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

Paleocon wrote:
Malor wrote:
There will always be outlaws and sociopaths, but we keep them in check through governmental oversight now.

Until they get into government, and then we're really in trouble.

And even then, the solution is not "less government" or "no government". It is "better government".

Remember always that rights exist to protect the powerless because the powerful don't need rights. They have power.

I think this bears repeating as a good insight into what is happening in our government today.

Malor wrote:
There will always be outlaws and sociopaths, but we keep them in check through governmental oversight now.

Until they get into government, and then we're really in trouble.

Yep, and that is why we live under the benevolent rule of our savior Joseph McCarthy. No wait, he was not re-elected. My bad.

When the democratic process of our republic fails so badly as to become a dictatorship, whether the anti-christ wins elections is not the larger problem. When we stop becoming a nation ruled by law and a nation ruled by people, that is when I worry. Name any other system where a court can state a law is illegal?

I like living in a country where when "the bad people" get elected, the body count stays low and we tend to have more silly hearings.

KingGorilla wrote:

I like living in a country where when "the bad people" get elected, the body count stays low and we tend to have more silly hearings.

Iraq would beg to differ.

gore wrote:
Malor wrote:

Because, ultimately, morality has a very large biological component. It is very hard to get soldiers to kill anyone, for instance. It takes very, very powerful conditioning to break down the instinctive barriers we all have to doing lethal damage to someone.

Religion, as often as not, is the source of that conditioning. See: suicide and abortion clinic bombers.

There will always be outlaws and sociopaths, but we keep them in check through governmental oversight now.

No we don't. Our socioeconomic paradigm is structured to encourage and reward them.

Anyhow, back to atheism and agnosticism in America.

I am noticing a main attack on the Obama administration being how godless he is. Support of gay marriage, or as some call it an attack on Christian Morals, including in healthcare reform provisions for coverage of contraception, or as some call it an end to religious freedom, toning down prayers and invocations at events, or as some call it the end of the world.

I have, made it a major part of my life and profession to look to keeping that separation of church and state strong. It is an area, I can honestly say Obama has strengthened after 8 years of a president on a mission from god.

On many of the issues that Obama is Godless about, according to gallup is about a strict minority of the ultra conservative raising a disproportionate stink. Those identifying as atheist or agnostic outnumber the population of Jews or Muslims in the US. Americans identifying with no religious affiliation is the 4th largest "religious group" in the US. Yet the fringe beliefs are what we get in the public eye.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/154799/am...

And on the state level we see that further inflamed when it comes to science education, history education in the bible belt. So how do we do our part, as the larger group, often the better educated group, to stem the tide of this tiny horde of crazies?

KingGorilla wrote:

And on the state level we see that further inflamed when it comes to science education, history education in the bible belt. So how do we do our part, as the larger group, often the better educated group, to stem the tide of this tiny horde of crazies?

One thing all religious people by definition have in common is a willingness to disregard evidence and insert "faith" in its place. You may well place "atheist" as the number four "religion," but as (presumably) the only evidence based (non-)religion in the list it has precious little in common with actual religions.

So, really, you're vastly outnumbered by a group of people who have chosen (or been indoctrinated in) a philosophy which at least partially rejects rational thought. Even though specific dogma will vary wildly from sect to sect, they gotta stick together against the atheists.

You cannot win an argument with a person who believes "faith" trumps all reason, as is the case with most Americans. I think the best you can hope for is to minimize the conflict between rational thought and religious dogma; religious people are not immune to logic, they merely resist logic in situations where it conflicts with their religious world view.

So, with evolution in education as an example, you can try to frame the topic as being consistent with a religious-creation-as-metaphor (rather than literal) Biblical interpretation, which is now a generally accepted thing among the less crazy religious sects.

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?

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.

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.

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.