no evidence

November 12, 2011

When confronted with the question of why they don’t believe in a god, atheists of all kinds have become used to declaring that they don’t because there’s no evidence for it. The response has become a hackneyed, automatic formula.

Well, as I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t define myself as an atheist. I’m a proscient. This means I define myself from what I know, not from what I believe. So it almost goes without saying that I have a very different take on the need for evidence of gods and/or other assertions of supernaturalism.

I need no lack of evidence not to believe that Mickey Mouse is not a real being. I’m an adult, that is, a human with a more complex and coherent view of reality than that of a child. No adult needs to say “There is no evidence for Mickey Mouse’s existence, therefore I don’t believe in him.” An adult can see through the drawing and clearly perceive that it’s man-made.

Similarly, I look at the Bible, the Koran and any number of other assertive stories, and I can see that they’re man-made. The simpler eye of a believer can’t see this; it can’t see through the elaborate and often contradictory narratives and perceive their casuistry or the human purpose sewing behind the scenes.

Every time I hear an atheist talk about evidence, I see a line going straight back to Bertrand Russell, to David Hume. Though they certainly contributed enormously to rational thinking, I suggest it’s time we updated some of their notions.

You know the routine: ‘atheism’ is about not believing, ‘agnosticism’ is about not knowing.

I used to define myself as a radical agnostic. You’ll find it somewhere in this blog. However, when I go really really deep and wide, I discover that questions of belief are a minute, diminutive, teeny tiny bird-droppy thing in myself, when compared with the vast expanses covered by knowledge. You can do it too. List everything you personally really truly believe in, and then list everything you know –not “scientific” knowledge, but every little detail in your life that you know about: you know who you are, you know what you look & sound & feel like, what your history is, how many relatives you have and who they are; you know your street and neighbourhood and thousands, millions of places around the world; you know how to express your thoughts and how to interpret other people’s words; you know over 40 thousand words, and other 40 thousand expressions; you know what you did yesterday and the day before; you know how to tie your shoelaces and comb your hair; you have billions and billions of units of information in your brain. And then you have two or three beliefs. Or ten or twenty. And even if you’re the Pope or some Ayatollah or some televangelist, your beliefs cover a crushingly small portion of your experience –I mean your real-life experience, what you can really account for and show to yourself as unequivocally true. Or else, you’re just stupid and gullible.

On the other hand, (as I’ve said elsewhere) belief is subservient to knowledge in every detail. Belief is fed by knowledge and is in fact nothing other than an expectation of knowledge; in the case of religious belief, it’s an inflated expectation of greater-than-humanly-possible knowledge. Faith is a confidence that you’re enlightened or *will* be enlightened –that is, faith is nothing more than a confidence that you’re in possession of a certain type of knowledge, or that you will eventually have it.

So it sounds pretty silly to define yourself from your beliefs, particularly if you don’t have any. And if you’re an atheist or an agnostic, defining yourself as such is really a disservice to you in the debate with believers: you’re effectively sending them the message that belief is *really* important —in particular that it’s important in defining you—, that what believers are saying about deities and superstitions actually bears considering and deserves a thoughtful response. The debate is about *them*; and oh, don’t they relish it.

Because of all that, I don’t define myself as an atheist. And then, because it’s silly to define myself from what I *don’t* know —in particular because it’s taken to be about “mystical” knowledge—, I’ve also phased out the ‘agnostic’ bit. Now I define myself as “proscient”: I AM WHAT I KNOW —and what I want to learn— from the evidence of my senses and the workings of my own reasoning.

Hope or faith

May 23, 2010

Ever since those desert bronze-age peoples invented the notion that eternal life is a reward for exemplary moral conduct or just for following a weird tradition, life on Earth has been hell. As if that weren’t enough, they preach that moral rectitude can only come from faith (????) and therefoooore faith in God is the greatest good anyone could aspire to.

When talking to believers, every time I say that faith is no more than an excuse to get some people together so they can laugh with friends, flirt safely, promote their prejudices, check the progress of the lucky ones and have a barbecue, I get to hear a sermon that usually starts with “That’s absurd! Faith in God is the only reason I get up in the morning. It’s what drives me on!” If I object that what actually drives them on is their gregarious instinct, their need for community, I then hear something like “You’re mistaken. Faith is our greatest gift. Without faith, there’s no meaning to life.” or words to that effect.

I don’t usually meddle with armed people. But when I meet someone with a crack in their brain, the sort who will “pray” for my soul, I tell them a little parable to demonstrate that no believer would give a second thought to faith if it prevented them from living in a community. I tell them this:

Imagine you’re face to face with your God on the day of the last judgement. He looks you up and down, and then thunders:

God: Congratulations, My son. Thou wert an exemplary jew/christian/muslim and art now in Heaven with Me.
You: Oh how wonderful, my miraculous merciful God!
G: Yes, now thou shalt live eternally by My side and shalt enjoy My infinite divine blessings.
Y: Oh grandiose gracious God. I’ll sing your praises for ever more!
G: Excellent, that is what I like.
Y: What a magnificent marvel Paradise is!
G: Oh, hast thou noticed? Thank you, thank you.
Y: Sublime sovereign of the Universe!
G: Hohoho…
Y: I can hardly wait to see my mom and dad again. I miss them so much.
G: Er… No no. They are not here.
Y: Pardon?
G: I only saved thee.
Y: Weren’t my parents saved?
G: Mmnnnope… They fell short.
Y: Oh, how sad…
G: Mm.
Y: Erm… Where are they?
G: In Hell.
Y: Aaaarrrrghh…!!!
Y: Well… My rejoicing at being with you is far greater than any pain, however atrocious. What about my uncles and aunts?
G: In Hell as well.
Y: Even Aunt Hazel, so chaste and faithful?
G: Yeah. I did not save her either.
Y: Not even her?
G: Nnno. Only thou wert saved.
G: Neither.
Y: Mike…?
G: Naaah…
Y: Jennifer…?
G: Hell.
Y: Oh no!!!… That’s impossible!!… Even Jennifer…?
G: She married an atheist. Thought about sex all the time.
Y: ¡¡NOOO!!
G: Yep.
Y: Well, at least someone from my sinagogue/church/mosque…?
G: No one. Only thou wert left.
Y: Wow…
G: Thou seest now how things are. How they were.
Y: Jesus! I’ll take some time to get used to this.
G: Well, in eternity, everything will eventually be ok.
Y: What about Father Gregory, from that little church?
G: Hell. Only thou hast remained.
Y: Rabbi Metzger? The ayatollah Khomeini?
G: No way.
Y: Well, at least I’ll have the company of saints, like… er… St Francis…
G: Nah nah… He could not take his thoughts off food.
Y: St Benedict…
G: Hell. Most impure thoughts.
Y: Well, I had them too.
G: Yes, but thou repentedst in time.
Y: St Agnes…?
G: She doubted me at the last minute.
Y: Oh. … Pope John XXIII?
G: Envy.
Y: Maimonides?
G: Incest.
Y: Abraham? Don’t tell me he…
G: People would embellish everything.
Y: Mohammed?
G: He complained a lot, but it was useless.
Y: Wow…
G: Has the coin dropped at last? In all the history of humanity, THOU art the only person worthy of coming into My kingdom: only thou hast been saved.
Y: But the probability for that to happen is infinitely small!!!
G: What dost thou know? It was I who invented probability.
Y: But but… And the little children, oh my most merciful God? Surely those who died in their infancy…
G: Hopeless. I reincarnated all of them, and they all got lost.
Y: Oh, how painful. This is so different from how I was told it was going to be. It was so nice at the temple, with my family and friends… I thought we would just go on being together here. Erm… Couldn’t you create a little wee loophole in divine law, so Paradise gets a little more er… populated?
G: What is done is done. And My law is inerrant.
Y: And your divine love, oh my God? Why would you destroy those whom you love?
G: My love has been and will be infinite for all whom I did create.
Y: So?!
G: So what?
Y: What of your divine pardon?
G: I have pardoned all. But pardon does not cancel accountability.
Y: Do you mean… you mean that from all of humanity’s history, only **I** will enjoy eternal life with you – without my parents and brothers and sisters and children, without my friends or saints or believers, with no company at all, only me, just me alone here for eternity?
G: Yes, thou hast deserved it.
G: Come on. Do not fret. We shall have a lot of fun, thee and Me. We have all of eternity ahead of us. There is so much to talk about. For instance, didst thou know that I am not only infinite and eternal, but also incalculable?
Y: Uh. Mm.
G: Wilt thou not praise Me?
Y: Aah. … Oh incalculable incandescence!
G: There. Is this not fun?
Y: Erm… Yep.
G: mmMMM?
Y: Yes, yes, this is so much fun, oh divine divertedness.
G: And I am also…
(continues eternally)

Actually, I never get to tell the whole parable. Halfway through, I start getting the God-would-never-do-that response. Believers will NEVER accept either that their God might do just that as anything else and, most tellingly, that Heaven CANNOT be a boring place, that it’s GOT to have entertainment value somehow. Believers can forgive the most outrageous acts from God, as long as he’s entertaining. The notion of a tedious God is the ultimate abomination, even on Earth. No boring religion ever survives. Monotony is an unpardonable sin.

the radical agnostic (2)

April 19, 2010

Radical agnostics have a hard time accepting that the words “believe in God” have any meaning whatsoever.

Is there a God?
believer: Yes.
atheist: No.
agnostic: I don’t know.
radical agnostic: …?!?!?

Here’s a typical exchange between a meddler and a radical agnostic:

M: Is there a God?
RA: …?!?
M: So you don’t believe in God.
RA: …?!?!?
M: Well, are you a believer or an unbeliever?
RA: …?!?!?!?

To the RA’s ears, the “dialogue” sounds like this:

M: Vbzntglfng mnhfns?
RA: What? Uh?
M: So you don’t blmpqrkgn in vnzlms.
RA: Huh? What? Eh?
M: Well, are you fngzbljnmkpxs or xzbvfnglrtspfkgl?
RA: Come again? Well what? Eh? Wh…?

Radical agnostics are probably human specimens with a beneficial mutation in brain chemistry.

Throughout any debate, you can notice this: all you need to do to be heard is to make your words into a story.

Isn’t it interesting that everyone shuts up when a story is being told? Why do people interrupt someone in the middle of a proposition but very seldom in the middle of a story? Religions are successful not because they are logical structures, but because they are made up of stories. All animals stand still and stare as a story is unfolding before their eyes. We’re no exception.

the influential virus

May 6, 2009

M: So isn’t it good that people die?
J: No. Just people from other tribes, not mine.
M: And what’s your tribe?
J: We’re the Hygienoids from Paranoica.
M: Wow! Can I join?
J: Yes, but wash your hands first.

isaiah 40:22

March 3, 2009

It’s pretty clear to me that Isaiah meant a flat circle. But I see the evidence in the phrases ‘SIT upon the circle’, ‘STRETCH out the Heavens’ and ‘SPREAD them out as a TENT’. Is it plausible that he visualized those images while thinking of a spherical planet? Of course not. His Earth was as flat as the floor of a tent.

And worse: if the Bible had been inspired by an omniscient being, one would presume he would have a better sense of style rather than coming up with such sloppy metaphors for a spherical Earth.

If the Earth WERE flat, apologists would use ‘circle’ as proof that the Bible knew all about it from the start. That’s what *apologists* DO.

It’s high time those desert religions stopped pestering the rest of the world. Give me the Greeks any day.