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> 10 Myths - and 10 Truths - about Atheism, A magnificent essay.
Rick
post Jan 09, 2008, 03:17 PM
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10 Myths - and 10 Truths - about Atheism
Sam Harris, L.A. Times, December 24, 2006

Several polls indicate that the term "atheism" has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural. Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was "not at all to be tolerated" because, he said, "promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist." That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims "never to doubt" the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists - and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.

Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

1. Atheists believes that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness...well...meaningless.

2. Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevibable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indiustinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; thery are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

3. Atheism is dogmatic.

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity's needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn't have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

4. Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.

No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or "creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself.

The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of livestodck. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.

5. Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God - as some scientists seem to manage it - there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

6. Atheists are arrogant.

When scientiest don't know something - like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed - they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which peole of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intelltual honesty.

7. Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experienceing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely - because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on the Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. There are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

8. Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.

From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.

9. Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.

Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.

10. Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, we won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran - as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery - and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture - like the golden rule - can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

Sam Harris is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation.
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Lindsay
post Jan 09, 2008, 07:48 PM
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QUOTE(Rick @ Jan 09, 2008, 03:17 PM) *

10 Myths - and 10 Truths - about Atheism
Sam Harris, L.A. Times, December 24, 2006

Several polls indicate that the term "atheism" has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

... 1. Atheists believes that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness...well...meaningless....

Sam Harris is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation.[/i]
Excellent material, Rick. I presume you know that I would have no problem dialogging with open-minded atheists.

BTW, I recently a saw a televised version of the biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the Canadian author of Anne of Green Gables, written in 1908, and other stories about life on Prince Edward Island in the so-called "good old days". Her writings made her rich, and they made her famous around the world.

However, in her detailed Journal, published after her death, she revealed that her personal life was a deeply unhappy and troubled one. From its beginning, her marriage to The Rev. Ewan MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister was not a happy one. But for his sake, and their life in the church, she had to pretend it was. Many of her friends never knew how unhappy she was

Her husband suffered from what is now described as "religious melancholia". He had a dreadful fear that he was under the wrath of God and that he was among the damned. Both were addicted to prescribed "medicines".

I suspect that, like her husband, LMM also had her theological doubts, which she was forced to keep to herself. She was deeply affected by the suffering of others, which caused her to wonder if "God really cares". Her book, Rilla Of Ingleside, based on the World War I period, tells of some of the dreadful suffering brought on by the war.

QUOTE
Rilla of Ingleside (1921) is the final book in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, but was the sixth of the eight "Anne" novels she wrote. This book draws the focus back onto a single character, Anne and Gilbert's youngest daughter Bertha Marilla "Rilla" Blythe. It has a more serious tone, as it takes place during World War I and the three Blythe boys - Jem, Walter, and Shirley - end up fighting in Europe.

The book is dedicated: "To the memory of FREDERICA CAMPBELL MACFARLANE who went away from me when the dawn broke on January 25, 1919–a true friend, a rare personality, a loyal and courageous soul."

It is interesting to note that Rilla of Ingleside is the only Canadian novel written from a women's perspective about the First World War by a contemporary.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rilla_of_Ingleside
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Lindsay
post Jan 09, 2008, 10:48 PM
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Sam Harris writes
QUOTE
One doesn't have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs.
I would be interested in knowing what beliefs in the following verses atheists would judge as being "unjustified".

==================================================================

FATHER SKY AND MOTHER EARTH
==============================
GØD's one with Father Sky and Mother Earth;
The source of everything there is, of every human birth.
GØD vibrates in the planets 'round the sun;
Beyond the the stars and galaxies, GØD also moves as one.

We love the GØD in all there is to see;
At one with cosmos, and with space, and one with gravity.
We love the GØD in all there is to hear,
At one in the eternal now, devoid of guilt and fear.

In GØD we live and move and have our being;
The source of knowledge, wisdom, power and things that are not seen.
The root of justice and eternal peace,
The soil of life, of health and wealth and joys which ne'er will cease.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As you read the words above, keep in mind that I am not thinking literally, but poetically. If it becomes obvious that such poetic expressions as, Father Sky and Mother Earth, are not justified, I will try to think of another way to say them. Or, maybe I need to add notes to make it clear that I am using poetic language.

THE BIBLE IS NOT A BOOK
Keep in mind, also that much of the Bible is not really a book as we know books; It is a collection of documents over a period of many centuries, the work of many poets who did not even sign their names, nor date what they wrote and was written in code and poetic form.

Think of the problems that that would have saved had the editors--and there were more than one--of this collection of writings made this clear.

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Rick
post Jan 10, 2008, 02:37 PM
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QUOTE(Lindsay @ Jan 09, 2008, 10:48 PM) *
I would be interested in knowing what beliefs in the following verses atheists would judge as being "unjustified".

That's very nice, but there's a word in the poem that resembles that damned word "God." Maybe it would read and sound better if you replaced that suspect word with "man" or "nature," variously, as appropriate. Then I think it will be objection-proof by most free thinkers.
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Lindsay
post Jan 10, 2008, 09:41 PM
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QUOTE(Rick @ Jan 10, 2008, 02:37 PM) *

...That's very nice, but there's a word in the poem that resembles that damned word "God." Maybe it would read and sound better if you replaced that suspect word with "man" or "nature," variously, as appropriate. Then I think it will be objection-proof by most free thinkers.
Interesting response, Rick. Thanks!

===============================================
You speak of what you call the "damned" and "suspect" word, "God". Here, you demonstrate what I have long suspected to be true: For a variety of reasons, some thinkers--like you, for example--are offended, not only by the way the name "God" is used, but by the very fact that it is used at all.

Interesting, also, is: Do you remember that you who told me that you were raised as an Episcopalian. It would be interesting to know how come you developed such a disdain for the name "God", for religion and for all things theological.

Rick, your comment about "God" reminded that, sometime ago, I read that a serious theologian offered--maybe with tongue-in cheek--the following suggestion: "Perhaps it is about time we put a stop to all the god-talk; that we actually put a moratorium on the use of the word, "God".

At the time, this suggestion struck me as being a sound one. Needless to say, it did not get very far. Even atheists, trying to express and defend their atheism, are forced to use god-talk, eh?

I WAS NOT INDOCTRINATED; I WAS TAUGHT TO THINK
======================================= ========
Be that as it may, the above material by you, and the recent flurry of books by atheists made me think. I also felt good in that, as an undergraduate student (1947-51), I had the good fortune to major in philosophy/psychology, which included courses in psychology, philosophy of religions and comparative religion. This was at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. http://mta.ca

In preparation for the graduate school of theology, in Halifax, all were linked with all the courses I took, including the Bible as Literature (not as a rule book). For example, it was linked with other courses I took in English and history, including history of the early church. There were also basic courses in Hebrew and Greek, the history of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. My course in philosophy, which included morals and ethics, was tied in with basic theology. All students were taught to study theology (the study of God) and the Bible with their whole brain--critically and analytically. http://mta.ca

After ordination (1953), my wife, Jean, and I were assigned to be the first UC ministers in the then squatters' town of Happy Valley, Goosebay, Labrador. Jean taught grades one and two. I was the minister and chair of the local school committee.

From my first sermon, I kept looking for ways to talk to people about theology and the Bible, frankly, critically, rationally and analytically, without having to retire my brains.

I learned the importance of this approach from several much-beloved teachers I had at Mount Allison University and what was then called Pine Hill Divinity Hall--the seminary of the United Church (1951-1953). Since the 1970's Pine has been part of the Atlantic School of Theology http://astheology.ns.ca/ which includes, Anglicans, United Church, Roman Catholics and others. Which goes to show that it is possible for different denominations to take a rational and loving approach to education, to agree to disagree agreeably on things that matter, denominationally, and to learn from one another.
==================
Labrador was also a time for adventure. For an example of one such adventure, check the section on SHORT STORIES
==================

AND FOLLOWING THIS, IT WAS OFF TO BOSTON
=========================================
In 1954, I received a scholarship and the opportunity to do two years of post graduate studies, in Boston. It was exactly what I needed at that time. At 24, I was having some doubts about the practical value of just preaching at people. I asked myself: What is the practical value of doing ministry?

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL--the good news--all about?
=======================================
It came to me that the heart of the Gospel is not just about salvation in the "sweet by and by", "Pie in the sky, by and by, when you die", it is about having a feeling of total well-being in the now.

This led me to take a close look at the teachings of Jesus: It struck me that Jesus did not just tell his disciples to preach. By word and example he told them to teach and heal, not just preach. It came to me that Jesus practised psychiatry long before the word was invented.

He addressed the things that all of us have face in our daily lives, in ourselves as persons, in our families and in our communities--small and large--including the way we earn and spend our money. I toyed with the idea of studying medicine, but then I began reading material which pointed out that most of the things which make us sick have more to do with what happens in the mind and our relationships with one another, as persons, that it does with chemistry and the like.

PSYCHOLOGY, PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION AND HEALTH
============================================
It suddenly came to me: This is why I was led to the study of psychology, the offspring of philosophy, and the role it can play in helping people to be healthy, physically and spiritually. It can also help us create healthy communities, nations and even a healthy planet. and My attention was drawn to writings of The Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead and, especially, to his the book, which came out in 1950. The title is, Psychology, Religion and Healing.

As I read, I discovered that the Rev. Weatherhead was a British Methodist minister, who was also a psychologist who had a deep interest in role of faith, or belief, in helping people to achieve total health. He was the minister of the Congregational Church, City Temple, London, England, near Trafalgar Square. There, he brought together a team of professionals, including medical doctors, and established a clinic. He specialized in dealing with the mind and the spirit. He even became proficient in the spiritual use of hypnosis. Together, his team set about treating people physically, mentally and spiritually--that is, holistically.

MY STUDIES AT BOSTON--home of the Emmanuel Movement
===============================================
The general theme of my studies at Boston University was as follows: The History of Ideas and their impact on the life we live. I wanted an answer, at least to my own satisfaction, to the following questions: What is the historical and rational foundation of our beliefs which helps us to become fully functioning human beings--physically, mentally and spiritually? Of what practical value, to me and the communities in which I choose to serve, are such beliefs? And, what of the future? Could I find some way of integrating theology, philosophy, psychology? Could there be such a thing as a science of the spirit? Isn't theology the study of God, not just dogmas about God?

http://www.bu.edu/academics/schools-colleges/sth/index.html

Even before I was introduced to the life and work of Alfred North Whitehead, the founder of process philosophy and theology, My over-all goal was to develop a personal and process-kind of theology--in my opinion, every theology should be personal, free from fixed-position thinking and based on faith and reason.

When I came back to the pastorate--Tide Head, a bedroom community near Campbellton, northern NB--besides preaching, I began teaching some of the things I learned at Boston. Many of my sermons were based on the healing miracles of Jesus and carried the message of total health. I invited people, who felt burden and stress in their lives to come for counseling. I was a regular on the local radio station, where I preached total health. Quite a few, including many alcoholics, came for help. I introduced many to the AA movement and accompanied those who were shy about going themselves to the AA movement in Campbellton.

Later, when I moved to Montreal and Toronto, I carried on the same healing pattern of ministry. In Toronto I even I taught a course to student teachers on Teaching the Bible, at Teachers College. As the opportunity came, I also did broadcasting and, for several years, I wrote a weekly column--PARSON TO PERSON--for a Toronto paper. The editor of the paper wrote an editorial on the column and was impressed at the number of people who phoned in an wrote about it, pro and con. The cons wanted my scalp because I neglected to teach THE Truth.

Over the years, with the help of the writings of many wise teachers, including Harry Emerson Fosdick (American), Leslie D. Weatherhead (British), and and others, I have been thinking--that is, I have been talking to the GØD I conceive of as being within me--and I have been asking: What do I need to do next?

I retired ... Because I prefer to wear out rather than rust out, I prefer to say I re-directed in 1994.

Then I tried politics. [I WILL ADD TO THIS, LATER.]

I went on line in 1997.

About 1998--the year after I joined the WWW--For the first time, I became an active member of an inter net forum--the now-defunct Wealthy Boomer. There, I began a dialogue. Several of the posters became friends. Several were bitter flamers who spewed vitriol, even libel. They were more interested in trashing dialoguers than in having a rational dialogue. It was an interesting and valuable experience.

This experience helped me to clarify my philosophy and theological thinking, in writing, and to bring things together. It led me to my current theological concept and to what I feel the god-concept is all about. Best of all, from there I discovered Brainmeta and the work of Dr. Shawn Mikula, who was then a student at Johns Hopkins. We owe SM lots and lots of respect.

I FEEL COMFORTABLE USING THE TERM GØD
======================================
Feel free to use, or not use, any term with which you are comfortable. As for me, for that which is, in through and beyond physicalism, I will use GØD. By the way, I use it as an acronym, not a noun. It stands for all the goodness, order and design of which nature is capable as it evolves--now with our conscious help--to bring order out of the chaos and disorder, which often appears to be evil. I like to think of chaos/disorder/evil as good, in the process of becoming the good.

As part of BrainMeta, I coined 'GØD' for the same reason Orthodox Jews coined, and still use, the symbol "G-d". They do not use it as a noun referring to a person. They write as a symbol of the divine name, in English. The name of the divine one is so sacred to Orthodox Jews that they refuse to say it in even in its Hebrew form. To them this would mean having to think of "G-d" as an object and/or a three-dimensional person. Making a mental image of G-d is considered a form of idolatry.

Interestingly, Jews, Christians and Muslims are united in this: Idolatry is to be abhorred, at all all costs. However, the question is: What constitutes idolatry? Christians and Muslims think nothing of writing the word "God". For orthodox Jews it is a problem, which the solve by using the symbol "G-d".

Muslims and Jews abhor any kind of painting or statuary depicting Elohim (God) , or Allah--the one power behind all things. Most Christians, except for certain Protestant sects, have no problem with paintings and statuary done by the great artists. For example, Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Leonardo da Vinci's, the Last Supper.

My personal attitude? I am easy. I respect the right of anyone to use whatever socially-respectful name turns them on. Jesus used Abba--the Aramaic for father. Take note: In the Gospels he addresses God as "Our" father, not "my" father. I wonder if those who insist that Jesus was the one and only son of God have noticed this? Also, how come Christians who live in republics keep on praying: Thy kingdom come?

In her great book, History of God, the theologian Karen Armstrong points out; "The idea of a personal God seems increasingly unacceptable for all kinds of reasons: moral, intellectual, scientific and spiritual" (page 396) Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong

THANK GØD FOR ATHEISTS
=======================
BTW 1, if GØD was a person, I would like to thank him for the new crop--the media calls them "poster boys"--of atheists. Theology has now become a very hot media topic. All the media are running major in-depth stories on the theologies of the world religions, what people do or don't believe, and the impact that this has on the political economy. Maybe it could replace professional sports--a very corrupt, it seems, form of religion--as our national past time. smile.gif It is a fact that more people attend religious ceremonies every week than attend professional sports events.

And let us not forget that some attendees of churches are atheists who attend--out of respect for family and friends--funerals, weddings, baptisms, and perhaps even church. It is said that the Lord loves a cheerful church-goer and giver; but the Lord also accepts from a grouch, even is he is also an atheist. biggrin.gif

BTW 2, in our dialogue, I have no objection to anyone using "Man" or "Nature". However, the use of capitals would make it clearer to me what is meant.

BTW 3, keep in mind that it was you--was it over a year ago?--who helped me add Ø and who told me that it is the mathematical symbol for the "empty set", the set without numbers. When the symbol came to me I did not even know that it had a meaningful use in mathematics.
-------------
In another thread, I will say a few things the FAMILY LIFE FOUNDATION, about CCC, and about my interest in the political economy ,after I retired.

Notes on Economics: BTW, The late Jane Jacobs--a New Yorker who moved to Toronto--accepted the use of community and complementary currency (CCC)
http://bss.sfsu.edu/pamuk/urban/
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