What is there about the word "atheist" that makes normally sane people act crazy?

Help! I just got off the phone with my best friend. I started telling her about an event I attended recently. When I mentioned the group's name (which included the word "atheist") it was like I had rung a bell for Pavlov's dog! She immediately went on a rant about how she is "sick of atheists," and how "stupid" they are to be "angry at God."

This shook me up because normally she is a wonderful friend. She is a non-practicing Jew who was raised completely secular. I've been open with her about the full extent of my apostasy, and I've even identified myself as an atheist to her before. Perhaps she didn't believe me? What is there about that word?

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Oh NO you are not both going to hell. There is no hell, there is no credible evidence of god, there is no heaven for that matter.

What we have, here and now, is what we have. A very few years in which to use our sensory organs to experience life. "In addition to sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, humans also have awareness of balance (equilibrioception), pressure, temperature (thermoception), pain (nociception), and motion all of which may involve the coordinated use of multiple sensory organs."* We begin life to participate with all our senses and consciousness. Life ends when the electrical current stops feeding our organs, including our brains. Then we return to the soil, unless we have been pumped full of chemicals. We become atoms. There is no soul; it ends when brain function ends. 

*Anatomy and Structure of Human Sense Organs

Can't pi be numerically resolved? Why not" Isn't 3.14159265359 close enough. OK, let me go on a search! 

"Being an irrational numberπ cannot be expressed exactly as a common fraction. Consequently, its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed, although no proof of this has yet been discovered. Also, π is a transcendental number – a number that is not the root of any nonzero polynomial having rational coefficients. The transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straight-edge.

"Fractions such as 22/7 and other rational numbers are commonly used to approximate π.

...

"Attempts to memorize the value of π with increasing precision have led to records of over 67,000 digits."

~  Wikipedia

OK, now I get it. Thanks, Ted Foureagles, for the invitation to learn something new. 

"...Isn't 3.14159265359 close enough..."

When I was in architecture school many decades ago one of our professors tried to explain to us the difference between architects and engineers.  She used the Male Chauvinist Pig language of the day in framing the problem as follows:

An architect and an engineer are in a room, both leaning together against a wall.  Leaning on the opposite wall is a beautiful woman.  A voice comes from the ceiling saying that each can approach halfway, but only halfway toward the woman with each step, but can take as many steps as necessary.  The engineer concludes that under this rule he can never get entirely there, and the architect understands that he'll be able to get close enough for all practical purposes.

Many of the social problems that I see seem to be perpetrated by those who insist on absolutes that (probably) don't exist in nature.  The Darth Cheney doctrine -- "Even if there's only a one percent chance of the unimaginable becoming true, act as though it's a certainty,", and religionist dismissing established science as "only a theory", as if absolute certainty was necessary to understand anything.

We can only approach truth (small "t") asymptotically (sorry for shoving in another math term).  To imagine any Absolute Truth is comforting delusion.  I'm a fan of reality, but I try never to spell it with a capital R.  That's not condoning epistemological relativism -- the simplistic notion that any idea is as good as any other.  There's a gradient of knowledge, and some ideas get us closer to truth (again, small "t") than others.

The main problem with religion is that it attempts to frame Truth as absolute, and so perfectly rational in an imagined world where irrationality is excluded by doctrine.  We who accept that irrationality exists -- that have a working tolerance of ambiguity -- understand that we can indeed get "close enough" within a lifetime, and don't aspire to an imagined later lifetime in which we hope better things.

}}}}

Very good explanation and I get the essence of the concept. "Close enough". 

"religionist dismissing established science as "only a theory", as if absolute certainty was necessary to understand anything."

It seems odd for religionists to seek absolute truth from science when they accept stories more than 2,000 years old as absolute. Especially when both old and new testament contain so much hate, murder, slaughter of innocents, suffering, illogical stories, taking lands away from occupants, etc. 

Furthermore, why is something from nothing any more unbelievable than god creating all in six days, and the creation schedule doesn't fit?

Oh well, what can one expect from people who believe one race is better than another, one gender more important than another, one definition of marriage more suitable than others?

Ah, good old Zeno's Dilemma.  Well, I have to call bullshit on the storyteller's disparagement of the engineer.  We know about error budgets, too, and asymptotic approach, never mind the utter nonsense which is ZD to begin with.

And let's keep in mind: architects design things that may move, but mostly shouldn't.  Engineers frequently design things that are SUPPOSED to move ... and frequently quite quickly.

4. Stade paradox: A paradox arising from the assumption that space and time can be divided only by a definite amount. i.e. "The engineer concludes that under this rule he can never get entirely there, and the architect understands that he'll be able to get close enough for all practical purposes."

Zeno's Paradoxes

A set of four paradoxes dealing with counterintuitive aspects of continuous space and time.

As this applies to "What is there about the word "atheist" that makes normally sane people act crazy?"

People act crazy at the mention of the word "atheist" because of intuitive aspect of reality (small r). Their learned fables don't serve them well, especially at a time when quantum physics presents a whole new set of natural laws that are counterintuitive. Their learned beliefs challenge them to think for themselves. An unpleasant thought for some. 

"The main problem with religion is that it attempts to frame Truth as absolute, and so perfectly rational in an imagined world where irrationality is excluded by doctrine."

That's so true. This is one of the reasons I felt like a rotten Christian, even though I wanted to be good at it. I always knew deep down that we were only pretending to be rational, where we were actually only arranging our "logic" to fit a set of absolute presuppositions we called "Truth." There is a type of comfort in that I think. I had too much science background. I had learned to be comfortable with probabilities, which is of course the best we can do in reality.

Maybe that is what freaks people out. Our very existence as atheists is basically reminding them that they are pretending to know things they can't really know.

Truth as absolute, and so perfectly rational in an imagined world where irrationality is excluded by doctrine. 

This describes mathematics.

Did you ask her why she is so angry at the Flying Spaghetti Monster? No doubt she would reply that she doesn't believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there is no such thing as a Flying Spaghetti Monster. To which you could reply, "I see, you can't be angry at something which you don't believe to exist." If she can't figure it out from there, you're better off avoiding the topic of religion with this person.

Yup ... no FSM, any more than there's any Zeus or Hera or Amon Ra or Vishnu ... but they don't question those, do they:

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.
-- Stephen F. Roberts

Hey everyone, I was discussing this with another non-believer, and she asked me if this friend (from my original discussion question) watched Fox News. I thought that was a strange question, but now I think she may be on to something.

Even though my friend is basically secular, she is quite conservative politically, and she has been getting more so as she gets older. So maybe her reaction is not because of any religious beliefs. Maybe she sees atheists as political foes. Atheists do tend to gather on the left.

Do you think that could have fed into the strength of her reaction? If so, that would make me feel a little better. Most of the friends that I'm not fully out with are not so political.

FOX is absolutely atheism's biggest opponent.

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