their arguments include all kinds of ridiculous premises, such as the assumption that objective morality exists and creation being a fact, while they expect the conversation to begin at that point where their conclusions have already been assumed true. We literally have two completely different conversations going on, with no middle ground.

Is there no end to the wilful ignorance of the religious?

I keep seeing this trending all over the place, including that one group I keep referring to:

image

The atheist who says “why worship a God that I cannot see,” is now hiding in their house, from a virus they cannot see.

First of all, if someone who weren’t an idiot wrote that, they’d have phrased it as “The atheist who asks” and then ended the question with a question mark. Ooh… I cannot emphasize enough how much this annoys me. Secondly, the question implies the assumption that their god exists. An atheist would never actually ask such an odd question, which is contrived because the theist assumes this god exists and is invisible, hence the equivalence makes sense to them. And thirdly, “the atheist…. is now hiding in their…” – I just loathe the way they connect “the atheist” with the pronoun “their”, especially when you know this is not written by someone who cares about gender neutral pronouns. It just doesn’t fucking flow. Use different words, twat! Break the flow deliberately for effect… I like to do that sometimes – fuck with the word order a little to make you, the reader, skip back a few words and read this or that bit again. But to do so by accident in such a short passage is an indication that it’s time to reenroll in kindergarten.

It isn’t being posted ironically either. These people are serious. I don’t know what else to say… it’s just… I used to think there was some point in engaging with these people. There isn’t. And it’s not like there aren’t people patiently commenting on there and pointing out that you can see a virus. I’m about ten years past running out of patience. Dumbfounded.

I’ve resisted the temptation to capture the comments too, but rest assured, there are people there asserting that they are safe because of the “blood of Jesus” but we atheists are not. These are people who go outside, ignoring lockdowns, ignoring safety, oblivious to the risk they pose to everyone else because of the confidence their religion gives them.

We’re doomed.


Oh, look. I just saw another example. They’re sharing it everywhere as if it’s clever.
Image may contain: one or more people and text

Another example of debating theists

Note that when you as a theist think of debating with atheists, you assume I refer to your religion. Of course. Because when you think of god, you imagine your one, whatever one that is. But yours is not the only one I don’t believe in.

Thus I’m sharing this for Christian debaters. When you share a message claiming that atheists will go to hell because they don’t accept Jesus, or you claim “every knee will bend” (every kite will fly? every arse will shit?) nonsense, it makes as much sense as this:

TrollForPrayerWorks

In other words, it makes no sense at all.

Other readers might wonder why I call this a debate, when obviously the above image is not an argument, it’s just garbage. Well, go join a Facebook debate group, and see. Most posts from theists are nothing more than proselytization, or the repeating of religious claims, and each one will repeat a claim from their “one true” religion.

Debating theists is an exercise in futility and will lead to your frustration and possibly loss of sanity. Mocking them however can be entertaining, fun, and a fine way of relieving boredom.

God vs Santa Claus

The other day on social media, someone asked “When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?” and another asked “Why do children figure out that Santa isn’t real but not that god isn’t real?” I thought both were interesting questions, especially because for me, there was a parallel between both moments of disbelief, and also because I remember both times I stopped believing. Some of us do figure it out.

We call Santa Father Christmas over here, or at least we did when I was a child. I’m not sure if the name has changed for all children here thanks to Americanised everything. But anyway, I was six years old when my older cousin, Michelle, told me that Santa isn’t real. I can’t remember the words she used so clearly any more, but I can remember the emotion I felt: anger. In the moment I found out, my first response was anger because it felt like she had spoiled something for me. Anger and a little confusion, but not a moment of doubt. I knew right away that she was telling the truth. Later that month, my father left some fake snow footprints to try convincing me otherwise, but having some “snow” show up in Africa only reinforced that Santa wasn’t real.

When I was sixteen years old (and excuse me if you have read this here before) I heard some school classmates mocking a girl from Finland, named Meri, because she didn’t believe in god. I, brought up Roman Catholic, had no idea that atheists even existed, or that disbelief was even an option, though I’d been struggling with doubts for about two years already, ironically since the year I was confirmed. My major problem with belief was that I’d been taught ours was the one true religion, and everybody who didn’t believe in it would not go to Heaven… yet the only difference between me and people who believed in other religions was the matter of a birth lottery. My religion was not my choice but the result of me being born to Catholics who handed down their beliefs to me, as is the case for others of different faiths.

So I approached Meri, for two reasons: I felt bad that people were laughing at her, and I wanted to understand. It wasn’t much of a conversation really. She asked me if I believed in god, and when I answered in the affirmative, she asked me, “Why?”. It was an exasperated question, form someone who had just been bullied, but at the same time, she scoffed at the thought of belief in a god. And in that moment, I realized I did not have an answer. In that moment, I stopped believing and it was the most relief I felt in years. It was like Michelle all over again, telling me that Santa is made up, except she didn’t even have to say it.

Just like when I was six years old, I didn’t need to think about it much further. I stopped believing instantly, going from believer to disbeliever in a matter of seconds. Simply knowing that I wasn’t the only one to think it didn’t make sense, and knowing that someone could be baffled at the thought of having such a belief, that theism could be absolutely inconceivable to someone who wasn’t taught to believe since childhood, that was enough for me. I’ve never looked back.

Come to think of it, none of my beliefs are fixed. I will change my mind about anything if presented with evidence, or a solid argument that shows evidence does not exist. I’m not unique. There are many of us who reject our indoctrination, and lucky people like Meri who were never brainwashed in the first place. I envy her. I’d rather be baffled by religion than angry it was imposed on me for so long.


Worth adding… I may not be unique, but then my way of thinking doesn’t seem to be too common either. I’ve had plenty of conversations with theists, from debates to more open discussions. I’ve mocked. I’ve made some of the most solid arguments I can imagine, and my arguments are good because I understand both points of view. But nobody, not one person, has ever switched from theist to atheist as I did during the discussion.

What is God? (Baby, don’t smite me.)

Don’t smite me… No duh.

Heeeey, guess what? I’m fine. I can be as irreverent and disrespectful as I want. No deity ever does anything about it. And since I don’t live in a Middle Eastern country or a rural isolated area of Africa, the worst that ever happens is religious people stop talking to me. And that ain’t so bad. As I mentioned last time in the post about reification, the Biblical world where stuff happens such as god coming down and doing shit, is something of myths and fables and the imagination, that we are supposed to accept existed thousands of years ago. It isn’t real.

As much as you reify your Biblical world and your god, it is just an idea. God is an abstraction that explains the unknown and puts it in a neat little black box, a ready-made magical answer to everything. If you’re a believer, you simultaneously know that god is abstract, and forget it, but because you treat this abstraction as something concrete, it remains conveniently undefined and ambiguous. And convenient. Above all, it is a great convenience that your god remains undefined because you never have to qualify what this vague idea of a god actually is. When somebody questions it, it’s easy to turn the tables and expect them to satisfy the burden of proof. But that’s not my main subject today…

Today I want to comment on this stupid Dawkins scale that pops up in every atheist group over and over again:

vyp5iompt1s01

According to every other analysis everywhere:

  1. Positions 1 and 7 are impossible.
  2. Number 6 is left as the strongest possible (in other words rational) atheist position.

But I call bullshit.

I get the drill. I can’t prove that some unfalsifiable god doesn’t exist outside of the bounds of the laws of physics, and I can’t prove a negative; therefore the strongest position I should rationally take is that of an agnostic atheist. According to this argument, the existence or lack of existence is unknowable. But I still don’t buy it.

I also can’t prove that there isn’t a monster hiding under my bed. Maybe it moves when I look there? But you know while reading this that the monster is not real and I made it up.

Here’s the thing… Even in that argument, god is treated as something concrete. It reminds me of the media bias called false balance, where two “sides” of an argument are always treated as equal, even if one side is a fringe view based on outright nonsense. (Edit: That seems to be an example of a fallacy I hadn’t heard of: Argument to moderation.) The two sides here are positions one and seven; certainty that a god exists versus certainty that a god does not exist. Sure, when you phrase it like that, it seems reasonable. But it isn’t. God is nothing more than an abstraction. So god certainly exists, but not like theists think… God exists only as an idea. God is man-made but it is the reified deity that the argument refers to. And thus it is perfectly reasonable to take position seven. I don’t have to prove that a man-made fictional deity doesn’t exist, just like I don’t have to prove there isn’t a monster hiding under my bed.

I’m struggling to express this clearly and reading it back, remain uncertain if I have. Have I? There are multiple claims of gods, and believers often quote the words of their various claims (like the Bible or whatever) but seem to miss on something important: the existence of a claim does not make the claim true. It is evidence only of the belief and not in the subject believed. The fact that many such claims exist only makes it interesting in terms of the need to believe, and the mistake of treating this abstraction as concrete being common. If even Richard Dawkins can bake this mistake right into his scale, it says more about the way the human brain works than it does about an idea, like god, that the human brain came up with. I hope Dawkins would agree with me on this.

Indoctrination gone wrong. My journey into atheism. Part 4

And here we have part 4. Originally published on my old blog on 23 January 2014. This was the first time I tried to articulate my arguments against religion, and I don’t think I did a bad job of it. Lately I have been wondering why it took me so long to figure out I was an atheist. Maybe I’ll write something about that in the next few days, if I can find the time.


Where part 3 left off I was 14 years old and a confirmed Roman Catholic. The previous parts of this series were mostly anecdotes, but I’ve more or less finished them. Sure, I could write the names of one or two people who influenced my way of thinking, but at 14, my indoctrination was complete, and thanks to my analytical thinking, I think that atheism was always going to be my final outcome.

Getting there, however, took a while. For several years, I found myself praying every night to a God I no longer believed in. Somehow I had become attached to Christianity, even though I no longer believed in it, and also there were some weird feelings of guilt involved. So I prayed, and I read the bible, looking not for moral lessons, but for some sign that it was true. Some sign of God. I found none.

Around the age of 21, I made a promise to my mother, that I would never convert to another religion. It was an easy promise to make. Atheism is not a religion. I didn’t convert to any religion, but rejected them all.

Before I could do that, I did a little research. What I found astonished me. There are similar beliefs, too similar in nature to be coincidence, throughout many religions. Were I still a believer, perhaps I could have interpreted this as supporting evidence in my belief, and that, ultimately, is what the religious do. They see signs, find ways to justify their beliefs.

But that’s not how I interpreted the data. To me it is obvious: Religion has “evolved” with man. All of the popular religions today probably had a common ancient religious source. People love to think there is meaning in life, and that somehow we, mankind, have lost something along the way, that ancient man knew the truth. But the truth is, ancient man knew nothing, but attributed superstitious spiritual significance to everything. The sun was a god up in the sky; the treacherous sea was a god; the moon was a god; even the rocks and the trees. At some point that evolved to a single god, a virgin birth, and other interesting stories.

Whatever the forgotten religions are, they don’t matter. What matters is that the modern religions incorporate pieces of them. Even the angels, named in Judaism and Christianity, are former gods of older religions. The people joined with the religions that became Judaism, bringing their gods with them. Old gods were not forgotten completely, but became angels.

It is impossible for me, as an atheist, ever to debate this with a religious person. [Edit, 28 August 2016. Haha! Why didn’t I take my own advice here? I wrote this before attempting to debate theists, and have done so frequently for the last two years. And I was right! Might as well debate the walls…] Religion, because of indoctrination, approaches the argument arse about face.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Carl Sagan

A religious person starts with the assumption that god exists, because that’s what they were always taught and they do not question it. If they debate with an atheist, they expect you then to disprove the existence of something that they believe in, despite no evidence that it exists. This is not a valid argument, but is backwards.

Yes, I’ve said it before, but you can not disprove the existence of something that does not exist, to the people who believe in it. They will not and can not argue rationally. It’s the same as trying to prove to someone who believes in a conspiracy theory or doomsday theory, that they are wrong. They can never accept it. If your argument is convincing, you become part of their conspiracy. [Edit. 28 August 2016. If your argument is convincing you become part of the conspiracy, in the case of debating a conspiracist. In the case of debating a theist, a convincing, factual, rational argument is often dismissed as coming from the evil that their religion believes in. So for Christians, the best arguments can be dismissed as coming from their devil. It’s a classic false dilemma: If you don’t worship my god, you must be under the spell of my devil.] A religious person knows that God exists, in their mind.

Some atheists seem to think that the religious lack intelligence. I am convinced this is not the case. I think there is no correlation between intelligence and religious belief. It’s all about indoctrination, and most people who have been indoctrinated into religion will never see the obvious fact that they believe in something that isn’t real.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. It was my first attempt to articulate my argument against religion, as well as explain how I reached this point. It’s probably not going to be my last.