Hemant Mehta is one of my heros.  I won't say I never disagree - that would be strange.  But he always makes me think.  Do atheists present themselves the best way?

 

1.  I lost my faith!  Hemant recommends a more positive statement.  "I defeated faith".  "I gave up my faith".

2.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  He states some claims have no evidence at all, so we only need the bare minimum of evidence.  Like, if there is even a little evidence that prayer works, let's see it.

3.  Everyone is born an atheist!  He considers being atheist a bigger deal than something we are born as.  Some of us went through a lot of effort,, reaching atheism through a process. 

4.  We can be good without god!  He says to christians this is the equivalent of driving without your seat belt.  I don't quite understand that aspect.  What we mean to say is, in areas where worship of god doesn't exist, people can be better than 

5.  I trust science, not some 2,000 year old book.  He thinks this suggests biblical events were real.  Also, the bible was written over a few hundred years, not in a single sitting 2,000 years ago.  

6.  You cant reason someone out of something they were never reasoned into in the first place.  In other words, reason and logic can't counter unreasonable or illogical conclusions.  But he argues, they can.  So it's not futile to use reason or logic. 

7.  I don't believe in god.  He thinks we should say, I don't believe in the existence of any god or gods.

8.  Religion doesn't make any sense!  That just means, you don't understand religion.  But we often understand religion, or religious concepts, very well.  We disagree with them, and refute them.  We should say these beliefs are illogical 

9.  "You can't just pick and choose what you want to believe".  But he's glad christians are picking and choosing.  Otherwise, the "true christians" might be stoning sinners.  We can argue they are logically inconsistent.  We shouldn't elevate fundamentalism.  We should be rooting for the liberal side of christianity.  (I don't think I agree with this.  I think we should call christians on their hypocrisy).  

 

Hemant links to Matt Dillahunty's response, and I'll link here too.  Matt agrees with some, but not all, of Hemant's comments.

 

Here's my thoughts -

1.  I view moving beyond faith as a positive thing.  "Losing faith" does sound negative   It's  worth a conversation to think of a more positive spin.  Provocative - "I was cured of faith".  or "I outgrew  my faith".  or "I changed from faith to science".  Thoughts?  

2.  I don't know about this one.  Some people might think Jesus on a slice of toast IS extraordinary evidence.   But it's not.

3.  I don't know.  Isn't everyone born an atheist?   Are we nitpicking?  Is it "less" to be born an atheist, than to become one?

4.  I really do think we are better without god!  Or better, we are better without claims to belief.  WIthout god, we lose excuses.  We live once.  So do others.  If we hurt others, abuse them, damage their lives, there is no getting that back.  I think more than just good without gods, we are much better without those beliefs.  I agree with Hemant.

5.  Similar to #3.  Are we nitpicking?

6.  I haven't heard people say "Religion doesn't make any sense".   I like "Religion is stupid" and "Religion is hypocritical" and "Religion is a way for tyrants, small and large, to manipulate their followers and persecute their scapegoats".  "Religion is a false concept."

7.  I never thought of it that way before.  I don't have a better response.  I don't believe in any gods.  Maybe something like, "There is no evidence to support the existence of any gods."?  

8.  I think we call hypocritical people on it when they pick and choose, and choose inhumane options.  If they more or less reject the biblical laws, but choose "come'on everyone, love everybody", I won't argue with that.

 

I could be argued out of any of my own responses.  I think it's worth thinking about how we say these things. 

Edit: I forgot to include the original link. Comments there also worth reading.

Tags: Hemant Mehta, Losing religion, atheist, framing

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I often think about these things, though I'm glad to see a comprehesive list going into more detail!

For the most, part, I try to avoid sounding demeaning, while trying to bring home the fact that their belief isn't worthy of the respect it demands.

When my young nephews learned that I "believe" in evolution last year, it killed me to answer "yes" to their question about my "belief." But I was trying to keep it very simple, not wanting to debate with children. "If you're not religious, you believe in evolution," I told them, cringing inwardly.

BUT, I saw that they had a certain amount of cognitive dissonance already going on, as they seemed to know a few sound facts about evolution, and were discussing it themselves. So I merely widened the rift by making them think they had to choose one or the other, at least for the moment!

As for the other stuff........you guys seem to have it covered. I find it's necessary to define certain terms off the bat, stuff that creationists (my main pet peeve) tend to throw at us.

Theory

This word gets tossed around so often to mean "idea" or "concept," that people forget it refers to something that's already been established, such as "gravitational theory." What people usually mean when saying "theory" is "hypothesis," or something that has yet to be proven.

So creationists LOVE to say how science has theories, therefore their theories about creation are equally sound. Actually, they are not, b/c real theories already have evidence. The exception being "string theory," which (as Brian Greene will explain) is in fact the "string hypothesis."

Belief

This one is a little tough, as a creationist will claim that we "believe in evolution." Or, "atheists have no beliefs." I've been puzzling over this one a bit. Of course I believe facts! But atheism is certainly NOT a belief system, rather merely a non-belief in gods. Do we have to believe in something? I believe someday science will discover life on other planets, and that they'll learn new and amazing things about black holes, stuff like that. I'll have to look up the definition.

Faith

I had some fun looking this up one evening. Again, it's a word that gets tossed around casually, and loses its real meaning. "Faith" is used like "trust," as in, "I have faith that the pilot will get us there safely." Therefore, atheists have faith.

The definition of faith is "belief without evidence." You know what other word describes this also? "Delusion." Religious people are proud of their faith, meaning even in the face of zero evidence, even when their faith is challenged, they cling to it even harder. Which means, the less rational they are, the prouder they are.

Therefore, they should have no problem accepting the label of "delusional," because it's essentially the same thing! The more delusional they are, the prouder they should be.

So I'm trying to stop using the word in a colloquial sense. I don't have "faith" in the pilot, b/c I have ample evidence that he'll get me there safely. Nothing delusional about that. I don't have "faith" in science, b/c I know it's sound. I'm confident in the knowledge.

Also, from watching Matt Dilahunty, I'm trying not to say "There is no god!!" Rather, "I have no reason to believe in a god." Otherwise, there's the pressure to back up your bold statement. By saying you'd believe in god if there were sound evidence, that reminds believers that they have to show you what THEY consider "sound evidence," of which there is none. Plus, it's more honest: If there were evidence of a god or gods, we'd believe, obviously!! Doesn't mean we'd worship.............

I like Hemant and often play his You Tube bits.

You cant reason someone out of something they were never reasoned into in the first place.

This is one of Peter Boghossian's points in A Manual for Creating Atheists.

Yes maybe (seldomly) you can argue someone out of their beliefs.  Or maybe you just enjoy arguing with theists. 

But his point is, when people are using a flawed process for arriving at their convictions, even good rational arguments will almost never do anything. 

He does advocate reasoning with people in the sense of using the Socratic method - that is, asking them to apply reason themselves, and bringing up facts that challenge their beliefs. 

Lots of people have evidence convincing to them that prayer works.  But not good evidence.

My thoughts on Hemant's bullet points:

1. I discarded my faith.  Once I looked at it critically and dispassionately, I realized that it was not only useless, it was antithetical to my growth as a human being.  So I dropped it.

2. Extraordinary means EXTRAORDINARY.  It also requires consistency and repeatability.  One instance of prayer working isn't going to cut the mustard here, and two won't be much better.  If it doesn't work Every Single Time, why should I rely on it?  My calculator is more reliable than prayer.

3. Atheists are born into a hostile environment.  Once born an atheist, we're confronted with a gauntlet of superstitious believers, determined to get us to forsake atheism and reinforce a community whose purpose at least in part is to reassure them that their belief has merit when it has NONE.  If there are currently fewer atheists than there are theists, here's your reason.  If the numbers of atheists are growing, it's because we're becoming more aware not just of the shortcomings of religion, but of its crimes against the humanity it is supposed to serve.

4. We can be good, PERIOD.  We can be good because it serves us and others in the here and now.  A person who needs a god to be good, in the words of Leo Wolf, is nothing more than a coward who responds well to threats.

5. I don't just trust science, I USE IT ... DAILY.  I used to use it at work, diagnosing problems and providing answers, but the fact is that we all use it, every time we drive a car, watch television or even cook a meal.  Those things and too many others to count are the product not of wishful thinking, prayer or magic, but of methodical, disciplined SCIENCE.

6. You CAN reason someone out of an unreasonable position with the RIGHT reason.  This is Peter Boghossian's approach in A Manual For Creating Atheists, and that single book may be the most important event in modern atheism.

7. There Are NO Gods ... just like there are no left-handed zindlefingers.  The only difference between gods and zindlefingers is that one has gotten a LOT more press over a far longer period of time, therefore it is supposedly more credible.  That people have perpetuated ill-founded beliefs in order to gain power and influence doesn't of necessity legitimize the belief.  See Point 2 as regards this.

8. Religion never made sense to anyone with the chutzpah to question it.  The problem for a very long time was daring to question it at all.  When religion dominates the culture and the society, open skepticism can be dangerous to your health.  Ask Giordano Bruno or Galileo Galilei about this.  When freedom of speech and inquiry are available and exercised, religion is not only shown not to make sense, but finds itself in serious trouble.

9. I was never good at fooling myself.  Any kind of belief had to have some kind of substance behind it, or sooner or later, it would bite me on the ass.  My problem was similar to pareidolia, in that I thought I DID see evidence, reason to believe, and that's what hung me up.  Once I was able to recognize and dismiss that, I was able to grow out of religion.

I thought I DID see evidence, reason to believe, and that's what hung me up.

It sounds like a very Christian guy who was a friend of mine.  He was convinced that God existed because he was working at a missionary center and living in a missionary style - supported by donations.  He felt that checks magically appeared just when he needed them.  I wrote checks to him sometimes, and he even felt he could tell those weren't God-connected, because they didn't magically appear when needed. 

ps I didn't know you were ex-religious.  I would never have guessed because you seem so very nonreligious now. 

Loren, as usual I love your thoughtful, intelligent responses. 

#1 kind of impacts #6.  I was born into a family / community of fundamentalist Baptists.  I carried my Bible throughout high school, reading it constantly.  That was my #1 mistake.  Reading the bible thoughtfully leads to understanding it, and understanding the bible kills faith in it as consistent and true. Then I studied science, in high school and beyond, and history, and logic.  The foundations of my religiosity fell like the walls of Solomon's temple under siege by the Roman armies.  

Many if not most atheists started out religious - after that being born atheist thing wore off - not as a result of reason - and many shed their faith due to the curative vapors of logic and reason.  I did.  

My opinion is that atheists should always refer to gods in the plural sense. It illuminates the reality that man has made many gods throughout their history, every time the word is mentioned. It's any easy way to multiply the impact of any atheistic comment.

Totally agreed, and especially considering the massive number of gods that have been invented over the years.  That some cultures may single out one particular deity as special and reserved doesn't mean that it's the only game in town, much as they'd like it to be that way.

Our negation of gods is universal, whether you want to talk about Allah or Quetzalcoatl.

I will admit to having a soft spot in my heart for FSM though. Sauce be upon him.

Hopefully there's a gluten-free Monster. 

The argument about atheists just believing in "one god less" doesn't sit well with me, because I see all humanity's gods as a way to express human spiritual perceptions and the other parts of our psychology that incline us to religion. The different gods don't seem essentially different to me. 

Some believers also think this way, and others really do think of the other gods as different, so that the other gods don't exist but the believer's god does. 

The different gods don't seem essentially different to me either. I think that Odin, Jebus, Thor, and Quatziqoutal are all the same. (In fact, Odin was my saviour but he had green blood.) Of course, the only god that really counts is the believer's god. This is why you have the "one god less' arguement in the first place and also why you see newspaper letters all the time in "letters to the editor" speaking of the "one true god." Such crap should never be printed. I don't see our psychology inclining us to religion here. What I see is people that make shit up, and in this day and age that same shit is getting people killed!

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