Sunday, January 01, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: next year, last year

First day of the year 2006. Appropriate to recognize bold initiatives, intriguing experiments, food for thought. We get all three in journalism professor Mitchell Stephens's blog about writing a History of Disbelief:
The blog I am writing here, with the connivance of The Institute for the Future of the Book is an experiment. Our thought is that my book on the history of disbelief will benefit from a discussion of some of the points it will raise in advance of publication. (Stephens blog)
Here's a snippet from two days ago:
As I stroll through the history of atheism in this book, I hope to peek in on all the major arguments against belief in gods. One of them -- the problem of evil -- recently received an energetic workout on the Web courtesy of Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith.

It's an old argument. Cicero makes much of the existence of evil in his seminal dialogue, The Nature of the Gods -- asking how, "if God has made all things for the benefit of mankind," it is possible to explain "mice or cockroaches or snakes." Cicero then provides a dozen examples of virtuous men whom the fates treated unkindly.

Harris, writing two thousand years later, turns for one of his examples of inexplicable evil to "those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters" of Hurricane Katrina "for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there."

Both Cicero and Harris apply a little logical analysis to the situation: "Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot," is how the Roman puts it, "or he can do so and is unwilling." Harris suggests that "God, therefore, is either impotent or evil."

Cicero quotes a poet: "If gods did care, the good would prosper, and the bad/Would suffer; that's not the way of things."

Theistic responses to this argument usually boil down to "it's humans not gods who have mucked things up" or "gods work in mysterious ways."

Cicero seems to back down at the end of his powerful dialogue -- saying he endorses the religious position. Harris does not. "Only the atheist," he writes, "has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people [who prayed to God in New Orleans then died] spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend."
So this is an interesting spot for those who are serious to weigh in. I have some trepidation i might be directing cranks there, but I'm sure Stephens is a realist about America's current Little Awakening.

For a look back over the last year, I recommend Austin Cline's Top 10 Blogsnark, Worst of the Worst: 2005 Worst Blog Posts on Atheism and Secularism, his compendium of dubm examples of arguments against atheism. Consider Cline's comment on the appropriately named blogger, Bane:
Religious theists often claim that without their religion and their theism, there is no reason to be good and not kill others. They seem to think that this is a reason to adopt their beliefs, but they don't realize just how psychopathic such a position really is.

Bane Rants:
I wish I could be an atheist. I aspire, I really do. You think I kid, but I do not. I do not admire atheism's practitioners, but I do envy them.

I do not understand why any of them even attempt to pay homage to any sort of moral code. I would be a free-wheeling Satanist type, though without all the Satan, because, after all, he aspires to be God, too, doesn't he?

I would make Lex Luthor look like a piker. I would shame Attila. Make Hitler green with envy. I would f*ck and kill and rape and rob who I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted, unrestricted by the artificial restraints of Judeo-Christian based 'morals' that our atheist friends seem to quaintly, and confusingly hold onto, and brag about 'being good persons', though they believe in no arbiter that wishes you to be so. It is all artificial construct, isn't it?
Bane is a frightening person. Just think: without his belief that he is being watched and might be punished for wrongdoing by a cosmic authority figure, there is no end to the awful, nasty things he would to you and me. I guess he doesn’t truly care about the suffering of others, he only feigns it (at most) because that’s what he thinks his god wants.

If he thought his god wanted him to harm others, it seems that he’d do it without hesitation because, again, people’s suffering isn’t an impediment to him — only his god’s desires are. It’s people like Bane who have made religious violence possible. Religious believers who do good because they actually care about others will at least hesitate to kill others when they think it’s their god’s will; religious believers like Bane who only do good because they are under orders have no reason not to kill when they receive new orders.

It is far easier to trust the good will of an atheist or theist who does good because they genuinely care about others than it is to trust the good will of a theist who simply believes they are following the orders of some alleged arbiter. I wouldn’t trust a person like Bane with the responsibility of watching over a pet, much less a child or house or something of such great value.

If some theist like Bane needs their religion and their theism in order to keep from raping, robbing, and killing, then I'm glad for the rest of us that they have this religion — but I pity their lack of human compassion and I fear for the future of anyone unfortunate enough to be in close physical proximity to such a ticking bomb.
Nutcases like Bane need help, but he is on the wrong medication. Opiates are addicting and they are a leading cause of crime.