Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Of the definition of 'faith' and other things...

My brother (Boomer) sent me a link to a recent webcast of a theist duo's interview with Brian Sapient, founder of the Blasphemy Challenge:

I'm listening to your show of Feb 25 right now and I suggest you folks look up the definition of 'faith' again. Webster (your purported source) defines 'faith' as:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs

I see nothing here about 'justifiable belief'....

Your atheist guest was well spoken. We do not need to prove the non-existence of an exceptional proposition. The default position is the non-existence of said proposition. If there is a complete paucity of evidence for the existence of god (and by all accounts, an Abrahamic god is a BIG effect), then it can be concluded that god does not exist (any pseudoscientific claims to the contrary, like the illusion of a fine-tuned universe (it most definitely is not, as it is very hostile to life), aside). Reasoning without evidence is irrational. Beliefs based on feelings and not physical evidence are irrational. The weakest form of evidence in a court of law eyewitness evidence, which we don't even have because there are absolutely no eyewitness accounts of Jesus.

Any belief in any deity is BLIND FAITH. Period. There is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of Jehovah any more than there is any evidence to support the deities you do not believe in, like Zeus, Baal or Wotan. You never did answer your guest's valid point about the incompatibility of a loving god and the existence of hell. He was completely correct in the utter lack of reasoning there. Punishment for bad behavior is a spanking and being sent to bed early, not scalding a child. You should be morally outraged at such a god! Indeed, the willing acceptance of such a god is telling.

I applaud your reading Dawkins, Hawking, etc., but your guest has it correct. Modern physics has a number of models which do indeed have no time beginning, though the jury is still out on which model is the most accurate. There is certainly no concensus. We simply do not know what happened prior to the Planck time following the initial expansion of the universe. Stenger's recent book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, covers this and other cosmological arguments for the existence of god quite well. And to explain the Big Bang as 'these particles bumping around' sounds a lot like that old debunked strawman argument of random chance again. It was quite condescending.

Science models the universe, and it is extremely successful at this. THIS is 'faith'. The fossils and rocks that you so easily dismiss strengthen the models that we construct to describe nature. We see no need for deities in our models and Ockham's Razor does the rest. If an Abrahamic god did exist, this would most definitely not be the case. Consciousness is a direct consequence of Evolution (Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett, eg.) and we now have some tools to explore it and even the evolutionary basis for morality using fMRI and PET (Moral Minds by Marc Hauser is a good read).

Francis Collins, by the way, sees what he thinks are patterns in DNA, but unfortunately for his views there are perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanations for everything he sees. And after reading the book I would agree with your guest that his whole argument is based on the 'argument from personal incredulity', which is no argument at all. Complexity from simplicity is demonstrably very easy to produce. All you've done is produced one scientist that has done something quite remarkable that also believes (quite irrationally, in my opinion) and disingenuously propped him up as a poster boy, but 93% of the American Academy of Sciences, the most esteemed scientific body in America, do not believe in the existence of personal gods. Funny how that was never mentioned.

We atheists are becoming vocal simply because our beliefs are threatened daily. Believers are not satisfied with believing, but seem to be compelled to convince others to believe as well. Believers find new ways to attack science that is incompatible with their beliefs, like 'intelligent design'. The Theory of Natural Selection is THE backbone of biology, the only game in town. The sum total of evidence for ID amounts to deceitfully erroneous attacks on Evolution and a slick ad campaign. Science is being decided in the political arena as a result, which is patently ridiculous. As scientists, we are forced to push back. ID, young Earth creationism, etc., make the prior assumption that there was a designer, or creator, and this is where they start and end. The level of bias in this is immense, and is how you end up with baseless ideas like ID or Kent Hovind's. Science starts with observation, then a model is constructed to explain the observations. These models make testable predictions. If the predictions are verified, then the confidence of the model is increased. There is no assumed end point. We just go where the data takes us. If it takes us to the existence of god, so be it. But it does not.

What I do wonder is why you mention several times that atheists are aiming at children. It sounds like a bit of fear mongering, the nasty atheists are coming to take your children away. I know of no atheist groups or atheists which practice this. Indeed, it is theists that actively engage in the practice of converting children, indoctrinating young minds before they can form an educated opinion on what they should believe. All we desire is that everyone be able to make an informed decision when they are ready, and children are not. There is no atheist alternative to 'Jesus Camp' and never will be. I was outraged when I saw that film.

Gods have been around a long time. They had there place once. They were invoked to explain natural phenomena, like lightning and thunder, the sun, day and night, etc. We have perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanations for these. Atheists have simply said to themselves that it is time to let them go. We do not wish to actively engage in changing minds, but simply want to be understood. We atheists have been extremely quiet till now, but we can no longer afford that luxury. The harmful misconceptions about atheists that are out there need to be countered. Atheists are just as moral as theists, we love, we have likes and dislikes, and it is quite likely that every theist knows at least a few and don't realize it (except for more vocal ones like me). We believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, an ideal that seems to be eroding in US public institutions. This erosion is what has precipitated the writings of Dawkins, Harris and others, and created a need for atheists to stand up and be noticed.

In reason,
Randy Tyson

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