Fellow Atheists/Agnostic Atheists - Let's Chat: Do you feel it is risky being "out" these days?

KingGorilla wrote:

But you can observe this severe disconnect. On the moral subjects where individuals speaking for all Christians, all Catholics they stand in stark contract to the fact that most individual people who identify with those religions do not see birth control as immoral, do not see stem cell research as immoral, do not see gay marriage as immoral, etc.

So again, secular society seems to be able to win the popular mind. How is it that the few outspoken are able to win the elections? The nation was shocked at the outcome of Prop 8 winning in a popular election.

So why is policy going to what, as far as I can tell, is the absolute smallest religious population in the US?

I think you could argue that policy (in general) doesn't actually go this way, despite all the rhetoric and pandering. Yes, there are a lot of references to Christian beliefs peppered throughout the discourse, but in general the radical voices do not actually dictate policy.

It's pretty clear that, for example, gay marriage will happen eventually. This is not purely a religious issue either; much of the opposition to that is from the elderly (who will simply die off and solve the problem).

Keep in mind that, when it comes to elections, the fundies are an important part of the Republican base - they get pandered to a great deal because their turnout is useful. However, once in office, even somebody like GWB does little to really further their agenda on the national level. Rather, most of their big successes are local, with the damage limited to flyover states where people are poor and uneducated.

Many very rich people are Republicans not due to any weird moral reason, but because they're rich and they want a taxation structure that favors themselves. These people certainly aren't above telling the fundies what they want to hear simply to grow the base, and then ignoring them until the next election cycle rolls around.

I think it is a long-tail issue.

We're getting better data that shows Christians actually undergo abortion procedures at similar rates to the general population. We've recently seen data that shows Catholics use contraception at similar rates to the general population. Previously, it was easy to mistake religious teachings with the actual beliefs and/or behaviors of religious believers. Now, we can see that the solidarity we assumed existed among believers is a myth. Christians differ as much among themselves as the rest of the population.

This isn't hypocrisy, it is just revealing the error in assuming the moral values of a religious believer match the dogma of their religion. We assumed that just because millions of people belong to a Church that this belonging could be used to predict their behavior. This doesn't appear to be true. For Christians, it appears that they share the belief that Jesus came back from death to forgive sins and that people should do what he taught. However, there is little to no consensus on what those teachings mean.

Maybe I'm too much of a technology idealist, but I think the ability to see the actual diversity in these beliefs will make it impossible to see religious people as a single demographic. What we're seeing in anti-homosexual and anti-science efforts is the dying gasp of a previous generation.

Returning the question above about what keeps atheists from killing their neighbors, it all comes down to data. There isn't any data that shows religious people commit fewer crimes than non-religious people. There isn't any data that shows religious people "sin" less than heathen. As a rational person, I put a higher priority on data than on ideology. So, the ideology that says religious are better behaved than free-thinkers, I think it's a total red herring. (If you want to disupte this, just show me your data.)

Of course, if someone came to my door w/ a Bible to ask this question, I'd probably just give them a copy of Republic and ask them why they think injustice could ever be more profitable than justice. Anyone who asks such a silly questions deserves the treatment that Thrasymachus got from Socrates.

Spoiler:

It's reason, bitches.

Oso wrote:

What we're seeing in anti-homosexual and anti-science efforts is the dying gasp of a previous generation.

I agree with what you're saying, and especially this. A lot of the "big moral issues" in front of us right now are generational in nature. The discussion wouldn't be happening at all if the status quo had overwhelming numbers and the balance weren't tipping slowly away from it. History shows that, more than anything else, such things take patience.

Oso wrote:

Maybe I'm too much of a technology idealist, but I think the ability to see the actual diversity in these beliefs will make it impossible to see religious people as a single demographic. What we're seeing in anti-homosexual and anti-science efforts is the dying gasp of a previous generation.

Well, it's certainly nice to think that as technology (and by extension education) improves such things will simply fade away. I believe that is probably true, although I think the time line could be very long; there are a lot of uneducated people out there, and that is not going to change overnight.

I do think that the mere act of self-identifying oneself as "religious" (or, more specifically, holding religious beliefs that are in direct opposition to the preponderance of scientific knowledge, because it is technically possible to have a religion that is consistent with our understanding of the universe) says something very important about a person, but you are correct that it is unfair to lump all religious people in the same bucket for all purposes. Personally I find the idea of atheism as the "4th largest religion" to be a bit misleading, since I feel that the fundamental mysticism that almost all religious people must ascribe to is an important common thread that atheism lacks.

Well there is also the lapsed theists. Given the ever declining numbers of people who go to church at all, the number of people identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, etc. on a census outnumbers those who attend services. Less than a quarter of Catholics Attend a Weekly Mass, and about Half go monthly. I imagine the number who go on Christmas or Easter is higher. I would like to see a study of Catholics who attend mass when family is in town. Weekly mass is part of Catholic Doctrine, but not a part of the majority of Catholic's lives. And year over year the growing "religion" is atheist/agnostic/no religion.

KingGorilla wrote:

Well there is also the lapsed theists. Given the ever declining numbers of people who go to church at all, the number of people identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, etc. on a census outnumbers those who attend services. Less than a quarter of Catholics Attend a Weekly Mass, and about Half go monthly. I imagine the number who go on Christmas or Easter is higher. I would like to see a study of Catholics who attend mass when family is in town. Weekly mass is part of Catholic Doctrine, but not a part of the majority of Catholic's lives. And year over year the growing "religion" is atheist/agnostic/no religion.

I think a distinction should be made (if one hasn't been already) between atheists/agnostics and "nones", those with no declared religion. Often, the latter can be someone who still holds some sort of religious belief but refuses to affiliate with any organized religion. These are the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd. The vast majority of them, I suspect, would never declare themselves atheists; heck, even many atheists are uncomfortable with doing so publicly.

Just some semantics for your viewing pleasure.

plavonica wrote:
Nicholaas wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

Well there is also the lapsed theists. Given the ever declining numbers of people who go to church at all, the number of people identifying as Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, etc. on a census outnumbers those who attend services. Less than a quarter of Catholics Attend a Weekly Mass, and about Half go monthly. I imagine the number who go on Christmas or Easter is higher. I would like to see a study of Catholics who attend mass when family is in town. Weekly mass is part of Catholic Doctrine, but not a part of the majority of Catholic's lives. And year over year the growing "religion" is atheist/agnostic/no religion.

I think a distinction should be made (if one hasn't been already) between atheists/agnostics and "nones", those with no declared religion. Often, the latter can be someone who still holds some sort of religious belief but refuses to affiliate with any organized religion. These are the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd. The vast majority of them, I suspect, would never declare themselves atheists; heck, even many atheists are uncomfortable with doing so publicly.

Just some semantics for your viewing pleasure.

I thought that is what agnostic covers. Belief in a higher power/ spiritualism but without all the trappings of current religions.

No, very roughly Agnosticism is the lack of a belief in a higher power, you do not know whether any higher power in particular exists. Atheism is the belief that no such higher power exists.

You are describing what Nicholaas was (IMO) right to guess is the majority of American "no religion" people, someone that thinks there is some sort of higher power, but that the main religious institutions are either mistaken on what/who that power is, or are unable to properly translate that power because of their natures.

plavonica wrote:

I thought that is what agnostic covers. Belief in a higher power/ spiritualism but without all the trappings of current religions.

"Agnostic" basically means you simply do not know, or you find the problem to be unsolvable based on the current human understanding of the universe. I think technically most atheists would properly be considered agnostic; for example, I do allow for the possibility that there is some deity, even though it seems exceedingly improbable based on what I can observe. Ultimately I know that my understanding of the universe is all filtered through my own senses and intellect, which are limited and fallible, and so nothing at all can be taken as a certainty (including this). Just because no evidence has been found to support it, does not mean that no evidence could ever be found.

Or, as a wise man once said: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

I believe this to be independent from the group of people who believe in mysticism generally, but no longer associate with any organized sect. Such people may be agnostic, but they need not be; I think many of them still have a fundamental belief in (at least) the Abrahamic God, even if they do not ascribe to the other trappings of their former Church.

As a concrete example of my particular views, I am an atheist for some religions, I specifically believe that the Abrahamic god does not exist. However it is entirely possible that a higher power does exist that does not interfere with mortals.

Yonder wrote:

No, very roughly Agnosticism is the lack of a belief in a higher power, you do not know whether any higher power in particular exists. Atheism is the belief that no such higher power exists.

You are describing what Nicholaas was (IMO) right to guess is the majority of American "no religion" people, someone that thinks there is some sort of higher power, but that the main religious institutions are either mistaken on what/who that power is, or are unable to properly translate that power because of their natures.

This brings an interesting point for me. Christians, almost exclusively, seeking to co-opt higher power as belief in god. Some years ago the number of PHDs and Professors stating they did in fact believe in a "higher power" or "Higher order" was touted as god belief. The number of times the ignorant misstate what "By Their Creator" as Jefferson speaking of the Christian God is galling.

I do believe there are forces and powers higher than myself-the process of evolution, the forces of gravity and magnetism, the expansion of the universe. Carl Sagan, Einstein, Newton were not Christians or religious much at all and understood these greater powers. I do not think atheism means you cannot acknowledge those things greater than yourself (maybe Ayn Rand).

Jay Novella, of the New England Skeptics and an atheist, recounted his joining of the Free Masons. It is required that you earnestly believe in a higher power. He asked and they flat out told him this is not necessarily a god, the mass of the universe, the power of growth and evolution is also a higher power.

This is an area I think the non-religious, the non-supernatural owe it to themselves and the men and women who came before, to reclaim our words. The Declaration of Independence is not talking about a Christian God, Jefferson was not a Christian. It is dangerous enough when I see the Christians co-opting the gods of Hinduism, Buddhist Sects. But to profess that something disconnected from a supernatural and anthropomorphic god is their god is frightening.

Remember that time we broke things down into four basic groups? If we stick to those, it'll pretty much bypass this entire episode of "what exactly is an atheist." On the specific issue of the existence of a supernatural being/force that would/could be considered a god/creator, they were:

  • Agnostic atheist = doesn't think we can know or that we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other, chooses not to believe.
  • Gnostic atheist = thinks we can know or do have enough evidence, and that the evidence is in favor of not believing.
  • Agnostic theist = doesn't think we can know or that we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other, chooses to believe.
  • Gnostic theist = thinks we can know or do have enough evidence, and that the evidence is in favor of believing.

I question whether people choose to believe in a God. I believe atheism is the result of thought processes that are, at a minimum, partly subconscious.

For example, I have never chosen not to believe in God. I just never believed in it. Well, not since maybe I was seven or eight. Some kind of change in my brain structure or thought processes during my prepubescent years eliminated that particular belief entirely without any real consideration from me.

I wouldn't mind believing in God, but the story just doesn't work on me.

Stengah wrote:

Remember that time we broke things down into four basic groups? If we stick to those, it'll pretty much bypass this entire episode of "what exactly is an atheist." On the specific issue of the existence of a supernatural being/force that would/could be considered a god/creator, they were:

  • Agnostic atheist = doesn't think we can know or that we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other, chooses not to believe.
  • Gnostic atheist = thinks we can know or do have enough evidence, and that the evidence is in favor of not believing.
  • Agnostic theist = doesn't think we can know or that we don't have enough evidence to say one way or the other, chooses to believe.
  • Gnostic theist = thinks we can know or do have enough evidence, and that the evidence is in favor of believing.

Personally I'm an ignostic apatheist.

KingGorilla wrote:
Yonder wrote:

No, very roughly Agnosticism is the lack of a belief in a higher power, you do not know whether any higher power in particular exists. Atheism is the belief that no such higher power exists.

You are describing what Nicholaas was (IMO) right to guess is the majority of American "no religion" people, someone that thinks there is some sort of higher power, but that the main religious institutions are either mistaken on what/who that power is, or are unable to properly translate that power because of their natures.

This brings an interesting point for me. Christians, almost exclusively, seeking to co-opt higher power as belief in god. Some years ago the number of PHDs and Professors stating they did in fact believe in a "higher power" or "Higher order" was touted as god belief. The number of times the ignorant misstate what "By Their Creator" as Jefferson speaking of the Christian God is galling.

I do believe there are forces and powers higher than myself-the process of evolution, the forces of gravity and magnetism, the expansion of the universe. Carl Sagan, Einstein, Newton were not Christians or religious much at all and understood these greater powers. I do not think atheism means you cannot acknowledge those things greater than yourself (maybe Ayn Rand).

Jay Novella, of the New England Skeptics and an atheist, recounted his joining of the Free Masons. It is required that you earnestly believe in a higher power. He asked and they flat out told him this is not necessarily a god, the mass of the universe, the power of growth and evolution is also a higher power.

This is an area I think the non-religious, the non-supernatural owe it to themselves and the men and women who came before, to reclaim our words. The Declaration of Independence is not talking about a Christian God, Jefferson was not a Christian. It is dangerous enough when I see the Christians co-opting the gods of Hinduism, Buddhist Sects. But to profess that something disconnected from a supernatural and anthropomorphic god is their god is frightening.

I think there is a substantial question about how you would actually define a "higher power." As you say, Christians (and Abrahamists as a whole) tend to equate this "higher power" with some sort of "being" that has some elements of "humanity" in how it views and interacts with the universe.

The assumption of some sort of deliberate thought process in the divine is still broadly held by Abrahamic Deists like Jefferson, who generally presuppose an intent in the original actions of a God. The fundamental assumption is still that there is a human-like "being" of some sort who set it all in motion, even if that person-like entity is itself unknowable.

So, while an Abrahamic Deist would likely believe in evolution since the evidence suggests it to be true, he thinks of it within the broader context of (and I know this is a loaded phrase, but I can't think of a better one) some kind of intelligent design, wherein the entire system was created with some intention (even if humans cannot know it).

I think this is still only a subset of things that you could consider to be beliefs in a "higher power." Even somebody who has no presupposition of any kind of person-like God may easily recognize that there are forces which govern the universe - but he may not ascribe any intention to such forces or the process that created them. Rather, he might believe that the "higher power" is itself the interaction of the fundamental characteristics of reality, but that these characteristics were established through some process which is lacking anything resembling the human concept of "consciousness."

gore wrote:

So, while an Abrahamic Deist would likely believe in evolution since the evidence suggests it to be true, he thinks of it within the broader context of (and I know this is a loaded phrase, but I can't think of a better one) some kind of intelligent design, wherein the entire system was created with some intention (even if humans cannot know it).

It's actually broader than that. If a very potent (possibly omnipotent) entity that was not omniscient set up the primordial ooze (on this planet or millions of them) with no particular intent for how it would end up, and not knowing how it would end up, that still seems like a higher power to me. Sure that is some sort of intent there, but it's an internal intent on its part (to observe) not any sort of intent for it's creation.

You could go one step further. I would argue that you could have a higher power without any sort of intent. An entity that accidentally created life seems like it could still qualify as a higher power.

Or, as a wise man once said: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Yes it is. It means that your sample set does not include evidence for your proposal. The larger that set, the less likely it is that that absence is coincidental (ie, a function of the set selection rather than an actual non-existance.) If you look deeply into a proposition, and still find no evidence for it, the chance that you are wrong diminishes the more you investigate.

Put another way, we have no evidence for trolls, orcs, fairies, ghosts, Creationism, aliens causing crop circles, UFOs, time travel, countries using Confederate currency as legal tender, or 2000 year old Roman Emperors. Does this mean that all we have to do is keep looking, and it's likely we'll find some? No. It means that the likelihood of their existence is small and getting smaller with each chance to find the evidence that does not turn out.

Carl Sagan used that phrase to indicate how fools think, not to set it up as a critical thinking axiom.

Appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g. There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Ch. 12 : The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, p. 221

Humans ascribe intention to all sorts of things - tree branches moving, random nearby sounds, the social activities of a community - when in fact they are random or not related to the person perceiving them. We have very good reasons for our brains to give us these false alarms. But it also makes me very suspicious of arguments that the world *must* have some kind of meaning, because we are *wired* to be wrong more than we are right about the intentions of things and people around us.

And the more evidence we find, the more we see that a deity's intention is *not* required to explain what's around us.

I choose to believe that belief or non-belief don't matter as neither are essential to living a happy, harmonious life with others. Meaning is a human construct that belongs to each of us individually. Sometimes shared, sometimes not.

The next sentence should be the absence of evidence is also not evidence. Certain theists think they are better at metaphysics than they truly are. I point you to the argument from design. Because then the leap is to thus the god of my mind exists. Socrates from this crafted a god entirely different from the Greek Pantheon, or an Abrahamic God-a celestial being divorced from our world, whose existence is contemplating upon its own thoughts. His was a god left in a perpetual existential loop.

In my world absence of evidence is proof that one is not guilty. I take the absence of evidence of a god, as proof that there is not one.

KingGorilla wrote:

In my world absence of evidence is proof that one is not guilty.

This is going to sound like a quibble, but absence of evidence only prevents a conviction. It doesn't prove a defendant didn't do the acts that constitute a crime. You'd need proof that someone did not commit the crime to prove a lack of guilt.

KingGorilla wrote:

The next sentence should be the absence of evidence is also not evidence. Certain theists think they are better at metaphysics than they truly are. I point you to the argument from design. Because then the leap is to thus the god of my mind exists. Socrates from this crafted a god entirely different from the Greek Pantheon, or an Abrahamic God-a celestial being divorced from our world, whose existence is contemplating upon its own thoughts. His was a god left in a perpetual existential loop.

In my world absence of evidence is proof that one is not guilty. I take the absence of evidence of a god, as proof that there is not one.

The absence of evidence doesn't show proof that there isn't any sort of god (like Russell's Teapot, a god that doesn't interact with the physical universe could 'exist'), but it is a good reason to not believe in the involved, interested deities of most religions. Matt Dillahunty also frequently uses the courtroom evidence analogy, but he points out that not guilty != innocence. Saying god doesn't exist based on the lack of evidence would be the equivalent of declaring a person innocent, which we do not do. The person may well be guilty, but the evidence to prove that is insufficient.

You see though, we live in a world of evidence and experience. We no longer have trial by ordeal or trial by combat allowing for divine intervention into justice. If this women do float then she be a witch, if she drown then we know her soul enters heaven pure. Jesus is my co-pilot, but I still like the 7 airbags in here.

I cannot prove or disprove the existence of a god that is not part of our reality. So that makes god on par with fairies, the invisible pink unicorn, and alchemy.

Our lives are short enough without pondering over that which there is no proof or no evidence. Paraphrasing the Buddha there. By and large that is how the species lives. Whether there is a god or not, you wear your seatbelt, look before you cross the street, etc.

Kraint wrote:

The absence of evidence doesn't show proof that there isn't any sort of god (like Russell's Teapot, a god that doesn't interact with the physical universe could 'exist'), but it is a good reason to not believe in the involved, interested deities of most religions. Matt Dillahunty also frequently uses the courtroom evidence analogy, but he points out that not guilty != innocence. Saying god doesn't exist based on the lack of evidence would be the equivalent of declaring a person innocent, which we do not do. The person may well be guilty, but the evidence to prove that is insufficient.

This is the critical point.

Apart from my basic point (that "knowing" anything, for a defective little meat-machine such as a human, is essentially impossible), what we do "know" (to the best of our own limited faculties) is seriously at odds with the motives and behaviors which are generally ascribed to the Abrahamic God.

If the Abrahamic God appears to not exist as advertised, we really have no reason to assume that any of the other assumptions posited by that mythology are true either, even though we cannot directly contradict all of them.

There's a clear and powerful difference between allowing for the possibility of something and believing that thing to be true. I allow for the incredibly remote possibility that there could be some kind of deity, because I recognize that I cannot ever know with certainty that there is not. I strongly doubt that there is such a thing, because the tools I have at my disposal do not give me reason to believe that there is.

On the scales of plausibility, the general "deity of some variety" is more plausible than the specific "Abrahamic God," which is a thing that seems ludicrous on its face (though, again, a little meat puppet can only "know" so much).

And an uninterested, unproven deity is indistinguishable from a non-existent one.

NSMike wrote:

And an uninterested, unproven deity is indistinguishable from a non-existent one.

Absolutely correct. But it is an important point to make in the discussion, especially when talking about gods/beliefs with theists. I can specifically believe that certain gods, by their definitions of involvement and interaction with the physical world, do not exist. Much like I can actively believe that there is not a standard-issue diamond pony in my office cubical at the moment. What I cannot reasonably do, based on current conditions and evidence, is claim that no divine/extra-sensory and uninvolved beings exist.

You could go one step further. I would argue that you could have a higher power without any sort of intent. An entity that accidentally created life seems like it could still qualify as a higher power.

The 'simulation argument' applies here, too -- start a Universe running, just to see what happens. We do things like that ourselves. This could be the pet project of a bored youth with too much time in its many tendrils.

So Pulpit Freedom Sunday

For years the IRS has not exactly enforced its provisions to remove tax exempt status when preachers engage in political speech. More often it is the multimillionaire ones who are sent up.

Early words and judicial opinions were Taxes could and would ruin the 1st amendment. But in recent years the opinion has moved to focusing on the religious groups involved in hate or discrimination.

I am not sure if political speech from the pulpit is as much of a threat as some people state. I see it as mostly serving to decrease the parish even more. Going up to the charts, most religious people disagree with their preachers when it comes to abortion, family planning, gay rights, marriage equality, etc.

I think a more salient argument can be made when a person running for office is allowed to speak at a church in a campaign capacity. That is a clearer breach of separation.

There's an easy solution to that. Churches are no longer tax-exempt. Done. Now they can say whatever they want.

DSGamer wrote:

There's an easy solution to that. Churches are no longer tax-exempt. Done. Now they can say whatever they want.

Things is, the implication by doing that is that giving *any* church tax-exempted status is A Bad Thing.

Which feels like a losing proposition, at least at the legislative level. Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

Jonman wrote:

Which feels like a losing proposition, at least at the legislative level. Not to mention (potentially) punishing the many for the sins of the few.

I actually don't get this idea. If anything, the rampant appeals to the evangelist base shows that churches, intentionally or not, have dramatic effects on voter positions. It's not necessarily a "sin," as it were, but I think they're pretty inexorable. Religions will affect public policy, be it moderate or extreme. The idea that they will not simply because you can't campaign from the pulpit is, in my opinion, a bit naive.