Militant Atheism on Display

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the militant atheist who attended Socialist Workers Party meetings and later attempted to defect to the Soviet Union, was someone who championed taxing churches.

Today, her cause is being taken up by a new strain of militant atheists. One such person is Felix Salmon, the senior editor at Fusion who has been an “out” atheist for 16 years.

According to Salmon, churches that refuse to perform gay marriages should lose their tax exempt status:

Many people would consider such a move — abolishing all religious tax exemptions — to be too drastic. But at the very least it is entirely right and proper for the state to say to a church that if you want to thumb your nose at a fundamental right which is held by all Americans, then we are not going to privilege you with tax-free status. We’ll let you practice your bigotry, at least within the confines of your own church. But we’re not about to reward you for doing so.

I see. So the big government should have the power to regulate what is being taught in churches. Once again, we can see the authoritarian nature of today’s modern day atheist. This is one of the reasons I could never return to atheism – I value freedom too much and have no desire police other people’s thoughts.

Posted in atheism, authoritarianism, New Atheism | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Atheist Tries to Defend Demand for Evidence

Eric Hyde lists 10 common atheist arguments and explains why they fail. He nails it with #1 on his list:

“1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.”

Hyde comments:

There are a couple of problems with this line. Starting with the idea of ‘evidence,’ what exactly does one mean by evidence? What is sufficient evidence for one person is often not sufficient evidence for another. A court of law provides innumerable examples of how two parties can possess the same collection of data, the same power of logic and reasoning, yet argue for completely different interpretations of the data. The old saying is true: the facts do not determine the argument, the argument determines the facts.

Indeed. As we have seen, there is a distinct subjective aspect to evidence, meaning that “evidence” does not rescue us from the subjective nature of our beliefs.

Atheist Bob Seidensticker, a Hardware designer and software programmer who graduated from MIT, responds by side-stepping this point:

Hyde begins by asking what “evidence” means. My answer: evidence or argument of sufficient quality that would convince you the other guy’s argument is strong.

Seidensticker never addresses the subjective element of evidence and thus ends up reinforcing Hyde’s point. His entire definition is entirely dependent on subjectivity – what someone might personally might find to be of “sufficient quality” to be “convincing.” So when the atheist demands “evidence” from the theist or insists “there is no evidence for God’s existence,” we need to probe the subjective demands of the atheist; we need to know what data would count as “sufficient quality” to “convince” the atheist. Failure to provide this information is Hiding the Goalposts.
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Evolution, God of the Gaps, and Fine Tuning

Thought I would respond to some more excerpts from Gnu activist Jerry Coyne’s new book. I got these excerpts from a fanboy review on Amazon.com

He argues, “evolution doesn’t show the signs of teleological guidance or directionality proposed by theistic evolutionists. Evolutionary biologists long ago abandoned the notion that there is an inevitable evolutionary march toward greater complexity, a march culminating in humans.”

Here it all depends on what one is looking for when it comes to teleological guidance or directionality. After all, teleological guidance or directionality does not necessarily mean inevitable. Thus, that biologists long ago abandoned the notion that there is an inevitable evolutionary march toward greater complexity, a march culminating in humans, is not all that relevant to the issue of teleology and evolution. Look at it this way. Let’s say that you have figured out a way to rig a poker game such that you are more likely to win. The tricks that you used to rig the game are examples of guidance or directionality. But does that mean it should now be inevitable that you win every hand? Of course not. Similarly, evolution itself might have been rigged to make it simply more likely that humans would eventually evolve. Maybe it was just rigged to make it more likely metazoans would emerge. That itself would be sufficient for establishing a teleological aspect to evolution. Whether this would count as evidence for God would be a separate question.

If one considers all species together, the AVERAGE complexity of organisms has certainly increased over the 3.5 billion years of evolution, but that’s just because life began as a simple replicating molecule, and the only way to go from there is to become more complex.” (Pg. 138-139)

A self-replicating molecule would not qualify as life, even if they ever did once exist. But that’s not the important point. Coyne is basically arguing that life forms have become more complex over time, on average, simply because they began as simple life forms. But this type of analysis if far too simplistic. For the first 2 billion years, the only life forms on this planet were prokaryotic – bacteria and archaebacteria. And there was no increase in complexity among the prokaryotes for almost 2 billion years (the majority of life history). So the logic Coyne cites does not hold for most of life’s history. As far as we can tell, the prokaryotes from 1.5 billion years ago were not much more structurally complex than the prokaryotes from 3.5 billion years ago. Then, something stunning happened – the one time origin of the eukaryotic cell through symbiosis. This event essentially entailed the “redesign” of the cell and this new cell had the potential to generate complex life forms, including the eventual appearance of animal life. Once animal life emerged (metazoans) sometime prior to 600 million years ago, we can toss out Coyne’s argument as it was no longer true that the only way to go from there is to become more complex. At that point, organisms could become simpler or more complex. All in all, evolution cannot be summarized in some simplistic formula of “start simple and there is no place to go but to become more complex.” Evolution is more interesting than that.

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Proteins and Evolution

In my previous essay about proteins-as-design-material, I noted:

This all raises some interesting questions. For example, without proteins, and their manufacturing process, what becomes of the blind watchmaker? Without proteins, and the latent functions contained within, might not the blind watchmaker exist as the impotent, crippled, blind watchmaker with no one to notice its existence? If so, how much credit does the blind watchmaker really deserve?

The vast and immense Tree of Life is a protein-dependent output. Point to some evidence of evolution and I’ll point to the proteins that underlie it. Without proteins, would there be a Tree of Life 3.5 billion years after the RNA world took root? How do we know? If we believe so, would the Tree be as immense and vast as it is today? A life form composed of nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids would suffice for the purposes of the blind watchmaker (natural selection). But could the blind watchmaker turn this material into something that is analogous to an Ash tree filled with squirrels, beetles, and birds?

Look at it this way. What do we need for the blind watchmaker to exist? A finite, changing world, something that replicates, and imperfect replication. The first and the third are givens due to the fabric of Nature. The second is more iffy. In living cells, proteins play the key role in replicating things (they replicate the DNA, they divide the cell, and coordinate both). But if we entertain the notion of an RNA world, the proteins are not needed for replication (then again, proteins are not needed for chemical reactions to take place). But what the proteins do is amplify and enhance this replication property, and thus enhance the blind watchmaker’s abilities. What’s more, the same molecule that enhances replication also opens up a whole vast world of phenotypes not available to the blind watchmaker earlier. You can almost think of proteins are a form of tech material designed to exploit and prop up the blind watchmaker. And maybe even give the blind watchmaker a little guidance.

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Is Jerry Coyne’s New Book a Flop?

It’s beginning to look like Jerry Coyne’s new book, Fact vs. Faith, is a flop. It has been over five weeks since it was published and since then, we have seen only one review in a mainstream publication – the very negative review that appeared in the WSJ. The larger culture is clearly ignoring the book.

When we look to Amazon, sales are not that great (and have been progressively declining). As I write this, it is listed #8 in the Science & Religion section, but Francis Collins book from 2007 is listed at #7. And The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version published in 2010 is listed as #6. Both Collins and the Bible are beating Coyne’s book. That’s gotta sting.

Finally, there isn’t even much buzz about the book in the atheist blogsophere. When the book came out, there were the obligatory book promo blog postings from Coyne’s fellow culture warriors, but since then, it’s been silence.

Any ideas on why Coyne’s book was a flop?

Posted in Jerry Coyne, New Atheism, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions

Steve Greene wrote a web article entitled How to validate atheism in one easy step and gives us the most common defense of atheism that is out there:

So this is how you validate atheism in one easy step: Ask the god-believer to produce actual, credible, real world evidence of this god. He will never do it. He will always engage in word games employed to try to conjure up his god – while never even attempting to produce actual, relevant, empirical evidence of any god. He will talk about everything else under the sun, engage in rhetorical trickery, misdirection (red herring), misrepresentation (i.e., straw man criticism of atheism), all based on denying obvious facts about reality (like the problematic nature of “eyewitness testimony,” and the subjective nature of subjective beliefs about imaginary things making you feel good), while never getting around to producing any actual evidence of any god – oh, and then, a lot of times you even get the religious apologist who specifically employs some sort of “Divine Hiddenness” argument to try to pretend that his god arranged things deliberately that we would not have any actual evidence of its existence because religious faith (i.e., believing in the god based on faith, not evidence) is a virtue, believing without evidence is a virtue, and doubt (i.e., critical thinking and being skeptical about bogus claims that don’t have good evidence to back them up) is the influence of Satan or some other evil spirit.

Once again, we see how atheism is built on the Demand For Evidence. But we also know that such a demand is more of a rhetorical trick than a sincere expression of intellectual curiosity.

First of all, Greene is working with a shallow, superficial understanding of evidence. He seems to think that if certain data were indeed evidence for X, then these data would be universally perceived and acknowledged as evidence for X. But that is not how evidence works. Evidence is not objective reality that is detected by the senses; evidence is perceived by the mind. The mind converts data from objective reality into the subjective perception of evidence. Because the perception of evidence depends on interpretation from the mind, evidence itself is something that has a distinct subjective element to it. In fact, it would not be too far from the truth to note that evidence is in the eye of the beholder. So the fact that Greene is not convinced by “evidence” from religious people (appeals to eyewitness testimony, appeals to personal experience, and variants of the fine-tuning argument) means only that Greene finds such evidence to be unconvincing. But since the world does not revolve around Greene, the failure to convince him does not mean the evidence does not exist.

What Greene is doing to “validate” atheism is simply trying to posture and set the stage so he can act as Judge and Jury. The religious person is supposed to come before him and “plead their case” with their “evidence.” Greene will then decide the outcome of that case. Amazingly, many Christians fall for this tactic and play right into the hands of people like Greene.

When someone like Greene comes to you demanding “actual, credible, real world evidence of this god,” there are three simple questions you can ask to expose the sham nature of the inquiry and thus defeat the backdoor attempt to “validate atheism.”

Question 1: What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?” If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power. And that leads to the second question.

Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.

At this point, you can ask the third question.

Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only “evidence” the atheist “Judge/Jury” will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of “heads I win, tails you lose.”

Of course, if the atheist answers YES to question 3, then the theist is free to raise Gaps as evidence for God (origin of Life, origin of the Consciousness, etc.). This is why the atheist will run or change the topic – his/her demand for evidence puts the atheist in the position of having to a) acknowledge the deceitful nature of their demand or b) acknowledge there is evidence because of certain existing gaps.

Finally, there is a Bonus question that can be used to supplement or replace the above approach. Since the atheist wants to judge and proclaim whether or not I have evidence for God’s existence, I need evidence this “judge” is open and fair-minded. What rational person would willingly put himself in a position of being judged by a hostile, biased, prejudiced judge? So you can ask the following question.

Bonus question: I’ll provide evidence for God’s existence, but can you first provide evidence that you are capable of considering my evidence in an open- and fair-minded manner?

Given that so many New Atheists are pompous, closed-minded verbal bullies, expect such a question to be ignored. And then you can simply point out that the atheist is simply not qualified to pass meaningful judgment on your beliefs. For prejudgment is not meaningful judgment.

Posted in atheism, evidence, New Atheism | Tagged , , | 51 Comments

Has Sam Harris Been Busy Doing Scientific Research?

Someone recently tried to defend Sam Harris from one of my critiques, where I point out that Harris does very little science for someone who is constantly promoted as a neuroscientist and spokesperson for science:

Holy crap Batman, you’re ignorant about Sam Harris AND Jiu Jitsu!
As someone else on here explained, jiu jitsu a few times a week and daily meditation is a minimal distraction at best. Finding examples of his peer reviewed work takes about….20 seconds on Google scholar.
You seem like a smart guy, way too smart to be making sloppy arguments like this. Obviously the New Atheists got to you and now you’re out on a vengeance quest to straw man hay makers. I guess the Jesus thing can’t be all that consoling if you have to resort to this intellectual dishonesty,
Pick yourself up, son.

So, does 20 seconds on Google scholar uncover all sorts of scientific research from Sam Harris?

Well, Sam Harris is an author on a paper from 2010 entitled, Does Neural Input or Processing Play a Greater Role in the Magnitude of Neuroimaging Signals?

He also co-authored a paper from 2012 entitled Early and late stimulus-evoked cortical hemodynamic responses provide insight into the neurogenic nature of neurovascular coupling. He also co-authored another paper that year entitled, Balanced excitation and inhibition: Model based analysis of local field potentials

In 2013, he was co-author of another paper entitled, The resting-state neurovascular coupling relationship: rapid changes in spontaneous neural activity in the somatosensory cortex are associated with haemodynamic fluctuations that resemble stimulus-evoked haemodynamics.

And there are more.

So it looks like I was wrong and Harris has indeed been busy publishing lots of neuroscience research. Or am I?
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Posted in New Atheism, Sam Harris | Tagged , | 7 Comments

More Confirmation Bias from The “Friendly” Atheist

Hemant Mehta, ever in search for stories that feed his confirmation bias, hosts a blog entry that draws attention to Amos Yee:

He’s the 16-year-old Singaporean YouTuber who had been arrested and convicted of “wounding religious feelings” and “obscenity” after making a video that lampooned Christianity and Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kwan Yew.
Since then, he’s been sent to prison for re-uploading the offending materials and now waits for the court to decide on whether or not he should be sentenced to “Reformative Training” — an ostensibly “rehabilitative” sentence that would involve being held in a prison for up to three years:
[….]
Yes. Up to three years in prison. For “wounding religious feelings.” In a Youtube video.
If this all sounds creepily Orwellian to you, that’s because it is. Singapore has had a long history of speech restriction and censorship — a nervous holdover from its formative years, when racial and religious riots caused plenty of bloodshed in the country. The current World Press Freedom Index ranks the island nation #153 out of 180 countries surveyed.
So, while none of this is particularly surprising, it’s still a depressing reminder of what happens when religious vanity eclipses individual freedom. 16-year-old Yee is now a political prisoner because fully-grown adults couldn’t handle snark on the Internet. Instead of encouraging potential rioters to express their religious discontent in non-murderous ways, the authorities have opted to try to scrub society clean of dissent and offense instead.

Of course, the Gnus at the Friendly Atheist lap this up and begin to snarl and gnash their teeth:

  • STOP PERSECUTING PEOPLE, CHRISTIANS!!!
  • That’s a pretty weak god you got there that can’t take a little teasing from a 16 year old.
  • “Religious vanity”, nice turn of phrase. I’m using that.
  • Coming soon in the U.S.A …
  • Aw, diddums, did your religious feelings get hurt?
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    Posted in New Atheism | Tagged | 4 Comments

    Is Peter Boghossian’s Book a Joke?

    Here’s an amazon review of Peter Boghossian’s lame book that nails some of the core problems:

    I had very mixed feelings about this book. I liked Boghossian’s idea that the way to help people escape from nutty religious belief is to help them think through what they believe and why they believe it, and to show respect. That’s a good idea. The problem is that Peter Boghossian has an intense and often annoying knowitall attitude: On the one hand, he insists that his socratic ‘interventions’ are respectful of others and that he has an open mind to the possibility that faithful believers may know things that he himself doesn’t know — but on the other hand he also insists that faith is a faulty epistemology, that the Bible is a book of nonsense, and that its believers are suffering from a virus-like delusion. I don’t really believe that you can simultaneously have deep personal respect for your interlocutor and also hold a mocking and disparaging attitude towards his/her beliefs.

    […]

    Further, his definition of faith as ‘pretending to know things you don’t know’ is deliberately provocative but probably doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. For example, a person who pretends to know things he doesn’t know is usually not articulating faith. Rather he is usually delivering what we call bullsh*t (which is the topic of a much better book by Harry G. Frankfurt). It’s not the same thing. In any case, people who have faith in God rely on evidence that they consider reliable, and so it is not entirely accurate to say that they hold beliefs based on no evidence – it’s more accurate to say that skeptics or atheists question that evidence.

    I listened to the Audible version of this book, which probably gives a very different experience than the print version. An unintentionally comic experience at times … Peter Boghossian is the narrator of the audiobook, and he has a slightly unusual voice (not like an actor) and that makes the book sound a little odd and quirky. This lends a comic effect at times, as when he rants about his absurdly medicalized view of faith, e.g. about how each socratic treatment of the patient will help to immunize that patient with rationality and block progression of the faith disease. It gets a bit ridiculous and at times I wondered if the whole thing was just a big joke.

    Which raises the question of whether Peter Boghossian is just kidding. Should we believe any of this? Is he really this obnoxious to total strangers? Does he really choose his seat on an airplane so that he can sit next to someone reading a Christian book? Is there any evidence at all that his socratic interventions can actually cure people of doxastic closure? How many atheists has Boghossian created? He says he has conducted numerous socratic interventions. But I listened to the entire book waiting for Boghossian to give one single example of a ‘patient’ whom he had ‘cured’ with his prescribed treatment, and I did not hear a single example given. What is the evidence that his method actually works? Are we supposed to take it on faith?

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    Amazing Proteins

    Every living thing depends on proteins. Yet I sometimes wonder just how many people pause to consider just how amazing proteins are. Consider your own body. If you dig deep enough, it’s usually the case that a major organ system is centered around the function of a protein or small subset of proteins. Your muscles? Think of actin and myosin, the contractile proteins. Your brain and nerves? Think of the membrane receptors and channels that generate and transmit electrical signals. Your blood? Think of the hemoglobin that transports oxygen. Your digestive system? Think of the enzymes that break down all the food molecules (which, of course, include proteins). Your bones and joints? Think of collagen that binds things together. Your skin and hair? Think of that tough protein, keratin. Your glands? Think of hormones and the receptors that detect them. Your immune system? Think of the antibodies that guard your body.

    If you view proteins as design material , suddenly you are struck by their immense versatility, as if they represent the ultimate, all-purpose substance for generating function in a vast array of contexts.

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