Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Why I am Godless…

Posted by Ann on June 26, 2011

I recently picked up Dan Barker’s book Godless again. I know some people get really confused by my atheism. Why would someone in their right mind deny the existence of God? Barker does a wonderful job in his book of explaining why people aren’t atheists because they reject God, but because a supernatural being has never been proven to exist. In fact, there has never been a single bit of scientific evidence to support the existence of a supernatural being. All of the proofs used for God’s existence to date have been shown to have perfectly natural explanations. The probability of God’s existence can be placed at zero. This lack of evidence does not prove God does not exist, but clearly it means there is no evidence for a God’s existence or a reason to hypothesize about the existence of God. There is no reason to assume a God MIGHT exist.

The chapter “Why I became an atheist” stood out for me the last time I read Godless, and again this time browsing it, so I thought of sharing it here:

[M]ost non-philosophers do feel that there is a wealth of evidence for a god. Miracles, changed lives, fulfilled prophecies, biblical revelation, the resurrection of Jesus, unsolved scientific questions (which they mistake for evidence), coincidences they say could not have happened by chance, inner experience, selfless acts of kindness and so on all prove to the believer that God exists.

Some offer attempts at rational arguments. Since many of these believers cannot imagine themselves as nonbelievers, they try to detect some ulterior motive for atheism. Rather than accept the straightforward statement that there is no evidence for a god, which allows the implication that their worldview might be wrong, many Christians have claimed to guess the “true” cause of unbelief.

Here are some of the ad hominem arguments I have heard:

“You resent moral guidelines and want to be free to live a life of sin and selfishness.”

“You dislike authority.”

“You want to be different and stir up trouble.”

“You are arrogant and hate God and want to be higher than God, like Lucifer (Satan).”

“Your heart is in the wrong place.”

“You have been hurt by Christians, or offended by certain nonrepresentative immoralities and crimes in the Church.”

“You are impatient and disappointed that not all your prayers are answered.”

“You feel let down by God, who didn’t answer your prayers the way you wanted.”

“You are cold, empty and pessimistic.”

“You are an angry person.”

“You are too stupid, blind, limited or afraid to see what is obvious to everyone else.”

“You have been seduced by scientists into refusing to accept the possibility of miracles.”

“You are an atheist because you don’t know the true meaning of love.”

None of these accusations is true. None is relevant. A strong clue that a person is arguing from a position of weakness is when they attack character rather than arguments and facts.

Bertrand Russell pointed out that ad hominem is a last-ditch defense of the losing side. My atheism has nothing to do with any of this. Even if it did, how would it add to the evidence for a god?

By the way, an ad hominem argument is not the same as a character attack. Ad hominem is when you use the character of your opponent to dismiss his or her argument. It would not be ad hominem to say that “My opponent is a thief,” but it would be to say that “My opponent’s conclusion is wrong because my opponent is a thief.” My opponent might be a horrible person with ulterior motives, but that would not make his or her reasoning or conclusion wrong.

The only times the opponent’s character is relevant in a debate are when the specific topic is morality, when it is fair to examine possible hypocrisy, or when eye-witness evidence is being offered and a history of dishonesty might weaken credibility. In those cases attacking character is not ad hominem.

The Catholic Church, for example, claims that believing in Christ makes you a better person, then it is not unfair to point to the clergy sexual abuse scandal as evidence against that claim. (Who should be more representative of the religion than the priests?) It would be ad hominem and inappropriate, however, if I were to say, “Don’t believe anything the Church teaches because their leaders are pedophiles.”

When Peter (if the story is true) told his friends that he saw the resurrected Jesus, the fact that he had recently lied by denying that he knew Jesus lowers the credibility of his testimony. It is not ad hominem to point this out because it is not part of a logical argument; it is an assessment of the reliability of a witness.

The claim that I am an atheist because I don’t understand “love” is particularly ironic. I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian.

Love is not self-denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your fragile ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity or submission.

It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.

The argument about “anger” is equally intriguing. There is nothing wrong with anger if it is not expressed destructively. Paul said believers should get angry (Ephesians 4:26). Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5).

Christians get angry often. I am rarely angry, certainly never when I am discussing atheism with believers, but many Christians project their own feelings back toward me and claim that I am angry when I quote horrible bible verses or level criticisms of Christianity that make them angry.

What if I were to say, “The reason you are a Christian is because you are an angry person”? Many atheists, as well as believers, are often justifiably angry at the way religion clouds judgment and leads to dangerous behavior, but that is a result of reason and ethics, not a cause of it.

The word “atheist” is not a label; it is merely a description. (Although, of course, any word can be made into a label for PR reasons.) Since I do not believe in a god, I am by default described as an atheist. If there is evidence for a hypothesis, then I will gladly look at the data. If the claim itself is illogical, however, or if it is based on something other than honest investigation, it can be dismissed as wishful thinking, misunderstanding or a lie.

Theists do not have a god: they have a belief. Atheism is the lack of theism, the lack of belief in god(s). I am an atheist because there is no reason to believe.

To read more of this chapter click here: http://www.thescavenger.net/feminism-a-pop-culture/why-an-evangelical-preacher-rejected-god-615.html

Posted in Books, Quotes | Leave a Comment »

Why Everyone (else) Is a Hypocrite

Posted by Ann on February 24, 2011

Evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban postulates in his new book “Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind” that our irrational behaviors and inconsistencies result from the way our human minds are structured. Through the process of natural selection, our minds have developed to work in specialized units, and while these units often work together smoothly, sometimes they don’t. I’m not sure if I’ll read the book but it does sound interesting…

Kurzban theorizes cognitive dissonance begins where the this functional working together of the brain ends. Here, he states, is where we get our beliefs that contradict themselves. How we can experience swift changes from patience to impulsiveness. How we can violate our own moral principles, how we can develop puffed up views of ourselves (drives to individuate and be superior). Looking at our brains as modular undermines our idea of a self as an “I”. Kurzban argues we are a composite of interacting systems, of many modules, affecting our perspectives and how we interact with the world around us–the “I” in our head being really a “we”.

Here’s a clip where he compares our brains to a smartphone with apps:

Definitely implications here for our understanding of how our minds develop, particularly the fundamentalist brain. But how to deprogram a brain, that is the question. Maybe the key is in the programming.

Posted in Books, Cognitive Science | 2 Comments »

Review of “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior”

Posted by Ann on February 20, 2011

Read a book review yesterday by John Loftus. It made a lot of sense to me, this idea that people are constantly falling into the mind traps of irrational thought…a hidden world of “sways” or pulls” trapping us into irrational thinking. People seem to be drawn to the irrational. I don’t find it surprising how much irrationality goes into faith. Sadly, this faulty decision making based in irrational values, fears, and biases more often than not results in the suffering and deaths of so many in our world. Until we are free of religious superstition, how can we possibly expect freedom from irrationality? Seems like our irrational selves can only be dealt with when we free our minds of the arrogant belief we are not irrational.

Here’s a little excerpt from his review:

The authors focus on three currents and hidden forces that cause us to act irrationally, “value attrition,” which is our inclination to attribute to a person or thing a certain value based on our initial perceptions, “loss aversion,” which is the tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses, and “diagnosis bias,” which describes our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment of a person or situation. In the midst of this they show other ways we’re influenced by the sway of irrational behavior.

About value attrition the authors say: “Once we attribute a value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information.” (p. 55) And then “it’s very difficult to view it in any other light.” (p. 56). It is such “a strong force that it has the power to derail our objective and professional judgment.” (p. 63).

About loss aversion the authors say: “The more there is on the line, the easier it is to get swept into an irrational decision.” (p. 22). A closely linked sway is called “commitment.” The more that a person has a commitment to an idea then the more it is virtually impossible for him or her to take a different path. Independently these two forces have a powerful effect on us, “but when the two forces combine; it becomes that much harder to break free and do something else.” (p. 30).

About diagnosis bias the authors say that it “causes us to distort or even ignore objective data.” (p. 75). As such, “we often ignore all evidence that contradicts what we want to believe.” (p. 88)

The authors give us plenty of interesting examples and psychological studies proving that this is what human beings do in ordinary decision making, some of which cost the lives of many people. My argument is that if this is what takes place in our ordinary decision-making, then how much more does this apply when it comes to faith!

For some reason this is reminding me of Nietzsche when he wrote on how one becomes what one is:

Seeing that before long I must confront humanity with the most difficult demand ever made of it, it seems indispensable to me to say who I am. Really, one should know it, for I have not left myself “without testimony.” But the disproportion between the greatness of my task and the smallness of my contemporaries has found expression in the fact that one has neither heard nor even seen me. I live on my own credit; is it perhaps a mere prejudice that I live? … Under these circumstances I have a duty against which my habits, even more the pride of my instincts, revolt at bottom, namely, to say: Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else!

At the end of their book, the Brafman brothers make a good summarizing statement. What if people accepted this idea of irrationality and began to actively identify the difference between their opinions and the facts?

“It is only by recognizing and understanding the hidden world of sways that we can hope to weaken their influence and curb their power over our thinking and our lives.” (p. 181).

Posted in Books, Links, Quotes, thoughts | 2 Comments »

Comic Book Explains Evolution

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on January 10, 2011

Scientific American has some excerpts from a new comic book titled Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth. Guess what I’ll be buying for my kids soon. You can see several pages of the book in this article: “Getting a Leg Up on Evolution–the Comic Book Version.”

Posted in Books, Cartoons, Science | Leave a Comment »

Dan Barker: A Former Charismatic Evangelist with Intellectual Integrity

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on February 1, 2010

I am currently reading a book titled Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. It’s a great read. His personal story is extremely interesting, as he was quite a big name in Christian circles; he wrote a few Christian musicals that were widely disseminated, and he was very involved in Christian music production. He was also a hardcore evangelist who traveled to Mexico a fair amount from a very young age. You can read his biography by clicking on his name above.

Posted in Books | 2 Comments »

Bill O’Reilly’s Arrogant Ignorance & the Many Faces of Richard Dawkins

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on October 12, 2009

Richard Dawkins has been doing the media rounds to promote his new book The Greatest Show on Earth. Below, you will see his appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show on the FoxNews propaganda channel. O’Reilly makes use of the standard argument fallacies we all know (i.e. the Bandwagon fallacy, the God of the Gaps argument, etc.) Although Dawkins has encountered these arguments on more occasions than he can probably count, his constantly morphing facial expressions seem to indicate that he cannot believe he is STILL hearing the same arguments. I feel his pain.

Posted in Books, Science, Video | 34 Comments »

Save Up: Dawkins Has a New Book

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on August 31, 2009

Richard Dawkins, the scientist Christians love to hate, has a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, coming out September 10th. Here is a recent interview with him in which he discusses it: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Books | 7 Comments »

Belief or Inquiry

Posted by Ann on July 26, 2009

I’m reading Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist by Walter Kaufmann. Nowadays I enjoy reading stuff that makes me think and question.  As an MK whose parents belonged to an ultra conservative, evangelical Christian mission, New Tribes Mission, it is a freeing experience to read authors whose ideas are so very non-fundamentalist.   Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Books, Faith vs. Evidence, Opinion, Philosophy/Theology, Quotes | 5 Comments »

Dr. Bart Ehrman’s Latest Book

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on June 18, 2009

jesusYesterday I purchased a copy of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). I am excited to read it, especially the chapter titled “Who Invented Christianity?” I will try to write a brief review of the book once I’ve finished it.

The following passages from chapter one of the book, ties into its main goal: to inform laypeople of what scholars have known about the Bible for a long time, Read the rest of this entry »

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Empire, Religion, Fear, Torture & Truth

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on June 17, 2009

barbariansI just finished reading J. M. Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians, and I am very impressed by it. I have yet to be disappointed by any of Coetzee’s works, and I have read a fair number of them. The fact that I read this book now, while the whole American torture “debate” has been going on, has meant that I couldn’t help but read the novel as an allegory for what happened during the Bush administration. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Books | 21 Comments »

Bart Ehrman’s New Book

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on May 15, 2009

Bart Ehrman, the Chair of UNC Chapel Hill’s Religious Department and author of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, has a new book titled, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). I look forward to reading it. If any of you have already read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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The Hunt for Misquoting Jesus

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on March 23, 2009

There are some books I feel obliged to own, because I find it impossible to read them without annotating in the margins. However, for the most part I try to get books from my university’s library. For the past six months or so, I have had the urge to read a book by Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Read the rest of this entry »

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