Category Archives: atheism

What makes something right or wrong?

Here is another of the  4 animated videos produced by the British Humanist Association. They are all narrated by Stephen Fry.

This one deals with aspects of morality – an important subject where the voice of non-theists is often ignored.

“What makes something right or wrong?” Narrated by Stephen Fry 

See: That’s Humanism: Four animated videos about Humanism narrated by Stephen Fry

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Census 2013 – religious diversity

Statistics New Zealand has released preliminary figures for religious affiliation from the 2013 census.

The raw figures show for the major affiliations (Christian and No religion) the following:

Religious affiliation Number
No religion 1,635,348
Christian 1,879,671
Total Responses  4,343,781
Total People  4,242,048
Double Dipping?*  101,733

It is interesting to compare the last census figures with those for the previous four.

census-2013-1

As we can see, the godless trend has continued unabated.

One thing for sure – Christians can no longer claim to make up the majority of the country’s population.


*Double Dipping arises from people putting down more than one answer to the question. Eg – “Born again” and “Assembly of God.” It most probably occurs for the Christian, rather than No religious group. If this is the case we should adjust the Christian total to 1,879,671 –  101,733 = 1,777,938.

This would cut Christians as a proportion of the total population to 41.9%.

The No religion is accordingly 37.7%.

The other major religions have Hindu – 2.1%, Buddhist – 1.4% and Islam – 1.1%.

For more detail see 2013 Census where  tables of data can be downloaded.

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Testing the God theory

I enjoyed this video.

It is a full lecture but well worth watching – especially if you are interested in the science-religion debates.

Sean Carroll presents these cosmological arguments well – and his analysis is far more up to date – and “with it” than those theologians who venture into the area. Just compare this with the rubbish W. L. Craig comes out with.

This lecture really puts the theological argument that God is a “better explanation” of life than the multiverse into perspective.

Thanks to Your Thanksgiving viewing « Why Evolution Is True.

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Christianity has hijacked human values

A short answer to a question often asked of atheists and other non-believers. Professor Jim Al Khalili points out that those people asking the question have got it the wrong way around

 ‘Christian values have hijacked human values’ – Professor Jim Al Khalili

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Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins

I always enjoy the Daily show and this is another classic. Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins (who is on a tour for his latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist).

Can’t embed the daily Show videos, but go to September 24, 2013 – Richard Dawkins | The Daily Show With Jon Stewart – Full Episode Video | Comedy Central.

The whole show is 36 min long – but if you just want to the interview it starts at 13.33 and goes to the end.

Stewart is an amazing interviewer.

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Source of moral authority has shifted

A recent poll in the UK confirms a trend I have noticed elsewhere – the movement of younger people away from organised religion, and to a slightly lesser extent, from religious beliefs. But also to a decline in respect for religion and its leaders.

The YouGov poll for the Sun  shows a decisive turn against religion among 18 – 24 year olds. And a very low belief in a god (see Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion).

Fifty six% of people in this age group say they have no religion while 38% don’t believe in a god.

Religion-2

In common with other polls there is still substantial support for not believing in a god but believing in “some sort of spiritual greater power” – the halfway house.

religion-4

Only 12% said religious leaders have any influence on them – lower than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%. Eighty two% declared religious leaders have no influence.

religion-what

Finally, a high 41% told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good.

religion-3

I think we might find the same attitudes in this country.

But it does raise some important questions about the public perception of the role of religion in today’s society. It’s commonly described as a source of good. But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and first vice president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, won’t have it. In a commenting article, Religion is in decline – so why are people so well behaved?, he says:

 

“One of the most mystifying aspects of recent governments’ emphasis on religion as a source of individual and social values has been its total mismatch with reality. Survey after survey has shown the population as a whole, and young people in particular, increasingly turning away from religious beliefs and influences entirely – and yet there has been no detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the nation.”

He concludes “there has been a change in recognised moral authority away from religion and towards secular influences.” And asks “when a government is going to realise this change and accept the implications for public policy.”

With polling like this it is about time that we all recognised that religion is not the source of our morality and public utterances claiming it is should stop.

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Richard Dawkins learns about the Bible

This isn’t the usual subject for videos of Richard Dawkins. This time he is in discussion with John Huddleston, from the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.

The discussion was recorded in March this year.

Found it far more interesting than I expected

A Conversation with Richard Dawkins and John Huddlestun

A beggar’s market?

homeless-atheist-giving-web

This guy, James, from Austin, Texas, may have discovered something about the market. He is homeless man named James and is performing something of a social experiment. James has laid out nine bowls in front of him, each labelled by faith: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. The sign he is holding reads “Which religion cares the most about the homeless?”

“The atheists seem very competitive. For them, it’s all about the competition,” James reasoned, but whether or not the Atheist passersby were genuinely good-hearted, just wanted to stick it to religion, or somewhere in between is unknown.

Not exactly the most scientific poll, but the marketing technique might just catch on.

Thanks to: Atheists Winning Homeless Man’s Giving Contest.

Interfaith delusions

I am not claiming that “interfaith” activity is bad – obviously it can do a lot to reduce inter-religious friction, hostility and violence. And that is certainly needed in parts of the world today. No – the bad arises when interfaith groups go outside their mandate and start thinking they represent everyone. Or they behave as if only religious “faiths” count and other, non-religious, beliefs should be ignored.

Boston Marathon

A blatant example occurred in the US in an “interfaith” service on April 18 after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Despite repeated attempts  humanists and secular groups were denied a representative presence (see Healing Must Be For Everyone, Including the Nonreligious Affected By Boston Marathon Bombings). Effectively the organisers excluded non-religious from an important ceremony which should have been for every American.

Staks Rosch, in his examiner article Interfaith: The very name is exclusive – National atheism acknowledges that:

“Even people who don’t immediately hate atheists for our lack of belief in deities would be quick to point out that atheism isn’t a faith and therefore atheists don’t belong in an “interfaith” service.

The problem however is not with atheists for wanting to be included in interfaith services, but rather with interfaith services themselves for pretending that they are inclusive when their very name is exclusive. If they desire to be exclusive that is one thing, but doing so while pretending to be inclusive just doesn’t work. The fact is that atheism is on the rise in America and many atheists have built and are building humanist communities like the one at Harvard. We are here and we are not going away; we’re growing!”

We had similar issues in New Zealand in commemorations held for victims of the Christchurch earthquake. I understand that even the minor religions had to fight hard against dominance of the major Christian denominations for representation at the “interfaith” service. I guess humanists and other nonreligious groups just didn’t have a show.

“Interfaith” in local bodies

militant

This issue came up for me again when the local “interfaith” group achieved a small “victory” with the Hamilton City Council. Here’s how the Waikato interfaith council reported the City Council’s acceptance of their request:

The Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO) is pleased to announce that the Hamilton City Council has embraced the opening of each of its City Council meetings with an interfaith prayer. In 2013, these will be led by Waikato faith leaders from the Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities. We would like to extend our vote of appreciation to Her Worship the Mayor Judy Hardaker, Hamilton City Councillor Daphne Bell, and all Hamilton City Council members for including both majority and minority religions in the opening of future Council meetings. This positive action sends an enthusiastic message of inclusion to all members of society and we sincerely hope that our prayers, led by a more representative selection of Waikato faith leaders, may help guide and encourage our Mayor and City Councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they have been elected. WIFCO believes that this is a significant milestone in local governance that embraces all members of Waikato’s multicultural and multireligious communities. We hope that other Councils throughout New Zealand undertake such initiatives. [My bold]

So there’s the delusion – blatantly presented. The idea that holding religious prayers at City Council Meetings is somehow inclusive. Or that just by including prayers from minor religious groups as well as the major one is being inclusive.

But it’s not – as this figure from my recent post Fiddling with census figures for religion in New Zealand shows:


WICO’s agreement nice little arrangement with the Hamilton City Council is not inclusive because the largest New Zealand belief group is actually excluded!

Questions for consideration

  • Are ceremonies and prayers needed in local bodies and public events?
  • Should interfaith groups make sure there is representation of nonreligious beliefs in such “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • should nonreligious organisations be more proactive and request their recognition and offcial presence in “inclusive” ceremonies?
  • Why do “interfaith” groups and activities usually ignore the nonreligious?

See also:

The limits of philosophy

Or should I say - “The trouble with philosophy?”

Whatever. The title certainly makes a change from those like “The Limits of science.” How many times have I seen such titles on articles written by religious apologists, philosophers of religion, or even straight non-religious philosophers. These articles usually annoy me because they often set up a straw man – a claim that science has no limits – which no scientists is making.

So it’s nice to turn the tables for a change.

Monty Python’s Football – Philosophers often play for different teams

I often get criticised by philosophers, theologians, philosophers of religion and students of philosophy for making philosophical mistakes – or so they claim. I’ve been told that I should not write about the science of morality if I haven’t read and studied a long list of ancient, and not so ancient, philosophers. Commonly I am admonished for trying to determine an “ought from an is” – a violation of “Humes Law.” And I have been told that scientists should leave questions like origins of life and the universe, or the question of existence of supernatural beings, to philosophers. Such questions, they tell me, are outside the limits of science.

Oh yes, about now I also get accused of “scientism!”

Very often my reply to such criticisms is that there is no such thing as an accepted unified philosophical dogma. That the claims thrown at me come not from philosophy in general, but from a particular school of philosophy. There is “philosophy” and then there is “philosophy.” My critics should be up front and advance their claims as representative of their own philosophy, or the particular school of philosophy they adhere to, not as representative of philosophy in general.

“What do Philosophers Believe?

So I am pleased to see the on-line publication of the paper What Do Philosophers Believe? by David Bourget and David J. Chalmers. This study confirms that philosophers are indeed divided on a number of issues – they hold a range of beliefs which can influence their philosophical thoughts and positions. These beliefs are influenced by a range of demographic and social factors. And philosophers themselves often have a false opinion of the degree to which different beliefs are common in their professional community.

Sean Carroll, at What Do Philosophers Believe?, and Jerry Coyne at The consensus of philosophers, have commented briefly on the paper. Have a look at those articles, or the paper itself (download here), for a full list of beliefs and their degree of support among philosophers. But here are a few which seem relevant to debates I have had here. (Sorry about the briefness of the terms – that’s related to the nature of the survey):

1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.

5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.

6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.

8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.

10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.

15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.

16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.

18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.

20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.

25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.

So I feel vindicated in answering my critics by pointing out the lack of consensus among philosophers on many issues. What right has a philosopher of religion to assure me their arguments against my statements are “philosophical” (and not just representative of a school of religious philosophy)? Similarly, why should I simply take on trust assurances that “philosophy” has a particular position on scientific realism, moral motivations or the nature of ethical norms?

There is “philosophy” and there is “philosophy.” If you wish to lecture me about philosophical positions at least be open about the philosophical school you are representing or adhere to.

No suprise at differences

Frankly, I am unsurprised at the lack of consensus among philosophers. It contrasts sharply with the situation in science – which on most matters has a high degree of consensus. OK, there are debates at the edges – and these can be intense. Remember the scene in “The Big Bang Theory” where a romantic alliance between two physicists broke up because one was aString Theorist while the other adhered to Loop Gravity“.  Just imagine the problems they would have raising their children!

Ben Goren commented at Jerry’s website on the poor philosophical consensus compared with science :

“Survey a bunch of scientists on comparable topics, and you’ll find overwhelming consensus that, for example: Evolution is true; Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are basically right on (and anything that replaces either is going to have to reduce to both at suitable scales); that the Earth’s surface moves in manners described by Plate Tectonics; and so on.

Yet these jokers are doing good just to get a slim majority that don’t think that we’re all literally outside of our brains.”

But while we should be aware of the different levels of confidence in philosophical and scientific knowledge this  does not show differences in personal capabilities between the two professions. The difference is exactly what we should expect from the different nature of the two subjects.

Philosophy could be said to be an “armchair” subject. Philosophers reason and think. They apply logic to hypothetical situations. Often scenarios which have no possible reality but are at least “logical possibilities” will get a lot of attention. It’s also not surprising that demographic and social factors can influence philosophical reasoning. Humans are just not very rational and their reasoning often suffers from ideolgical and social motivations.

Science is usually a very much “hands on” subject. Ideas are tested against reality. Scientists are just as irrational (or human) as anyone else – they also easily fall into the trap of motivated reasoning. But the final arbiter of ideas for science is reality itself. Experiments can be performed or observations made to check predictions of hypotheses.

Of course philosophy and science does merge at the edges. There is actually a field of experimental philosophy and good philosophers do pay attention to scientific knowledge. On the other hand some science cannot always be tested in practice – at least with the current technological limits. Some scientists seem to work more like philosophers – and some philosophers work more like scientists.

But let’s get away from the idea that logic or philosophy is the final arbiter of knowledge. That is taking philosophy beyond its limits.

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