The Atheist’s Disillusionment

PZ Myers is a pretty well-known biologist who blogs about his atheism. He recently posted an article, “The Atheist Disillusionment,” which gives a glimpse into the infighting within the modern atheist movement.

From the first sentence, it’s breathtakingly euphoric:

“I’ve been writing about atheism for about 10 years now. What has driven me is a combination of awe at the amazing insights produced by science, so much deeper and more substantial than any collection of myths, and a furious rage at the lies and injustice and corruption of humanity by religion.”

I’m not sure why Myers thinks there’s somehow a direct connection between atheism and science (considering modern science owes its very existence to the influence of religion). But it’s a common mistake.

He next discusses the importance of eliminating religion:

“We’re not only going to have to inspire and inform everyone about the beauty of the natural mechanisms that drive our world, and the error of seeking shortcuts in the falsehoods of antique traditions, but we’re also going to have to educate everyone about the Darwinian concepts of unity and diversity…”

The use of Darwinian concepts as a guideline for social engineering has a pretty impressive body count over the last 100 years. Not sure I’d advise going down that road.

“It’s not about wealthy white man meaning, after all, but something more universal…”

“…Being an American atheist means I’ve been an isolated, tiny, disparaged minority my whole life, living in a sea of people who fundamentally disagree with me, and I have not been discouraged.”

How does a wealthy white male go from privileged villain to persecuted minority in 2.7 seconds? I think PZ Myers has found a way!
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The rest of the article is a weird blend of SJW advocacy and anti-religious narcissism. Enjoy.
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Imagine No Religion

“I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that’s how we have to set to work. It’s that, that we must begin with…

Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Every one will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it’s useless for him to repine at life’s being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave…

[Is] it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, everything is determined and humanity is settled for ever. But as, owing to man’s inveterate stupidity, this cannot come about for at least a thousand years, every one who recognises the truth even now may legitimately order his life as he pleases, on the new principles. In that sense, ‘all things are lawful’ for him. What’s more, even if this period never comes to pass, since there is anyway no God and no immortality, the new man may well become the man-god, even if he is the only one in the whole world, and promoted to his new position, he may lightheartedly overstep all the barriers of the old morality of the old slave-man, if necessary. There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place…’all things are lawful’ and that’s the end of it!

That’s all very charming, but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that’s our modern Russian all over. He can’t bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction. He is so in love with truth.”

– The Devil (“The Brothers Karamazov”)

Atheism and Fatherhood

“It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” 

– Pope John XXIII

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I posted the following on Facebook the other day:

OWS

Someone responded by suggesting that the lack of a godly father might leave certain individuals searching for a substitute – in the form of government.

This immediately brought to mind previous studies that I’ve read showing a link between fatherlessness and atheism. (Atheism and statism often overlap, but that’s a topic for another day. It’s interesting to note, however, that political liberals are far less likely than political conservatives [55% versus 82%] to accept the statement, “God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.”)

According to a large-scale Swiss study published in 2000, “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.” The statistics are pretty eye-opening. In families where both parents were regular churchgoers, 33% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the mother was a regular churchgoer and the father was nonpracticing, only 2% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the father was a regular churchgoer and the mother was nonpracticing, 44% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers.

In “Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism,” Dr. Paul Vitz (a professor of psychology at NYU, with a Ph.D. from Stanford) makes a case for the “defective father hypothesis”. He begins by looking at the biographical information of the world’s most influential atheists – past and present – essentially asking what they have in common. What he finds is that nearly all of them experienced broken relationships with their biological fathers (whether through death, conflict, abandonment, or abuse). Furthermore, “a survey of the leading intellectual defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers.”

faith of the fatherless

This observation isn’t limited to famous atheists, either. The following excerpt is taken from the chapter “Atheists: A Psychological Profile” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (HT Triablogue and Wintery Knight):

“In representative surveys of the U.S. population in the 1970s and 1980s, the unaffiliated were found to be younger, mostly male, with higher levels of education and income, more liberal, but also more unhappy and more alienated in terms of the larger society (Hadaway and Roof 1988; Feigelman, Gorman, and Varacalli 1992)…

Findings regarding those who come from religious homes and then give up religion show that they have had more distant relations with their parents (Hunsberger 1980, 1983; Hunsberger and Brown 1984). Caplovitz and Sherrow (1977) found that the quality of relations with parents was a crucial variable…

Does losing a parent early in life lead one to atheism? Vetter and Green (1932–33) surveyed 350 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, 325 of whom were men. Among those who became atheists before age twenty, half lost one or both parents before that age. A large number in the group reported unhappy childhood and adolescence experiences.”

atheism

While these statistics are sobering and saddening, they shouldn’t be surprising.

Many of the basic claims of Christianity (the existence of God, original sin, etc.) can be deduced and defended using reason alone. However, as Thomas Aquinas argues in Summa contra Gentiles, there remain certain Christian teachings (the doctrine of the Trinity, for example) which must be accepted by placing faith in the authority of Scripture. On an even more basic level, accepting Christianity entails having faith (that is, confidence) in the authority of God the Father.

For obvious reasons, this sort of confidence might come less naturally to someone who grows up without a trustworthy father figure.

And this is exactly why Christians need to engage in – rather than withdraw from – shaping our culture. This is why we need to defend the institution of marriage by opposing no-fault divorce laws. Put bluntly, a country where only 64% of children live with married parents is going to be less receptive to evangelism than it otherwise could be.

Devastating Arguments Against Christianity (Courtesy of the Internet)

I’m writing this post primarily for my own convenience. During my online journeys to r/atheism, “freethought” blogs, and beyond, I encounter the following arguments so frequently that it seems sensible to fact-check them all at once.

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The Claim: “Religion has been the primary cause of war and oppression throughout the history of mankind.”

photo source: http://radiomankc.blogspot.com/

The Truth: In their comprehensive Encyclopedia of Wars, Phillips and Axelrod document the recorded history of warfare. Of the 1,763 wars presented, a mere 7% involved a religious cause. When Islam is subtracted from the equation, that number drops to 3.2%.

In terms of casualties, religious wars account for only 2% of all people killed by warfare. This pales in comparison to the number of people who have been killed by secular dictators in the 20th century alone.

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The Claim: “Thanks to modern science, the days of religion are numbered. Humanity’s superstitious belief in miracles and sky gods will soon be replaced by an era of atheism and rationalism.”

mOCn3Zr

The Truth: Modern atheists typically appeal to science™ as the authoritative source of human knowledge, meaning, and morality. So it’s ironic that this particular claim directly contradicts current scientific projections.

The following are expected net gains/losses in religious adherents, worldwide, from 2010-2050:

Christianity: +1,066,944,000 (net gain)
Islam: +1,001,101,000 (net gain)
Hinduism: +316,288,000 (net gain)
Agnosticism: -1,995,000 (net loss)
Buddhism: +61,405,000 (net gain)
Atheism: -4,039,000 (net loss)

(source: World Religion Database)

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The Claim: “The dark ages were a time of ignorance and superstition, thanks to religion’s negative influence on scientific progress.”

DarkAges

The Truth: Atheist writer Tim O’Neill responds to this claim eloquently in his excellent review of “God’s Philosophers” 

“It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.”

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The Claim: “Jesus was a mythical figure. The New Testament stole most of its stories from other ancient sources.”

loldaddy.com-1339110548

The Truth: These claims gained a lot of popularity thanks to the 2007 propaganda film “Zeitgeist” and its articulation of the Jesus myth hypothesis.

It turns out that the “facts” presented in the image above are almost entirely fabricated. I was able to refute most of them in about thirty minutes of searching on academic websites:

Horus

  • His mother (Isis) wasn’t a virgin. Isis married her brother (Osiris) and conceived Horus with him.
  • There’s no historical reference to a “star in the east,” or to Horus “walking on water.” Those are simply made up.
  • Horus was never crucified or resurrected. Actually, he never even died! The story is that he “merged” with the sun god, Ra.

Mithra

  • By most accounts, Mithra was born in either September or October.
  • There’s no historical account of Mithra having twelve disciples. That part is also made up.
  • Mithra wasn’t said to have been born of a virgin, but rather out of solid rock.
  • There’s no known record of a resurrection (or even of him having died).

Krishna

  • Krishna was from the royal family Mathura, and was the 8th son of Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
  • There is no mention of a “star in the east” or a resurrection in the literature.
  • There are some references to him performing miracles, but that’s about it…

Dionysus

  • He wasn’t born of a virgin. His mother was Semele (a mortal), and his father was Zeus.
  • Dionysus died each winter and was resurrected in the spring. No mention of December 25.
  • There are plenty of references to Dionysus turning water into wine…but he was, after all, the Greek god of wine.

(Note: if any of the above is incomplete or inaccurate, please let me know.)

(Also: you can follow Well Spent Journey on Facebook for daily articles, links, quotes, etc.)

Does Religion “Poison Everything”?

Nope. Christopher Hitchens was way off.

I’ll begin with seven studies that highlight the benefits of religious belief. I can’t take credit for finding these. They were recently shared by the fantastic Facebook page “Libertarian Christian“.

(I’ll wait while you go like their page.)

1. People who believe in God are happier than agnostics or atheists. “Using data from Britain and Europe, the study found believers enjoyed higher levels of satisfaction and suffered less psychological damage from unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner.”

2. Faith and well-being. “[Actively] religious North Americans are much less likely than irreligious people to become delinquent, to abuse drugs and alcohol, to divorce, and to commit suicide…Among mothers of developmentally challenged children, those with a deep religious faith are less vulnerable to depression…For people later in life, according to one meta-analysis, the two best predictors of life satisfaction have been health and religiousness.”

3. Religion and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly.  “Persons who attended religious services had lower mortality than those who did not (age- and sex-adjusted relative hazard [RH] = 0.64; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.52, 0.78). Multivariate adjustment reduced this relationship only slightly (RH = 0.76; 95% CI = 0.62, 0.94), primarily by including physical functioning and social support…Lower mortality rates for those who attend religious services are only partly explained by the 6 possible confounders listed above.”

4. Research shows religion plays a major role in health, longevity. “The research showed that people who never attended services had an 87 percent higher risk of dying during the follow-up period than those who attended more than once a week. The research also revealed that women and blacks can enjoy especially longer lives if they are religiously active.”

5. Religion and spirituality among centenarians. “In his on going study Dr. Perls found a very large number of centenarians to be religious. Dr. Perls feels that centenarians do not “sweat the small stuff” when it comes to stress…[Almost] all centenarians [believe] it is “God’s will” that they have lived so long. In a lifetime of a century or more that often has a centenarian outliving relatives and close friends, a connection to God gives them something to hang on to, and a way to stay connected.”

6. The relationship between religious activities and blood pressure in older adults. “Among participants who both attended religious services and prayed or studied the Bible frequently, the likelihood of having a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher was 40 percent lower than found in participants who attended religious services infrequently and prayed or studied the Bible infrequently (OR 0.60, 95% CI, 0.48-0.75, p < .0001).”

7. Spiritual well-being, depressive symptoms, and immune status among women living with HIV/AIDS. “Significant inverse associations were observed between depressive symptoms and spiritual well-being (r = -.55, p = .0001), and its components, existential well-being (r = -.62, p = .0001) and religious well-being (r = -.36, p = .0001). Significant positive associations were observed between existential well-being and CD4 cell count (r = .19, p < .05) and also between spiritual well-being (r = .24, p < .05), religious well-being (r = .21, p < .05), and existential well-being (r = .22, p < .05) and CD4 cell percentages.”

And beyond simple benefits to one’s own health and wellness:

Here’s an article describing the contributions of religious leaders in combating the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

“[The standard narrative] contains some important elements of truth: Pharmacological treatments in particular are transforming HIV from a death sentence into a manageable, chronic condition, at least for those with access to antiretrovirals. But most of the measured improvements in AIDS in Africa are actually the result of cumulative, widespread behavior change that has led to a reduction in new HIV infections. In other words, the standard narrative is wrong.

The narrative is wrong because it ignores local African responses to AIDS and characterizes religion and religious leaders as part of the problem. We have systematically studied the role of religious leaders in sub-Saharan Africa for about a decade. As a single class of people, local religious leaders sit at the very top of our list of who should receive credit for the behavior changes that have curbed the spread of HIV in Africa…

In congregations where AIDS and sexual mortality are discussed regularly, unmarried people are more likely to report being abstinent and married individuals faithful to their spouses.”

Matthew Parris, an atheist, writes on how “Africa needs God”.

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.”

Tim O’Neill, also an atheist, dispels the popular misconception that religion has historically been detrimental to scientific progress.

“I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.”

Studies consistently show that religious people donate more to charity.

Couples who attend religious services together report higher levels of happiness and marital satisfaction.

Religious belief can provide a sufficient grounding for objective moral values.

It can offer rational justification for acts of heroism and self-sacrifice.

It can account for mankind’s appreciation of beauty and sense of longing.

It can coherently integrate the body and the soul, providing a higher ideal for romantic love than society’s “LGBTQIA” alphabet soup classification of genital urges.

And I could go on, but it’s time for me to go make dinner. If you want to drop additional links in the comments, I’ll add them to the list.

[Also, a tip of the hat to Wintery Knight and Neil Shenvi for pointing me toward a couple of the sources referenced above.]

Civility, Negativity, and Atheism-as-Identity

Lately, this blog has been receiving a huge number of scornful, obscene, profanity-laden comments from anonymous atheists. I’ve been deleting the bulk of them without explanation. I toyed with the idea of writing an official comment policy (no swearing, hate speech, personal threats, saying mean things about my mother, etc.).

For now, though, I’m just going to post a short instructional video for those wishing NOT to have their comments continually deleted.

There was a time when this would have gotten under my skin (and probably drawn me into some of my infamously long debates in the comment threads). I also realize that I bring some of this upon myself by uttering occasional blasphemies against The Wise Atheistic Consensus Of The Internet and Modern ScienceTM.

But on a serious note, I feel a tremendous amount of compassion for these anonymous individuals. In my experience, this kind of rage often has a personal back-story.  (To quote GB Shaw, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.”Setting aside the intellectual arguments for and against atheism, I think it’s monumentally tragic that anyone might be driven away from the Truth because of mistreatment at the hands of those who profess to be Christians.

I’m also reminded of a recent article that appeared in The Telegraph (from the perspective of an atheist):

“Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes…

There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful…

The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity…

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God.”

Roger Scruton Quotes

“Deprive young people of a rite of passage into the social order and they will look for a rite of passage out of it…The effect of current policies has been to subsidize out-of-wedlock births, to remake marriage as a contract of cohabitation, and to drive religion, which is the true guardian of rites of passage, from the public sphere. Those policies have been embarked on with the best of intentions, but with a remarkable indifference to what we know of human nature.”

“When everything is permitted, it is vital to forbid the forbidder.”

“Popular culture today is bent on exalting the trivial, the indecent, the sarcastic, over the deep, the committed and the virtuous. It is difficult for us to envisage that Mozart’s music, in its day, was part of popular culture”

roger scruton

“The misuse of drink in our society is one aspect of the general misuse of pleasure…Public drunkenness, of the kind that led to prohibition, arose because people were drinking the wrong things in the wrong way.”

“We must recognize that liberty is not the same as equality, and that those who call themselves liberals are far more interested in equalizing than in liberating their fellows.”

“It is impossible for modern adolescents to regard erotic feelings as the preliminary to marriage, which they see as a condition of partial servitude, to be avoided as an unacceptable cost. Sexual release is readily available, and courtship a time-wasting impediment to pleasure. Far from being a commitment, in which the voice of future generations makes itself heard, sex is now an intrinsically adolescent experience. The transition from the virgin to the married state has disappeared, and with it the ‘lyrical’ experience of sex, as a yearning for another and higher form of membership, to which the hard-won consent of the other is a necessary precondition. All other rites of passage have similarly withered away, since no social institution demands them – or if it does demand them, it will be avoided as ‘judgemental’, hierarchical or oppressive.”

“Beauty is assailed from two directions – by the cult of ugliness in the arts, and by the cult of utility in everyday life.”

“That is what religion promises: not a purpose, necessarily, but something that removes the paradox of an entirely law-governed world, open to consciousness, that is nevertheless without an explanation: that just is, for no reason at all. The evangelical atheists are subliminally aware that their abdication in the face of science does not make the universe more intelligible, nor does it provide an alternative answer to our metaphysical enquiries. It simply brings enquiry to a stop. And the religious person will feel that this stop is premature: that reason has more questions to ask, and perhaps more answers to obtain, than the atheists will allow us. So who, in this subliminal contest, is the truly reasonable one? The atheists beg the question in their own favour, by assuming that science has all the answers. But science can have all the answers only if it has all the questions; and that assumption is false. There are questions addressed to reason which are not addressed to science, since they are not asking for a causal explanation.”