Sunday, January 12, 2014

Is Jeffrey Tayler Correct in His "Atheist Manifesto"?

Jeffrey Tayler, an editor at The Atlantic, has proposed a provocative set of ways atheists can "stand up for themselves". He calls it a "credo for atheists", posed as a list of "concrete responses to faith-based affronts, to religious presumption, or what Hitchens called clerical bullying.'"   I tend to see it more as a kind of atheist manifesto.  As Mr. Tayler puts it:

"The First Amendment, we should recall, forbids Congress both from establishing laws designating a state religion and from abridging freedom of speech. There is no reason why we should shy away from speaking freely about religion, no reason why it should be thought impolite to debate it, especially when, as so often happens, religious folk bring it up on their own and try to impose it on others."

Which is a point  to which I'd have no objection. In general, I'm quite willing to leave people to their own devices and beliefs - whether it's a claim that God is all around them and helping them, or a claim that vitamins are useless garbage- but then, if it is brought up in a public arena I feel quite free to add in my two cents, and provide a rigorous debate. Of course, some nitwits can't be debated because they lack the neurons to do so intelligently, such as those who insist the agnostic atheist "is an oxymoron like an honest thief". Uh no, Einstein, it is a legitimate variation of atheist, first defined by George Smith in his book, Atheism: The Case Against God, viz. p. 9:

The agnostic atheist maintains any supernatural realm is inherently unknowable by the human mind. And further - not only is the nature of any supernatural being unknowable, but the existence of any supernatural being is unknowable as well

So we leave out semi-educated dunderheads because their IQ and their knowledge base are too low to justify extended interaction.

Anyway, let's examine Tayler's list and see if it is possible for the rational person to find concordance:

Herewith, some common religious pronouncements and how atheists can respond to them.

1.  “Let’s say grace!”

No, let’s not. When you’re seated at the family dinner table and a relative suggests clasping hands, lowering heads and thanking the Lord, say “No thanks. I’m an atheist. So I’ll opt out.” Nonbelievers have every right to object when being asked to take part in superstitious rituals; in fact, if children are present, they are morally obliged to do so. Courteously refusing to pray will set an example of rational behavior for the young, and contribute to furthering the atheist zeitgeist.

I completely agree with this take, and I also concur it's the atheist's bounden duty to spoil the expectation of uniform compliance at a meal if a Xtian unthinkingly -or deliberately - demands all those present say grace. The atheist who complies because he doesn't wish to ruffle feathers is basically a wimp and not fit to use call himself an atheist. Maybe he is a pretend atheist, or poseur.  Of course, the refusal needs to be done courteously, no one in his right mind is going to say "F*ck off, bozo!" But to refuse to do it is to become an accomplice to the expectation that Christianity dominates the nation and all minorities must kowtow to its themes and preferences.

2.  “Religion is a personal matter. It’s not polite to bring it up.”

No, religion is fundamentally collective, and since time immemorial has served societies in fostering union, but also in inciting xenophobia and violence (especially against “unchaste” women and “impure” minorities), often on a mass scale. Nonbelievers need to further advance the cause of rationality by discussing it openly; doing so, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, will help puncture the aura of sanctity surrounding faith and expose it for what it is.

Again, I agree. Religion  (and faith) receives too much passive gravitas by no one challenging its presumptions. One of these is the social script that we are all to behave as good little do -be's and never bring it up for debate or discussion. On the contrary, all religions need to be held open to critical review and examination, no matter what the setting....dinner parties, family gatherings, picnics, whatever.....if the opportunity for robust engagement presents itself.

3.  “You’re an atheist? I feel sorry for you.”

No, please rejoice for me. I fear no hell, just as I expect no heaven.

Again, this is a Xtianoid fancy that needs to be fought vigorously. Most high and mighty Xtianoids believe they're superior to atheists because they've already been granted "a seat at the Lord's table" before they even croak.  But as is my wont, all I tell them is they have purchased an afterlife insurance policy that is probably useless. They've suppressed their will and subjugated their reason, as well as sacrificed felicity, all to gain a 'pass' when the lights go out - not realizing that when death arrives the lights really do go out. (Think of the last time you had general anesthesia in surgery).

If the Christian foolishly plays the Pascal wager game, I have an answer for that too. He may claim that I ought to play the wager because if I lose (i.e. cast aside my disbelief and assume afterlife reality exists) I win by gaining heaven, whereas if I maintain unbelief I lose my eternal "soul".  But Philosopher Michael Martin actually turns the originally proffered Pascalian choice on its head in arriving at an alternative view of the Wager, based on a negative deity he calls the “Perverse Master” which (he imagines) acts in consistent contradiction to the “just God” of orthodox Christians.

For example, rather than rewarding belief or faith in itself, especially if such belief is predicated on fear of torment, this entity punishes it for any supernatural being (including itself) while rewarding disbelief with eternal bliss. (Clearly this “PM” prefers not to have millions of “yes men” surrounding it, who’ve only espoused belief to save their sorry hides!)

Apart from this, what does that say about the presumed Christian deity? That it would accept a craven human’s false belief (to save his or her eternal ass) over a courageous atheist’s integrity? If indeed it does so (as the Christian debaters imply) it is nothing but a mere cosmic joke, a petty tyrant too insecure in its being to tolerate unbelief. Yet it would accept a “yes man” in a nano-second!

Pascal's wager is bunk because Pascal rigged the medieval dice and weighted them -or loaded them- in his favor to make the 'wager' come out the way he wanted, while foreclosing all other alternatives.

4.  “If you’re an atheist, life has no purpose.”

This is another load of  religious bull pockey  and really discloses the religionist for being an existential sissy. He is so bereft of balls and vision that he has to formulate an invisible Being to direct his every waking hour  toward some "higher purpose", as opposed to forging his own purpose. I always laugh at this sort of baloney, because it definitely shows how religion has eviscerated people's brains. The problem for those who believe this BS is that can't fathom in a million years how a person could independently craft and direct his life apart from some superimpose hypothetical plan. In many ways, they remind me of the mammoth Powerball winners who, though they win $200 million, state they plan to stay at their boring ass jobs to "have a purpose". They are too pathetic to use their imaginations (and money) to travel, see other cultures, or expand their learning and vision.

5.  “If you abolish religion, nothing will stop people from killing, raping and looting.”

No, killing, raping and looting have been common practices in religious societies, and often carried out with clerical sanction. The catalogue of notorious barbarities – wars and massacres, acts of terrorism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.

Again, it's amazing how many believers still bring this idiocy up when they ought to know - if they're the least bit educated - that human morality evolved with human culture, it didn't start from religion.
This sort of communitarian moral order became endemic as agriculture subsumed hunter-gatherer culture and human communities  became more organized and interdependent. It was this interdependence that formed the basis of settled societal laws, legal systems . No supernatural law or commandment ordained specific moral or legal behavior. Instead it was the conscious and deliberate recognition that the promotion of the welfare of others was directly linked to the one's own welfare. Compromise others' security, and you compromise your own.  This was embodied in Hammurabi's code in the words,


Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Which "Golden Rule" or ethic of reciprocity became the basis for nearly all ancient, post-Bronze Age ethics. Incredibly, many Christians actually think Christ spoke these words!  The point is, a coherent morality pre-existed the Bible and Christianity and hence the claim made by the Christian is patented malarkey. I'd be more worried about a Christian going ape shit and slaughtering dozens of people, because "my God told me to do it".

6.  “Nothing can equal the majesty of God and His creation.”

Humbug! The universe is majestic enough with its many wondrous sights and objects, i.e.:

Neither of which can be said to have been "created" other than by natural, physical means, i.e. electro-magnetic and gravitational forces acting in concert with basic thermodynamics to shape the final result.

The point? I can immediately access natural majesty just by taking my telescope out on a clear night and observing an object like the Orion Nebula or M13, the globular cluster in Hercules.  I don't need to invoke the phony construct of an invisible Being  to relate to the objects seen.

7.  “It is irrational to believe that the world came about without a creator.”

No, it is irrational to infer an invisible omnipotent being from what we see around us. The burden of proof lies on the one making supernatural claims,
Again, Tayler is correct. Besides which a number of papers, research have been done (all the total embodiments of RATIONALITY) to show the cosmos incepted from a quantum vacuum.

Those interested can reference my detailed debunking of this argument here:

One of the more hilarious analogies used by fundie dunderheads and dopes  to justify their faith in an unseen creator is: "if a plane is flying in the sky you can't see the pilot but you know someone is flying it". Uh, yeppers, Jethroe, but planes are PHYSICAL objects and pilots are physical (and biological) too in order to operate the aviation controls! BUT you're using a PHYSICAL analogy to justify faith in a supernatural entity, you dope!

8.  “I will pray for you to see the light.”


Typical palaver from supercilious, smug know nothings who mostly: 1) don't accept evolution, 2) think the Sun is "young" and 3) believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and 4) believe the fundie dope (Jason Lisle) who professes such BS is an "astrophysicist" .   If this constitutes the "light' they see I will happily remain beyond their "light"!

9.  “If you’re wrong about God, you go to hell. It’s safer to believe.”

Pascal’s wager survives even among people who have never heard the name of the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician.

And I already dealt with the wager earlier under No. 3. Again, expressing "faith" merely to save one's ass is the coward's way out. If belief isn't held sincerely but merely as an afterlife insurance policy one really doesn't deserve to call himself a man, certainly not an honorable man. He's a sniveling little skunk coward trying to use his "faith" as a ticket to a safe afterlife destination not realizing there's nothing that comes after you croak.  He's even more of sniveling skunk if he himself cowardly uses his faith shtick to try to browbeat others when he himself doesn't demonstrate the first principles of being a decent human being.

10.  “Religion is of great comfort to me, especially in times of loss. Too bad it isn’t for you.”

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.”

Which I can't do much to exceed in terms of analogy. Besides, the existentialist isn't in need of "comfort". He doesn't regard the world as a giant 'comforter' to wrap himself in, but rather as an entity to be examined, scrutinized to explain by scientific principles. Loss, well it's to be expected. Life is a pattern of loss, and to believe one can surmount it or avoid it is magical thinking. Better to deal with it on the realistic plane than a magical, supernatural one which only allows false comfort.

11.  “As you age and face death, you will come to need religion.”

The truth, hard as it is for many to accept, is that with age comes a clearer, no nonsense grasp of reality and more likely becoming more atheistic, not less. By the time one is 70 he certainly ought to have put behind the things of a child, and that includes false beliefs in fairies, Santa Claus and everlasting lives - post death.

As Taylor aptly puts it:

Aging and the prospect of dying by no means enhance the attractiveness of fictitious comforts to come in paradise, or the veracity of malicious myths about hellfire and damnation.

12.  “You have no right to criticize my religious beliefs.”

Wrong. Such a declaration aims to suppress free speech and dialogue about a matter influential in almost every aspect of our societies.  No one has a right to make unsubstantiated assertions, or vouch for the truthfulness of unsubstantiated assertions on the basis of “sacred” texts, without expecting objections from thinking folk.

Again, Tayler is totally correct. If the believer keeps the religious beliefs to him-herself, that's a different matter. But once they are publicly advanced then all bets are off, and it's game on. I will give as good I get, and I hope you are up to it. And that means a lot of rational criticism, unless you profess to be like ol' "Pastor Mike" who used to think he was above criticism  - and his KJV carried the solemn word of God (as opposed to the ravings of ancient madmen, lunatics and unethical copyists) Of course, one with the ethics and morality of a groveling pig (but who uses the fig leaf of faith and religion to disguise it) would do the things that would only make such a pig proud: i.e. like proposing a "National Atheist Registry" based on a sex offender registry!

13.  “Jesus was merciful.”

If he existed – and there is still, after centuries of searching, no proof that he did – he was at times a heartless prophet of doom for the sinners he supposedly loved, commanding those who failed to give comfort to the poor to “depart . . . ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Here, I have to correct Taylor as one must be totally aware of how words were often put into Yeshua's mouth by the unethical copyists I noted above. Ehrman in his book ‘Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why’, documents numerous copyist errors and multitudes involving deliberate mistranslation. As he observes (p. 209):

“The King James version is filled with places in which the translators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from Erasmus’ edition, which was based on a single twelfth century manuscript that is one of the worst that we now have available to us!”

Oxford scholar Geza Vermes (The Authentic Gospel Of Jesus) adds even more examples of how numerous passages represent words never uttered  by Yeshua, but put into his mouth. So  - I take most of the quotes that Tayler claims  are "vile" in the NT, to issue from the vile minds (and hands) of copyists and deliberate mistranslators, not from Yeshua himself. Having said that, the issue of Yeshua being "merciful" is still irrelevant - because the same passages that expose mistranslation, errors, also disclose he was no God-man. He was an ordinary flesh and blood human Rabbi, but with charisma and genuine heartfelt sympathy for fellow humans. So, yes, in this sense he was "merciful" but not in the sense of acting as a sacrificial deity (via crucifixion)  for the expiation of "sins" to secure "heaven" for one and all.

14.  ”You can’t prove there’s no God.”

Correct, at least epistemologically speaking. Reasonable atheists, “New” and old, would not argue with this. Richard Dawkins, for example, has told audiences that he is nominally an agnostic, since proving that something does not exist is impossible.

But the crux of the matter, not brought out by Tayler  (at least under this header), is that it is always the positive claimant who is obliged to provide proof for his existence claim. Since the God-ist or theist is making the positive claim, i.e. adding to reality by postulating a supernatural mega-Being, it is HIS duty to prove its existence, not the atheist's to disprove it.

In the same way, if I postulate that invisible aliens from Tau Ceti inhabit the city of Manitou Springs, I have to prove it!  I would not be daft enough to think the good citizens of Manitou are obliged to disprove my claim!

It is unfathomable that Theists and religionists can't seem to get this into their thick noggins, but there it is. The problem always comes because before the debate is initialized the one making the actual claim isn't usually identified. This is extremely important to do, thus - as in a scholastic debate - you have to first identify which person speaks for the "affirmative" (the claimant) and who is speaking for the negative. Invariably it is always the atheist who take the negative, which means the proof must issue from the affirmative (existent claimant) side.

15.  “My religion is true for me.”

A soppy, solipsistic and juvenile declaration and cop-out bordering on the delusional and contradicting Christianity and Islam, neither of which recognize the other, and both of which espouse universalist pretensions. You will not find a scientist who will say, “quantum physics is true for me.”

Again, Tayler is spot -on and I would only add here that we need to note the post-modern overtones of this type of statement, "true for me", which really says nothing of import.  The reason is that truth is only significant if universal. Thus, asserting the "Sun is extremely hot ionized plasma" is a universal truth in the context of its temperatures and substance relative to human experience. Same with asserting "the stars are distant objects".

While this sort of solipsistic statement is indeed vacuous, it's at least preferable to the fundie bigot or bully who loudly and brashly proclaims HIS truth must apply to all, and by god if you don't accept 'You is going to Hell, boy'!   Sadly, this 52-cards short of a full deck goober doesn't grasp that he's conflating a truth with his own twisted, personal belief.

16.  “Don’t take everything in the Bible literally.”

Not taking the Bible (or other texts based on “revealed truths”) literally leaves it up to the reader to cherry-pick elements for belief. There exists no guide for such cherry-picking, and zero religious sanction for it.Pastor

I will also add to this by saying it allows those who profess to take the good book literally, i.e. fundies, to weasel their way out of any debates by invoking "interpretation" and "hermeneutics" when convenient - e.g. trying to repel claims of biblical contradictions. But as I have repeatedly noted, they can't have their cake and eat it. If they therefore profess the bible is inerrant and that it must be taken literally, they can't also invoke "interpretation" because literalness is mutually exclusive with  textual analysis or hermeneutics.

That said, we can't expect extreme pseudo-religionists, especially argumentative fundies, to "play by the rules". Like robbers, brigands and other n'er do wells they will feel it their "right" to use their book any way they want to try to get the better of Materialists, atheists.

The problem for them is that we know what they're up to, and most intelligent observers do as well.

So, bottom line, with a few tweaks Tayler's points make a nice Atheist Manifesto, or at least a first approximation to one.

No comments: