Philosophy &Politics 27 Oct 2006 12:55 am

Belief in Belief

In Belief in Belief, Kevin laments the closet atheists, and the supposition that it is popularly held in America that Atheists are crackpots.

I think the atheists should feel free to speak their mind, and not be persecuted for it in any form. It also may be true that atheists are widely viewed as crackpots. I think most evangelical groups are viewed as crackpots. It all sounds curiously like the claims of religious evangelicals in America who believe they are always being persecuted.

Personally, I believe that atheists are as likely to be right as anybody who firmly believes in any God. In essence, atheists take it on faith that God cannot exist. They are as incapable of proving their belief as those who believe in more standard religions. I believe it is a question that cannot be answered affirmatively one way or the other because we are trapped in the system we are trying to comment on, and the system is insufficient to discuss things that are outside the system (this is probably a bad plagiarism of Godel’s incompleteness theorem which states that any sufficiently powerful formal system is incomplete because it cannot fully describe itself (further bastardization I am sure.))

I would be sad if people repress atheists in any way. So why would people think they are crackpots or repress them? Probably it is not as much about their beliefs as what they do with them. Most of the atheists I know personally, not all, but a lot, are vehemently against people who hold a faith in religion, to the point of ridiculing them. Maybe that has something to do with it.

I think Dennett comes off as pompous when he tries to convince people not to believe in God. He should spend his time elaborating other things like his theory of mind. That is much more worthwhile for all. There’s no point trying to convince someone who thinks they can fly that they cannot.

Further, if thinking they can fly helps them be happy, and causes no harm to them or anyone else (that is if they don’t try to jump off a cliff and fly – or try to convince others that they also can fly), then let them believe and be happy. It reminds me of an expression that I often heard growing up: “Everyone’s right to swing their fist in the air ends at the tip of anyone else’s nose.” Or, something to that effect.

To quote a podcast I listen to occassionally, “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? It’s all about proper logic and reasoning.” Which also answers the problematic things about any firmly held belief that is not provable – government and those who would govern should stay out of legislating it one way or the other, including funding any kind of faith-based initiatives for either side. As well, those who believe one way or the other are free to do so, and shouldn’t try to convince others of their own religion.

That said, I have great respect for Dawkins’ ideas, and I would be tickled if he could prove that God doesn’t exist. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Somehow though I am always reminded of the funny bumper sticker.

God is Dead

Nietzsche is Dead

Oh that reminds me, and this is probably not related, but why does cell death need to exist in the universe?

14 Responses to “Belief in Belief”

  1. on 27 Oct 2006 at 6:54 am 1.closet atheist said …

    “atheists take it on faith that God cannot exist”

    no, they say there is a lack of evidence for the existance of god — not at all the same thing. see “invisible pink unicorn” for an elaboration of this point.

    “causes no harm to them or anyone else”

    by contrast there’s a lot of evidence of this test being violated, right?

    “that is if they don’t try to jump off a cliff and fly – or try to convince others that they also can fly”

    or fly airplanes into buildings or blow themselves up in crowded cafes or… ?

  2. on 27 Oct 2006 at 8:27 am 2.Kevin said …

    > It all sounds curiously like the claims of religious evangelicals in America who believe they are always being persecuted.

    One potential difference is that the president does not consult with prominent atheists to determine who would be the ideal nominee for the Supreme Court. For example.

  3. on 27 Oct 2006 at 10:27 am 3.Bob said …

    Kevin, I agree completely with you, and was trying to make that part of my point. Perhaps I didn’t make it well enough.

    It shouldn’t be legislated at all, and the country should be run, removing religion from the scene as much as possible. Atheism or Religion should be a non-issue to the government, in all activities.

    To closet atheist, we believe lots of things that we can’t prove. Also, scientific inquiry in the face of unknowns is imagining something is true when it cannot yet be proved true. So, lack of evidence is not an anti-proof. If you want to decide something with lack of evidence, then that is a faith-based decision.

    As to your second two points, I totally agree. Fanaticism and evangelism are problems in society. Ones that the Founders of the United States were trying to deal with from the start, and that had been working relatively OK until the Religious Right’s ascension to power.

    At the point when they fly planes into buildings, or the president uses his conversation with God instead of a foundation in reason for his decisions, things have to be corrected. It should be the same set of rules as it is for free speech. You can say anything you want about practically anything, but the moment you act violent or incite violence, then you have crossed the line, and it becomes a crime. Religion and atheism should just be free speech issues in the public realm.

  4. on 27 Oct 2006 at 8:55 pm 4.closet atheist said …

    do you believe in Santa? in the flying spaghetti monster? in the IPU?

    are your answers to the above questions faith based?

    does naming two different things with the same word make them the same?

  5. on 27 Oct 2006 at 10:46 pm 5.Bob said …

    In order, No, No, No, Yes, No. (catchy tune, if sung, I think)

    If you don’t believe in anything without evidence, then how could you believe that you or anyone else or even the universe actually exists? It is impossible to prove. Senses play tricks. Dreams are indistinguishable from reality. True skepticism should lead one to the conclusion that one may be dreaming at all times, that is, if one even exists. If it can’t be proved that anyone else exists, there is no point in arguing the falsity of their beliefs; that would be tantamount to arguing with one’s own imagination.

    If you have not already made these conclusions, then I refer you to the eminent atheist David Hume for a more proper treatment of skepticism.

  6. on 27 Oct 2006 at 10:48 pm 6.Bob said …

    Oh, is IPU the inter-parliamentary union?

  7. on 28 Oct 2006 at 10:06 am 7.closet atheist said …

    “If it can’t be proved that anyone else exists, there is no point in arguing the falsity of their beliefs; that would be tantamount to arguing with one’s own imagination.”

    if you believed that you wouldn’t be replying to my comments.

  8. on 28 Oct 2006 at 11:14 am 8.Bob said …

    Hahaha. You’re right!
    but about the wrong thing…

    That sentence was part of a paragraph where the theme was describing true skepticism taken to its natural conclusion, which is of course, NOT my positon. It would be that of a consummate skeptic – someone who does not believe in things in the absence of proof (like an atheist’s lack of belief in God, and, inconsistently, like an atheist’s belief in the lack of a God).

    Perhaps that quote would be clearer if the implicit constraint in it was made explicit: “If it can’t be proved that anyone else exists, XXX and one takes the stance that they must have proof that something exists to believe in it, XXX then one would have to conclude that arguing the falsity of someone else’s beliefs is hopeless and a waste of time since the other person must not exist.” This is a consequence of real skepticism, not belief.

    I am taking the optimisitic, or the “it is possible to believe in some things without empirical evidence”, side in this particular argument. I am pointing out one of the problems of atheism that surely any atheist must have dealt with – how can one be consistent in their skepticism and still believe something one can’t prove, namely the non-existence of God. For me, the problem is less about absolute truth than about logical consistency. The atheistic framework seems to take an invalid form, logically-speaking.

    Hopefully that is now clear, and I look forward, now, to hearing how you have dealt with this inconsistency.

  9. on 29 Oct 2006 at 9:27 am 9.closet atheist said …

    there is no inconsistency other than you using the same word — faith — to describe two very different things.

    I don’t see your “faith” that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster and a believer’s faith in the existence of God to be equivalents that can be easily substituted in your rehtorical algrebra.

    It is only that false equivalance on your part that gives rise to a seeming inconsistency.

  10. on 29 Oct 2006 at 11:54 am 10.Bob said …

    OK, for the last time – There is no equivocation on the word ‘faith’ here. It means the same in both cases. It means believing something without evidence to support that belief.

    The inconsistency is that atheism based on true skepticism is inherently flawed because true skepticism itself is self-contradictory and flawed.

    Since there is no proof of the existence AND THERE IS NO PROOF OF THE NON-EXISTENCE of God or FSM, any position taken on the matter, other than agnosticism, is pure faith. Without proof that God does not exist, it is possible that God might actually exist. Since atheists have no proof that God does not exist (repeat – there is no proof of the non-existence of God), they cannot say he does not exist, and that makes atheism a faith, just like any other.

    Let’s recap the rest of the argument as well, to make sure it is clear.

    Skepticism requires that there be empirical evidence for any belief to be hold-able. Skepticism is ultimately flawed because most of the things that we believe to be true in the world are not empirically provable to us. Therefore, to be a true skeptic, one cannot believe in most everything. This contradiction makes true skepticism an absurd position to hold.

    If atheism is born out of skepticism, that is, it demands empirical evidence underlie beliefs, then the atheist is also forced to believe in nothing at all and is thus doomed by the same contradiction as a true skeptic. In more concrete terms, since they cannot prove the non-existence of God, they are ultimately self-contradictory and inconsistent to hold the belief that God does not exist.

    Final hint: I am leaving some legitimately arguable, and even funny, holes here. Please choose one of the real flaws in the argument to debate.

  11. on 29 Oct 2006 at 5:13 pm 11.closet atheist said …

    “OK, for the last time – There is no equivocation on the word ‘faith’ here.”

    Ah, proof by repeated assertion!

    “It means the same in both cases. It means believing something without evidence to support that belief.”

    I will not accept as useful any framework for discussion where the view that there is an FSM and that this blog exists are equvalent matters of “faith”.

  12. on 29 Oct 2006 at 11:12 pm 12.Bob said …

    I agree. We are not coming to terms. Best to end this. Cheers.

  13. on 31 Oct 2006 at 10:58 am 13.Julio said …

    I’m going to quote my favorite bright here:

    “atheism is a belief, like *not* collecting stamps is a hobby”

  14. on 31 Oct 2006 at 11:13 am 14.Bob said …

    Haha. I like it.

    Of course, *not* collecting stamps could be a hobby. I guess it depends on how much time is spent doing it.

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