Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why Are the Atheist Books in the Science Section?

This is something that has always confused me. If an atheist writes a book about science, like the many written by Dawkins, then it makes sense to find their books in the science section. But why would someone’s memoir, like Seth Andrews Deconverted, be in the science section? Shouldn’t that be in the memoirs? What about The God Delusion? That is a book specifically aimed at debunking the belief in a god. Shouldn’t that be in the religion section? Or the philosophy section?

I know not all book stores are the same, but I have found this trend in a lot of places. When I was on Goodreads, half of the science section was books on atheism. I’ve found a similar trend on Amazon. When I go to Chapters, I often have to search half the store for a particular atheist book. 

So why does this happen? Why is it just assumed that atheism and science go together?

Stupid vs Ignorant

What is the difference between being stupid and being ignorant? Lately I have heard a lot of people saying that it is better to be ignorant then to be stupid because stupid is forever, but ignorant can be changed. I don’t think that that it true. In my mind, stupid is perfectly changeable. We say someone is stupid when they don’t know something that we view as common knowledge, but once we tell them about it, they know. I liken it to someone given a book. A stupid person reads the book, but doesn’t fully understand it. It needs to be explained to them. But an ignorant person will do one of two things: either they’ll read the book with the knowledge necessary to understand it fully, but they will ignore it, or they will refuse to read the book. Refusing to read the book is willful ignorance, where as ignoring some fact is usually subconscious and is caused by bias. Either way, it is much more difficult to educate the ignorant one than it is to educate the stupid one.

The reason I am writing this is because “stupid” is a terrible insult. We are all “stupid” at some time or another. None of us know everything. But we can be taught. I do not like to call people stupid for that reason. However, ignorance is my pet-peeve. Especially willful ignorance. I do not expect everybody to know everything that I do, but I do expect them to take what I say into consideration and be willing to learn. I am perfectly willing to afford others the same respect. But I have found that there is a culture surrounding being proud of ones ignorance. People are proud of not knowing and they see learning as a waste of time. I really hope that culture dies out soon.

An Atheist Movie?

There have been a lot of Christian movies released lately, and there are more to come. That got me thinking: why are there no atheist movies? With the exception of The Ledge, there are really no movies aimed at atheists. I haven’t really seen any movies about any other religious/ non-religious group either. Most media aimed at atheists are in the form of documentaries, and I enjoy watching most of them, but there have to be some atheists that are more interested in entertainment than education when it comes to films. So why aren’t there really any atheist movies?

I have heard it posited that it is because bible stories are good stories in the sense that they are entertaining. Atheists don’t have any entertaining stories ready to go. So what would an entertaining atheist story look like? What would count as an atheist movie?

Feminism: a slightly different take on how we can describe the word.

Withteeth here with a short post,

First for the sake of clarity. There is nothing wrong with the word and it’s normal definitions. As well I’m one who thinks that the feminism movement is awesome over all. I’m just bringing this up do to some really annoying comments I came across today.

I’ll first copy over a segment of what I wrote today to get to the point of this blog post.

Also a different take of why calling it feminism might not be such a bad thing. Given society mostly looks down or marginalizes femininity. Sure it benefits some women to be stereotypically feminine in some areas of life, but not over all. As well men are not typically allowed (it’s frowned upon) to show “feminine” traits like, you know, showing emotions, being compassionate, cooperative, showing moments of weakness, asking for help, caring for children, and taking paternity leave. There are likely many many more I’m missing, so would it be unfair to say that feminism is a fine word ant that we apply it to tackling the oppression of the “feminine?”

I made this reply to someone making the argument that if feminism is about creating equality then why is it called “feminism.” Firstly looking at the history of the word, of course it’s called feminism. Women had to fight to become legal persons let alone get equal pay or not be abused by the men in their lives. But more over I think it might be useful to throw this extra definition in the mix to help give a little egalitarian context to those people corrupted by the ideas thrown about by the MRA movement.

Criticizing Others

When I was at LogiCON on Saturday, one of the speakers mentioned how saying “you’re wrong” can easily be translated as “you’re stupid” or “you’re bad.” I think that this is a good point. I talk to a lot of people who believe things that I disagree with. Normally I ignore the belief, because it tends to only affect them. If someone wants to believe that aliens built the pyramids, whatever. As long as they aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone else, I don’t really care. But sometimes I can’t not speak up. If I think that someone is doing something that will cause harm, then I want to at least encourage them to do otherwise.I cannot not speak up when someone wants to get rid of GM food altogether. If they want to eat organic, fine. But the organic food industry cannot support 7 billion people. I cannot not speak up when someone wants to give up necessary medicine and take alternative medicine instead. And I cannot not speak up when someone wants to force their religious beliefs into politics. 

I’m fine with people believing whatever they want, but I’m not okay with them using their beliefs to cause harm. We all deserve to be treated with respect. That means that I respect their right to believe, but that also means that they respect my right to not believe. Keeping that in mind, how do we let someone know that they are wrong without making them feel stupid? Everybody does stupid things now and again, and we all hold certain beliefs that we aren’t willing to examine closely. But that doesn’t mean that we are stupid. It simply means that everybody is wrong sometimes. 

I want to help people think critically about their beliefs. I want to encourage them to look more closely when I think that they are wrong. That doesn’t mean that I want them to change their mind. I simply want them to support their beliefs with concrete evidence. And I want them to do the same for me. I want them to point out when I am wrong and help me abandon the beliefs that I cannot support with evidence.

But this doesn’t seem to be how most people think. Most people seem to hold their beliefs up on a pedestal and won’t allow anyone to touch them with a ten foot pole. They take it personally when their beliefs are questioned. They also refuse to question others beliefs. They let their loved ones believe things that they see as wrong. This seems odd to me.

So how do we question peoples beliefs without putting them on the defensive? How do we assure them that we don’t think they are stupid? And how do we encourage them to do the same for others?

Show Some Respect

Today on Facebook I came across a post by an old friend of mine. It was a picture of Angalina Jolie and it said, basically, ew, that’s gross. She was commenting on the actors thinness. When I commented that Jolie has an eating disorder, according to magazines anyway, she replied “who cares. It’s just another actress with an eating disorder.”

This is an incredibly problematic thought process. Eating disorders are mental disorders and mental disorders are highly stigmatized. And who can blame actors, people who are judged daily, and by millions of people, on how they look. Magazines tell us whose fashion to idolize, they mock those whose fashion they dislike, they praise the stars who lose baby weight quickly, and they criticize any celebrity who doesn’t meet the unrealistic standard of beauty. At least the rest of us can hide behind a shield of anonymity. Celebrities don’t have that luxury.

So why do we continue to perpetuate these problems? Why do we shame people for something they can’t control? How many people would be willing to mock someone with a physical disability the way my old friend mocked Jolie’s mental disability? We need to put an end to this stigmatization of mental disorders. I am no less human because of my anxiety disorder. I still have feelings. I still have hopes and dreams. I still work, go to school, and pay the bills. My anxiety disorder just makes things a bit more difficult. I have one more thing to be mindful of than most people. I assume it’s the same for Jolie. She is a working mother with her hands full. She deserves some respect. We all do.

My Current Obsession

I have this tendency to get incredibly focused on my latest project to the detriment of everything else. Lately my obsession has been the conference that I want to put on. I have been researching fundraising strategies, which I’m not very good at, and how to plan a conference. I have even been planning how to write a narrative for the conferences “story.” Most of it is easy enough: it will be held at my university, it will be mostly teleconference, there will be food and drinks available, we will sell t-shirts, and it will focus on activism in freethought. We even have a name for it already. But there are some fundamental things that we don’t have. We need a reason for people to care about our conference. That is why we need a story. We need to get peoples attention. We also don’t have any money. We need to get some before the conference. That’s why we need to fund-raise. Finally, we don’t have any speakers. We need to attract people’s attention and make them want to speak at our conference. We aren’t intending to have the conference until January/February, so we have time. But we want to have it planned, as much as possible before going back to school. 

I should really be writing, but it’s hard to care when I have such a massive project in the works. Has anybody else undertaken such an event? How did you accomplish everything? Does anybody else get so obsessed over one thing that they ignore everything else?

What is a Faitheist?

I was talking with a group earlier tonight and we were confused about the definition of this word. I decided to look it up. These are the definitions that I found:

“An atheist who is “soft” on religious belief, and tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion: atheist accommodationist.”

“An atheist who thinks faith should not be criticized.”

These definitions confuse me. What does it mean to be soft on religious beliefs? Does it mean not jumping head first into a debate whenever we come across a theist? Does it mean being unwilling to take a school to court because they make the children pray? Does it mean not talking about ones atheism? Does it mean volunteering with a moderate religious organization? Or group? Or person? What would one have to do to qualify being a fatheist?

What does it mean by not criticizing faith? What is the definition of faith? The religious people that I talk to all have different definitions. One defines faith as trust. So if I use his definition, does that mean that I’m a faitheist if I don’t think someones trust should be criticized? 

Chris Stedman is called a faitheist. He even calls himself a faitheist. But he’s perfectly happy to criticize faith. I’m sure he is considered a soft atheist to most. He’s certainly no Dawkins. But he also doesn’t accept every belief that his religious colleagues hold. Instead he has created a safe space where he can question someone’s belief without it being taken as a personal attack. So is he not a faitheist, then?

Where did this word come from? Is it common in some circles? I’ve never heard it used except in Stedman’s book and in a couple blog posts. And most importantly, why are we trying to discourage different ways of approaching atheism? Why are we creating a “no true Scotsman”? Just because we aren’t all the Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris/Dennet type of atheist, doesn’t mean that we aren’t all equally atheists. And has nobody stopped to think that maybe having more types of atheists will open us up to a broader audience? Not everybody is convinced in the same way. We need different personalities to do different jobs within the community. We should be embracing diversity, not dissuading it. 

Do We Require Religion to be Moral?

I have been conversing with three different bloggers on this very topic lately. One was arguing about Secularism, another was discussing the case of that bake shop that refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, and the third was discussing freewill and the lack of divine interaction in our lives. Those are all very different topics. But they all had one thing in common: they all made some comment on morality being dependent on religion, and, in particular, on Christianity. 

But how much truth is in that claim? Do we need religion, or faith, or god, to be good? I would say no. I am an atheist. I have been for ten years now. I have donated teddy bears to women’s shelters, I have donated clothes, I have collected cans to donate to the food bank, I have volunteered my time. Would anybody out there say that I am a bad person? I would question the motives of any person who would. But this alone is not enough to prove that one does not need religion to be good.

So what would prove it? Morality is highly subjective. What one person claims to be moral another may say is immoral. Murder is often used to show that morality is objective, but there are different standers as to what constitutes murder in different places. In some cases, such as where the military is concerned, killing another human is seen as acceptable. So what a Christian may consider good, an atheist may not. Does this mean that we need god to be good? No. That Christian may say yes, but not everybody would agree. In fact, I believe that the majority would disagree. 

So can I be good without god? I don’t think that there is a scientific way to prove this one way or the other, but philosophy will offer a method for me to research both. According to Consequentialism, the consequences of my actions determines whether they are morally permissible. When I donated teddy bears, I offered comfort to children who had no home. When I donated clothes, I prevented waste from being added to landfills and ensured that somebody would have good clothes to wear. When I collected cans, I helped ensure that someone would have a meal. When I volunteer, I make sure that some opportunity is available that would not otherwise be available. The consequences of these actions are all a net positive. This does not make me an overall good person: I could do more things that are morally impermissible. But it does suggest that I am capable of doing good things despite being an atheist.

I can also use deontology to determine if one can be good without god. According to deontology, one’s goodness is dependent on their adherence to rules. Do I fit this definition of good? I believe I do. I don’t break the law. In fact I lead a fairly quiet, boring life. I may jay walk on occasion, so I guess in that sense I am not good. But most of the time I fit perfectly well into the deontological definition of good. So in this sense it is also possible to be good without god. 

The final philosophical moral theory that I will go into is Virtue Ethics. This theory focuses on one’s character to determine whether an action is right or wrong. According to this thought, my intentions and the benefit of my group and myself determine the rightness or wrongness of my actions. When I donated, I intended to reduce waste and offer something to somebody who needed it. Since my intentions were good, and there were positive benefits to my action, it was good. Once again, I can be good without being religious.

These different ethical systems appeal to different people, and they are the three main ethical theories, which is why I went into each of them. All three offer different methods of morality, and in all three it is possible to be good without being religious. It doesn’t matter that morality is subjective, and it doesn’t matter whether a god exists or not. As far as I’m concerned, the consequences of my actions are the main deciding factor. 

Which of the three theories do you prefer?

My Take on Philosophy and Its Place Relative to Science

Withteeth Here, it’s been far too long since I last posted.

After an unfortunate “panel discussion” at Imagine No Religion 4 (INR4) in Kamloops, in which free will was discussed, I’ve become aware of a problematic trend that’s been arising with a number of prominent scientists. I say “panel discussion” because it was more of a beat down on the minority party, a philosopher backing a less disused form of determinism (meaning lack of free will in this setting).

To be fair the moderator was also a PhD in Philosophy, but he did not play a major role and further was defending the same basic position as the two other panelists, both scientists, only one of which had some philosophy backing. However this does not excuse what happened through out the “discussion.” Within 15 minutes of the two hour panel began the ad hominem attacks on the lone Philosopher from the two scientists. To further elaborate the Philosopher was not articulate and for most of the audience I’m sure he made little sense. That said he did make some interesting points, and had the other panelist been for fair in there assessments, and had they been willing to grant some of the definition proposed, the discussion wouldn’t have been the mess it was.

The main problem was not the philosophers inarticulate style, but rather it seemed to both Hessian and I that both of the science panelists had written him off before the discussion even began. The basic, but necessary, respect was not given, so an honest, thoughtful discussion had no chance to bloom. Why did this happen, or at least why do I think this happened? Well as it turned out both of the science panelists where better known and had both had strong words against the field of philosophy. This brings me to the main point of this post. There’s a trend is the science community to write of and disregard philosophy as the old decrepit grandparent of science, and all hail the new king (science).

Now that last line was a bit harsh, as I love science. That and I’m a Botany student. But I’m also minoring in philosophy and have already taken more philosophy courses then I need to because I enjoy it as well. So I’m in a useful position to look at this problem from both sides and address why this dismissal of philosophy is not only wrong headed but I’d even say silly and poorly thought out.

Science was born from philosophy, and was for a long while known as natural philosophy. It is a system of thought and bias reduction which deals with empirically testable claims. Philosophy on the other hand is more a whole series of thought systems devoted to creating even more logical thought systems. This is where I’ve found an analogy very useful: Philosophy is to the sciences and humanities as pure mathematics is to physics.

Both pure mathematics and philosophy are most concerned with creating abstract system of thought, often involving little more then taking a set of assumptions and applying some new or slightly altered logical system to them and seeing what happens. This doesn’t necessarily seem all that useful, but with out this sort of exploration of logic. Many of the greatest discoveries who not have been possible as there wouldn’t have been the mental/logical framework required for the discoverers to work in. More over it has been the case in physics as well as other sciences where a new mathematical model was need to describe a system or theory, and low and behold some Mathematician has already done the work for you and all you need to do is put in the numbers.

Now don’t get me wrong it’s rarely that simple, and there is a grave yard of bad and hopelessly impractical ideas. But both fields, philosophy and mathematics, work with abstracted ideas, working out the flaws and the strengths. Through these process things like Bayesian epistemology are born.

Where Science is the ground work we do to understand the world, Philosophy is the ground work of thought, of how we think about and tackle problems so that we have a fighting chance to figure out everything else.

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