Wed Nov 14, 2012, 10:57 PM
cleanhippie (17,502 posts)
Agnosticism and Atheism: Five Misconceptions, Five Quotes By Okla Elliott
(The following clarifications of popular misconceptions do not by any means exhaust the number of spurious claims made on the subject, but I hope they will help dispel some of the most rampant inaccuracies afoot in the culture. I also hope the quotes and the video will be shared widely via social media. The more we can spread these sorts of intelligent and careful thoughts, the better people can understand the growing phenomenon of agnosticism/atheism in this and other countries. It is not my goal to convince anyone of anything here, but rather to make sure we all have the facts straight so that we can all choose for ourselves what we want to believe.)
1. The most common mistruth leveled at atheists is that they are completely certain that science is right and believe science explains everything in human life. While there may be a few of these people running around, none of the major spokesmen for atheism over the past century—Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc—maintain this view. In fact, Sartre pointed out that the gap between the biological facts of the body and what he called “the lived body” (where our consciousness and experiences take place) is so huge that science could never reach the core of our phenomenological experience. Martin Heidegger, another well-known atheist of the twentieth century, was famously anti-technology and claimed that “science does not think.” Huxley was critical and praising of science/technology in equal measure. And Harris has said that just because we might know the chemical make-up of chocolate, this does not decrease or increase our pleasure in eating it. So, none of the major spokesmen for atheism have actually argued that science has all the facts and that it can explain every aspect of our lives, and no atheist I know personally holds this position. Science is one of many tools we have in our lives, and it is certainly one of the most useful ones, but like all tools, it is fallible as well as useful. And the usefulness of science has limits, like the usefulness of any tool. Furthermore, it is impossible to maintain that science is infallible, since we hear every day that some old theory has been debunked or some new technology has superseded an older one. It is therefore merely a straw-man the religious side of this debate has constructed to misrepresent the actual views of atheism.
2. Another common misrepresentation of atheists is that they are certain there is no god and have a kind of arrogance in this certainty. Again, this is not the position of any of the major spokesmen for atheism. Sartre said you can never definitively prove god does not exist, as have Russell, Huxley, Harris, Dawkins, etc. Their position is that they have been offered insufficient evidence for any particular god’s existence (be it Vishnu, which 1.2 billion people claim exists, or Yahweh, which 2.2 billion people claim exists, or Odin, which only twenty thousand or so claim exists). In effect, nearly all atheists are actually agnostics in that they admit there is the possibility of a god or many gods existing. They have merely decided to tentatively believe that there are no gods until sufficient evidence is offered to change that position. This is why the terms agnostic and atheist are nearly synonymous. Atheists might think it considerably more probable, though not certain, that no gods exist, whereas agnostics would perhaps say it’s a 50/50 chance that some sort of god(s) exist. Atheists are therefore merely further along the spectrum of incredulity than agnostics, but both admit the possibility of god(s) existing. It is, in fact, quite often those with faith who say that they have certain knowledge of their deities’ existence. They even often claim that no amount of evidence could ever sway them from this certainty. This is precisely the opposite of the atheist’s position. If evidence for gods existing were offered, atheists would happily accept it and alter their belief. So, here again, the religious side of this debate has misrepresented the atheists and agnostics of the world, and it is in fact guilty of its own accusation.
3. It is often claimed that atheists cannot be moral. This claim seems very odd to me for several reasons. First off, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre founded the International War Crimes Tribunal, and both protested the Vietnam War long before it became popular to do so. Russell agitated for equal rights for women, and he went to jail as a conscientious objector during WWI. He likewise lost positions at universities for taking principled anti-war and pro-civil liberties stances. Secondly, the claim that I cannot be moral because I do not believe in some god (or group of gods) offends me personally. I have never murdered anyone, never tortured anyone, never set any buildings on fire, don’t cheat on my significant other, et cetera; and I refuse to own a car out of environmental concerns, refuse (mostly) to eat meat out of ethical concerns, and have agitated for the equal rights of LGBT citizens everywhere, among other such activities. In short, I do not think my atheism has led me to be any less moral; if anything, it has helped me to be more moral. Which brings me to my third point: There is no evidence at all that believing in a particular god makes one moral. If anything, the never-ending cases of child molestation by Catholic priests, the religious zealotry that leads to suicide bombings, the murder of abortion clinic doctors, and the oppression of women by Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim religious institutions should cause people to wonder if religion isn’t more likely to cause one to be immoral. In fact, if you believe there is some higher power that has the right to condemn others to death and you believe you have direct contact with that higher power, you might be willing to kill other humans in that higher power’s name. But if you happen to believe, as atheists do, that humans are what matter, not some deity or set of deities, then you are more likely to view human well-being as the highest moral value and more likely to consider your highest moral obligation to be to other humans, not to some probably nonexistent higher power.
The rest is at the link...
8 replies, 1721 views
Agnosticism and Atheism: Five Misconceptions, Five Quotes By Okla Elliott (Original post)
Response to cleanhippie (Original post)
Wed Nov 14, 2012, 11:24 PM
dimbear (6,271 posts)
1. The claim toward the end (within the Harris quote) that Christians invented physics
deserves a little intervention from Aristotle.
Maybe he was being ironic?
At any rate, spot on that we can't be sure there aren't gods lurking somewhere, vast and indifferent in the far corners of this immense universe. Just act as if there were no gods because that's the way to bet.
Response to dimbear (Reply #1)
Thu Nov 15, 2012, 08:10 AM
trotsky (38,924 posts)
4. Might be referring to Newton.
Nonetheless, while superficially true that much of western scientific progress was made within Christian institutions, (a fact that some of the less informed among us like to pretend means Christianity was *responsible* for scientific progress) it is primarily because the church, through most of its history, sought to keep education away from the masses, and clustered in the institutions where they could shape and control it.
Response to cleanhippie (Original post)
Thu Nov 15, 2012, 12:40 AM
defacto7 (7,275 posts)
2. I'm an atheist not because a god doesn't exist
but because there is no reason to believe one does exist. If someone will give me a definable and rational reason that one exists, I will be compelled to change my mind; I would be glad to change my mind. I like knowledge. I like facts.
Response to meeshrox (Reply #7)
Sun Nov 18, 2012, 02:10 PM
trotsky (38,924 posts)
8. They are ignoring it because they plan on employing each falsehood in current and future threads.
They come in awfully handing when trying to shout down atheists.