Monthly Archives: May 2014

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.

What Does it Mean to be and Activist?

I’m a university student. We are notorious for our discontent with how the world is run. Many of us get involved in some sort of activism. But what does it mean to be an activist? Some people aren’t content unless they are standing outside with a sign or camping out in a park like the protesters at Occupy Wall street. Others write about issues almost exclusively. Some simply participate in ‘slacktivism.’ Is one form of activism more likely than the others to bring about change? Is one ‘not real activism’? Or are they all necessary to bring about change?

Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. I have done all three forms of activism. I have held a sign to counter-protest at an anti-abortion protest. I have written about problems in our world. And I have hit the ‘sign this petition’ button on an e-mail I have received. I think all forms of protest are necessary to bring about change. And there is a lot of change that I want to see happen.

For those activists out there, how do you fight to bring about change? What change do you want to see in the world?

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Religion in Education

In the US, there is a lot of news about schools who have violated the separation of church and state by teaching Christianity. This is likely not surprising to anybody who is reading this. But, where I live, we seem to have a different problem. We don’t have separation of church and state, but we do consider ourselves a cultural mosaic. We have people from many different cultural and religious backgrounds living in one country. As such, we have Catholic schools and private schools with various religious backgrounds for parents who want their children to be educated in their religious tradition. However, our public school system shies away from any mention of religion. They refuse to mention Christmas and instead refer to ‘the winter holiday.’ They do all sorts of weird things for Halloween to allow kids to celebrate it without acknowledging it’s history.

I find those practices more silly than anything. It’s silly to take Christmas pageants away  from children because a secular pageant may offend some Christians and a Christian pageant denied other belief systems. Yes, Christmas is the Christian version of a holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years. Calling it the winter holiday does better acknowledge others. But they didn’t just change the name, they also removed the usual activities that go along with the holiday. When I was a kid, we had a pageant where we would sing songs, play games, and get candy. It was fun and I only had one teacher who tried to make it religious. As for Halloween, it’s fun. Many schools have taken away the kids’ opportunity to where costumes lest they be seen as offensive. Other schools have very strict rules about what costumes are acceptable. I think that the rules that the school board in my city are trying to implement are an example of political correctness taken too far.

But that is not my biggest concern with this issue. I am far more concerned with the fact that there is no talk about religion in our public schools. The Catholic school system does a better job of teaching children about other religions. Insistently, they also do a better job of turning out atheists. But that’s not really important. I would like to see the school board education children about different religious traditions and different cultures. The children are going to grow up believing that they cannot talk about their beliefs in public, which will lead to adults who naturally assume that everybody believes what they believe, which will lead to tension and miscommunication. I say this because I have already seen it happening at my university. Rather than understanding each other and exposing ourselves to different people, we cannot fathom each other and we isolate ourselves in groups where everybody is just like us. A great metaphor that I heard once is that mosaics have borders and none of the colours ever cross the borders. This seems unhealthy to me. Instead of embracing diversity, we are hiding from it.

This isn’t to say that children should be indoctrinated into a religion. I think that one of the greatest fears that I hear is that if we implement a religions education program in schools, then children will be indoctrinated into whatever religion is being taught. That seems silly to me, and it underestimates the critical thinking skills of the children. All that need happen is for the teachers to speak in a ‘this is what some people believe’ manner. I’m sure the older children would even enjoy teaching the children their own religious traditions. 

Religion is an important part of many peoples lives. Schools shouldn’t be used to isolate children from differences or to accept a signal belief system. Children need to know that diversity exists in the world and that diversity is okay. They need to know how to approach people and how to deal with difference. Children should also be given the tools to determine what they believe for themselves.

A Freethought Conference

Last summer I went to a skeptics conference in Las Vegas. Over this last weekend I went to Kamloops, BC to attend a secular humanist/freethought conference. This coming weekend I may be going to a logic conference. There are plenty of conferences around for non-believers. But there are none where I live. I must travel to attend these conferences. This fact led my partner and I to decide that Calgary needs a conference. We are hoping to be the ones who make it happen.

The problem is, conferences take a lot of planning, work, and money. We figure it will take us a few years to manage to get the conference going, but we also think the work will be worth it. Our first goal will be to do as much networking as possible. We need to meet people. We need people who are willing to help us. We need people who are willing to donate to us. We need people who are willing to speak. And, of course, we need to be able to make a name for ourselves. People need to know who we are, otherwise nobody will consider our conference. We need people to want to come.

So now I have a new project. Hopefully I will be able to pull it off.

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