Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I so angwy!

The other day, I stumbled across this blog post by Greta Christina which addressed her response to the generic question of why atheists seem to be so angry at religion. It's a good post and I encourage you to read it.

But I figured I'd post my own answer to that question (although far more generically than Greta). After all, I do call my blog the "Angry" Astronomer. So why am I angry?

Overall, I'm not. I'm actually pretty laid back. For the most part, I'm more angry and frustrated at my homework than religion. The difference is, my homework doesn't really affect anyone besides me (and possibly the graders and professors). And even so, homework isn't going to be around the rest of my life.

In contrast, the effects of religious thinking have enormous bounds that effect everyone and everything we come in contact to, has done so for thousands of years, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future.

So even though at present time I'm more concerned about that whole graduating thing, it's ultimately not as important as the effects religion has.

What most people asking the "why are atheists so angry" question don't quite realize, is that most atheists have very little against religion and mystical thought here and there in general. This is an obvious generalization as I also know a select few atheists who do have a vendetta against religion due to the serious emotional (and in a few cases physical) harm it has caused them, but overall, we just don't care what you think.

If you want to imagine a magical sky daddy created the universe 4.3 billion years ago, or 6,000 years ago, or even last Thursday, fine. No problem there! We'll laugh at your insistence on knowledge in the complete lack of any sort of supporting evidence, but whatever. You're entitled to your beliefs.

And even if you're a complete nutball that truly believes in Last Thursdayism, that doesn't mean that you're a complete nutball in every other aspect. As is frequently noted by religious people, many of the greatest minds in history were religious. And I have no problem with that.

But what this goes to show is that non-empirical thinking can be compartmentalized. In other words, you can believe in fairies, but that doesn't mean that everything is about fairies. As long as you can keep the non-rational stuff where it belongs, there's no problem.

The trouble comes when that compartment leaks, or worse, is intentionally opened like a Pandora's box. Suddenly, we have people going around insisting that "belief" in something makes it instantly credible and worthy of time, money, resources, and human lives.

Let's pretend for a second that religion doesn't unjustly consume an inordinate amount of all these and instead, look at some other things. Even if religion wasn't, the benign acceptance of the principle that religion endorses ("belief" = credible), spills over to other areas.

Historically, this has been disastrous. The belief that consuming mercury was good for your health certainly didn't help anyone. Especially Qin Shi Huangdi who took mercury pills and ended up going insane.

But magical thinking didn't stop hurting humanity thousands of years ago in China.

Today, that tradition is carried on with pseudoscientific garbage like What the #$*! Do We Know and The Secret. After endorsing that nonsense on her show, Oprah then had to go back and tell one woman not to throw her life away by trying to imagine her cancer away.

The belief that parts of the tiger's body can be used as an aphrodisiac (as well as for other mystic treatments) has, until recently, largely contributed to the near extinction of this species.

Magical thinking continues to kill today in Africa when people buy into the myth that their HIV can be cured by raping virgins. Not only does this lead to the transmission of deadly diseases which infects over 30% of the population of some African countries, but the emotional scarring that goes with these despicable acts.

It should go without saying that non-empirical based thinking isn't just silly; It's dangerous.

And not only is religion nothing but non-empirical, magical based thinking that has historically done great harm, it goes one step further. Religion codifies nonsense. It encourages people not to think, not to question. It says it's ok to cling to and do things based on irrational belief.

As such, it makes me exceptionally angry that an institution that promotes dangerous thinking is not just tolerated, but welcomed. Humanity is better than this. Yet the majority of Americans is perfectly content to buy into a perilous fantasy world. And as history as shown, they can do serious damage to the rest of us.

So again, while silly, unfounded beliefs here and there aren't particularly harmful, when that compartmentalization begins to break down and affect people in general in exceptionally harmful ways, then there's a problem. And it makes me even angrier that those people perpetuating the problem refuse to admit there's anything wrong!

But until the religious community starts taking a good look in the mirror and realize the damage they're helping along, I, and I'm sure other atheists, free-thinkers, humanists, rational-theists, and others, will continue to denounce the injustices.

And perhaps have some hot tea too...

9 comments:

Becki said...

Well put.

Greg said...

I agree with you whole-heartedly.
Also wanted to agree with what Bill Maher, one of my favorite comedians said about a president should be an atheist, since he/she would be much more careful about putting soldiers in harms way since they wouldn't believe that the soldiers would be going to a mythological heaven when they died.

The Progressive said...

I share much of your feelings which you wrote about in this article with you. I just couldn't relate it to someone else as well as you did. I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I believe you're confusing sound faith with superstition. Superstition is aritrary and dangerous. Beieving in the true God ain't. After all the Creator of the universe is not going to lead people down arbitrary and dangerous paths, since He is perfectly aware how the Universe works. Beig rational and sensble does *not* preclude 'compartmentalising' ones' faith. We were made for relationship with God: when the will of God was compromised even trivially, sin entered the world. I would suggest however the eating of fruit of the tree of knowledge represents something far deeper than merely eating something when one considers the 'reasoning' behind it- it is arrogantly trying to set oneself up against God: 'For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,' (Gen. 3:5, KJV) as the serpent (devil?) said. When we fail to put God first, instead putting ourselves or some other thing first, it is a similar sin. I confess I am not altogether OK in this respect. ('For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God...' Romans 3:23, KJV.)

To your credit, you do include rational-theists, and, on a lighter note, tea, whih is always good.

viggen said...

Superstition is aritrary and dangerous. Beieving in the true God ain't....'For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,' (Gen. 3:5, KJV)

Lemme get this straight; you're saying "Believing in Superstition is bad, but believing in my superstition is not." and you've even supported yourself with Bible quotes.

Larry in Littleton said...

Jon, you are obviously an intelligent and articulate man. Nice article.

However, I have to disagree with some of the beliefs you are espousing in your blog.

You, like all of us, have been trained into some belief system(s) from your experiences. Mainstream academia promotes much of what your blog says and is obviously a major force in your life. I suggest that you will find many in that world who simply 'believe' what their professors say and never stop to rationally evaluate them. You could make a strong case that academia contains a set of irrational beliefs which are rarely emperically challenged.

My own religion, faith, world view, or whatever you'd like to call it, IS based on emperical and rational thinking. If there is a supernatural force (one that matters to us), it would leave clues in our realm for us to identify and scientifically consider. In my experience, these clues are all around us!

One major clue is the complexity of life forms. Even the most simple single-cell organisms have a level of complexity that far exceed the complexity of the cell phone in your pocket. A blade of grass is many times more complex than the 747 in the air above you. Academia would have me 'believe' that these systems formed accidently without guidance. If it is so well understood, why hasn't anyone created life? We can clone and reproduce life, but it has never been created from scratch by man. It may someday, but the point is that it is overwhelmingly complex, even in its most simple form. If you had all the elements of a cell phone in your pocket, I don't care how long you jiggle your pocket you are not going to make a cell phone or anything else that complex! For me, to believe that much complexity came by accident would be completely irrational.

There are many other clues around us, and some of them reach us on a personal level. These might be considered too 'anecdotal' to be scientific evidence, but if you pool all of the anecdotal evidence together it has to be considered. Why DO so many people believe in God? When you have large number of people with a common experience, it does rise to the level of 'evidence'. We are not all mental retards.

I could go on for a long time, but this is your blog, and I am just a commenter. However, I would challenge one more of your assertions that I hear so often from atheism. You contend that history is full of the damage caused by religion. But please don't stop short at that, the fact is that history is full of many bad things caused by atheism, and in fact religion has done more good than harm. Morality, ethics, system of laws, economies, philosophy, art, benevolence, democracy... are these not all products of religious belief? I am not saying atheists cannot be moral, benevolent, etc., but history does record that these ideas have a religious basis.

Yes, there are bad religious people, and there are bad non-religious people. Let's keep that in perspective. Mean people suck.

I hope you keep an open mind throughout your journey in this life. I have no doubt that you will encounter evidence for the supernatural and will be forced to emperically examine it and decide for yourself!

Thanks for listening!

Jon Voisey said...

Hi Larry. After reading your post, I'll return the compliment that you're certainly articulate, but not on the intelligence portion seeing how pathetic your arguments are.

You could make a strong case that academia contains a set of irrational beliefs which are rarely emperically [sic] challenged.

Feel free to make the case. Until you do, I'm going to consider this a throw away statement meant to cast doubt without any real support. I can remember numerous times when I've pressed instructors on weak points. So the silly claim that we don't challenge professors is, at the very least, in my case, nonsense.

One major clue is the complexity of life forms.

Sorry. You failed right there. Complexity is not a sign of intelligence. You can flip a million coins in a row and come up with an amazingly complex pattern, but it doesn't mean that the process deriving it isn't entirely random.

The best that has been done along those lines is Dembski's notion of specified complexity, but since this "test" doesn't necessarily rule out other possibilities, it is null as well.

A blade of grass is many times more complex than the 747 in the air above you.

Again, failure. Grass reproduces. 747's don't. Thus the analogy is irrelevant.

If it is so well understood, why hasn't anyone created life?

"Understood" and "easy" are two entirely different things. We understand how stars work very well, but that doesn't mean we can make one.

For me, to believe that much complexity came by accident would be completely irrational.

Funny. Me too. Shame that unlike you, I don't ignore major components to the theory of evolution. It's not "accidental". There's a driving process. Are you ignoring it from ignorance, or willfully I wonder?

When you have large number of people with a common experience, it does rise to the level of 'evidence'.

No. It really doesn't. Reality is not a popularity. A few thousand years ago, nearly everyone believed in Zeus. Does that validate his existence? I think not.

We also recently had a nation where everyone believed that Iraq was a nation full of WMDs. Did that make them real? Nope.

history is full of many bad things caused by atheism

Such as? I have yet to find a single war, murder, persecution, etc... that was done in the name of atheism. Yet how many atrocities have been committed in God's name?

Morality, ethics, system of laws, economies, philosophy, art, benevolence, democracy... are these not all products of religious belief?

Not in the least. Morality and ethics come from common sense. It doesn't take God to figure out that if you steal from someone, it will probably piss them off and they'll retaliate in some way.

Laws? The earliest record of those well predates any religion that exists today and did not look to be connected to religion in any particular way. Rather, it was people who used that common sense to band together help protect one another in order that their own goods be protected. Have you even read the works that the US was founded on by Paine, Locke, et al?

While some amazing art has certainly been done by religious practitioners, this does not imply that art has its foundations in religion.

Democracy is about as far removed from religion as you can get! It gives the power to the people rather than God. Religion is what inspired theocracies throughout the middle ages which were frequently nothing short of tyrannical.

I have no doubt that you will encounter evidence for the supernatural and will be forced to emperically examine it and decide for yourself!

I've been waiting this long and haven't found anything yet. And even if I were to, it would take some serious brain damage before I went and made the logical leap off a cliff to assert that anything supernatural must be God.

Greg said...

I agree with you whole-heartedly.
Also wanted to agree with what Bill Maher, one of my favorite comedians said about a president should be an atheist, since he/she would be much more careful about putting soldiers in harms way since they wouldn't believe that the soldiers would be going to a mythological heaven when they died.

Larry in Littleton said...

Jon, you are obviously an intelligent and articulate man. Nice article.

However, I have to disagree with some of the beliefs you are espousing in your blog.

You, like all of us, have been trained into some belief system(s) from your experiences. Mainstream academia promotes much of what your blog says and is obviously a major force in your life. I suggest that you will find many in that world who simply 'believe' what their professors say and never stop to rationally evaluate them. You could make a strong case that academia contains a set of irrational beliefs which are rarely emperically challenged.

My own religion, faith, world view, or whatever you'd like to call it, IS based on emperical and rational thinking. If there is a supernatural force (one that matters to us), it would leave clues in our realm for us to identify and scientifically consider. In my experience, these clues are all around us!

One major clue is the complexity of life forms. Even the most simple single-cell organisms have a level of complexity that far exceed the complexity of the cell phone in your pocket. A blade of grass is many times more complex than the 747 in the air above you. Academia would have me 'believe' that these systems formed accidently without guidance. If it is so well understood, why hasn't anyone created life? We can clone and reproduce life, but it has never been created from scratch by man. It may someday, but the point is that it is overwhelmingly complex, even in its most simple form. If you had all the elements of a cell phone in your pocket, I don't care how long you jiggle your pocket you are not going to make a cell phone or anything else that complex! For me, to believe that much complexity came by accident would be completely irrational.

There are many other clues around us, and some of them reach us on a personal level. These might be considered too 'anecdotal' to be scientific evidence, but if you pool all of the anecdotal evidence together it has to be considered. Why DO so many people believe in God? When you have large number of people with a common experience, it does rise to the level of 'evidence'. We are not all mental retards.

I could go on for a long time, but this is your blog, and I am just a commenter. However, I would challenge one more of your assertions that I hear so often from atheism. You contend that history is full of the damage caused by religion. But please don't stop short at that, the fact is that history is full of many bad things caused by atheism, and in fact religion has done more good than harm. Morality, ethics, system of laws, economies, philosophy, art, benevolence, democracy... are these not all products of religious belief? I am not saying atheists cannot be moral, benevolent, etc., but history does record that these ideas have a religious basis.

Yes, there are bad religious people, and there are bad non-religious people. Let's keep that in perspective. Mean people suck.

I hope you keep an open mind throughout your journey in this life. I have no doubt that you will encounter evidence for the supernatural and will be forced to emperically examine it and decide for yourself!

Thanks for listening!