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RANT: One in a trillion... :) - Unbeliever's Land
...The continuing chronicles...
RANT: One in a trillion... :)
Marya Hornbacher, author and atheist, on her experiences with Alcoholics Anonymous (as recounted in the Friendly Atheist blog):
People told me their stories — of God, the divine, the power of love, an intelligent creator. Something that made all this. Some origin, some end.

I told them I believed in math. Chaos, I said. Infinity. That sort of thing.

They looked at me in despair.

And not infrequently, they said, “So you think you’re the biggest, most important thing in the universe?”

On the contrary. I think I am among the smallest. Cosmically speaking, I barely exist.
I find this an interesting point.  Christians often accuse atheists of thinking that we are self-important, or thinking we know all the answers — when really it is precisely the opposite.

Christians are the ones who think they are special.  The creator of the entire universe knows them personally!  ("Before I formed you in the womb I knew you".) 

They think that if they just pray hard enough, this Creator of the entire universe might just tweak a few bits to give them their desired outcome.  A superbowl victory, perhaps.

As an atheist, I know that I am one out of a trillion lifeforms, on one out of trillion planets, in one out of a trillion galaxies. The universe doesn't care about me, and certainly doesn't arrange itself for my own personal convenience.  If I desire an outcome, it is up to me and my fellow human beings to bring it about.

I certainly don't think that I have all the answers.  There's no ancient magic book, that tells atheists everything that's important, so that we can feel justified in ignoring anything that contradicts us.  It's the Christians who have one of those.

We just have science.  Fellow humans, using reason to puzzle out what's what. The book can't change.  It's either right or wrong, and it's pretty embarrassing when God gets one wrong.

Humans, on the other hand, make mistakes.  And when science gets one wrong, then eventually science will figure it out, and make it right.

Science adapts to reality.  Religion can't.  (See Pope, Copernicus, Heliocentrism.)

Atheists don't have all the answers — but we're pretty sure we're at least using the best tool to get there...

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fair_witness From: fair_witness Date: August 29th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant lump of carbon.
I have one life, and it is short
And unimportant…
But thanks to recent scientific advances
I get to live twice as long as my great great great great uncles and auntses.
Twice as long to live this life of mine
Twice as long to love this wife of mine
Twice as many years of friends and wine
Of sharing curries and getting shitty
With good-looking hippies
With fairies on their spines
And butterflies on their titties.

--"Storm", a 9-minute beat poem by Tim Minchin
amaebi From: amaebi Date: August 29th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a fair cop. You got me bang to rights, guvnor. Anyone would know me from that description.
unbeliever64 From: unbeliever64 Date: August 30th, 2011 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
OK, sure, let's do this.

1) Do you believe God both created the universe, and knows you personally?

I believe most Christians do.

2) Do you think prayer makes a difference?

I believe most Christians do.

3) Do you believe that in a contest between the Bible and reality, the Bible should win?

Maybe you don't -- but in this country, I believe most Christians do.

See: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2007/11/29/us-usa-religion-beliefs-idUKN2922875820071129

Or hell, just google around yourself.

The point (that I think you're starting to see), is that I am much more representative of "atheists/atheism", than you are of "Christians/Christianity".

At least, as practiced in this country.
amaebi From: amaebi Date: August 31st, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

"OK, sure, let's do this."

Okay, but it'll take me a bit. Partly because your framing does not represent where I come from at all, which makes response qutie a lot of work.

Which I don't undertake in a grudge match fashion, but as a matter of friendship and conversation. :)
unbeliever64 From: unbeliever64 Date: August 31st, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: "OK, sure, let's do this."

Take your time. :)

Lately, every time I speak out against Christianity, your response is always the same: "That doesn't describe me".

But I think the real issue lies in the fact that you aren't as representative of American Christianity as you feel.

Plus, I think liberal Christianity has some inherent contradictions. You want God/prayer/miracles, but you also want science. It is VERY popular to pretend to pretend otherwise, but in the end, you can't have both.

Science doesn't WORK in a universe where "God did it" is a valid response to an inquiry.

[Fundamentalist Christianity may be batshit crazy, but it's not conflicted. "God did it" answers every question. How can the universe be 6000 years old, when we can see light from stars more than 6000 light years away? God did it.]
amaebi From: amaebi Date: September 8th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

I bet this will require two parts. Maybe more. Ah, four.

Now I have time. Well, not really. I’m avoiding finishing 2010 income taxes. :(

To begin: You seem to think it odd that when you post broad descriptions of Christians I respond identifying myself as an ill-described Christian. And you indicate your dedication to science—in this post, as method—but you don’t want data from me?

There have been a great many different Christians and understandings and livings of Christianity over the past 1960 years or so. There are a great many different Christians and understandings and livings of Christianity now. It is possible that I’m not near to being a representative Christian—but believe me, the variance is huge. There’s a major difference between St. Simon Stylites and Billy Graham. And today, there’s a major difference between Fred Phelps and John Shelby Spong. (Though I know that these sorts of distinctions are more observed by those actually interested in Christians and Christianities—and I don’t think you’re actually interested in Christians or Christianities.)

(Additionally, I don’t think I’m any more unusual qua 2011 Christian than I am as a 2011 human being—and analysis of variance applies.)

But aside from that, I know a great many Christians, pretty much none of whom are well described by you. For those few who’d probably claim the description you give—well, as isn’t uncommon for human beings, there are profound inconsistencies in their tenets, and between their tenets and their lives, including those areas in which they consciously live their faith. Generally speaking, they’re kinder and less silly than you suggest.

Some Christians feel that Christians are extra- special, but not because God knows them better than others—actually, because they embrace relationship with God. I don’t deny that there may be insistences of Christians who claim God knows or likes them better than non-Christian humans. I just don’t run into this as a tenet. (And it would certainly interfere with the evangelization project that Christians better-characterized by your categories tend to hold dear.)

By the way, are you aware that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” is from Jeremiah, which is in the Hebrew Bible? Or did you just not think about that?

Now, as for prayer, which you say Christians think would induce “this Creator of the entire universe... [to] tweak a few bits to give them their desired outcome. A superbowl victory, perhaps.”: Well, there are petitionary and intercessary prayer, and sometimes people ask for stuff I don’t reckon much on. Even in petitionary and intercessary prayer, though, there’s a constant reminder in the prayer form Jesus taught: “thy will be done.”

There are an awful lot of kinds of prayer, though. Meditative prayer, lament, confession, thanksgiving, praise, adoration, and—I would add to traditional lists—conversation. I do know Christians whose prayers are largely those of petition and intercession—and that’s what shows up at “joys and concerns” at church, along with a little thanksgiving—but there are lots of Christians who (like me) don’t do those much, and there are lots who do such praying with great and humble caution. In short, you’re right to nail some sorts of Christian prayer as cheap and shoddy, but if you apply that to Christians in general, you’re being as irresponsible as Christians who are sure that non-theists can’t be moral.
amaebi From: amaebi Date: September 8th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: "OK, sure, let's do this."

Which brings us to miracles. You say, “You want God/prayer/miracles.” I find myself in relationship with something I call God, and I like that entity, and in that sense want God. I am in conversation with that entity, and it’s okay with me to call that prayer, and I like it, so in that sense I want it. But miracles aren’t relevant to my theology—I don’t “do” miracles. And I know a great many Christians who don’t do miracles. And the Christians I know who talk about miracles are usually talking about instances where they feel that God has been close to them and nurturing to them—about turning points in their lives, Sure, often the language used seems to confuse small-probability events or unexpected and desirable events with contradictions of natural order, but the import is personal, not a matter of proof or violation of “the laws of nature.” Even Augustine, who did write about miracles as proofs of divine existence and nature, emphasized their relative unimportance. And he wrote a long time ago, and knew his logic, and not many follow that path now.

Here’s a thing about that path that you miss, though: you say, “You want God/prayer/miracles, but you also want science. It is VERY popular to pretend otherwise, but in the end, you can't have both. Science doesn't WORK in a universe where `God did it’ is a valid response to an inquiry.” Actually, though, if there’s no regularity in the operations of the universe, the concept of a miracle is meaningless. Nothing special about any given thing happening in a universe where any old thing can happen. And science is just an approach to describing those regularities and their causes.

I have science, I like its approaches and conversations and history and speculations, and in that sense I want it. (A suggestion from smart_ted, a learned atheist friend, as an easy example of the way a liberal Christian may have science can be found in the first chapters of Adam's Gift by Jimmy Creech. A minister in the United Methodist Church, he is confronted with a gay man who is upset by the United Methodist's stance on gays. Creech checks with the Bible, then with current medical studies on sexuality, then with current interpretations of scripture and decides that the bible doesn't address what we now understand as sexual orientation. He becomes an outspoken supporter of GLBT people and their roles in the church...to the point that he is finally stripped of his credentials.)

I don’t happen to conceive of the entity I’m in relationship with and call God as being uninvolved in the natural world. That’s not uncommon, though I think there are substantial numbers of Christians who do tend to conceive of what they call God as being outside the natural order. (And if that doesn’t go oddly with creationism....)

(By the way, do you really think that there are substantial numbers of Christians who answer the question, “Why is the water boiling?” by saying, “God did it”?)

More basically, in setting up “God/prayer/miracles” in opposition to “science,” you’re presupposing that humans posit the divine as an economical machine for explanation—a view of theism that was common enough in the 19th century, but that presupposes a function for the divine that has little or nothing to do with most people’s faith lives. It’s true that people get accustomed to explanatory attributions and dislike moving from them, and that a lot of people in the 19th century were evidently profoundly shaken by well-evidenced explanations of species originating through evolution. And maybe explanation was at the core of the faith of some of them. Not many, though, I expect. There’s been way too much testimony and practice that’s about entirely different things for God-as-quick-explanation to be widely fundamental to Christian faiths.

Edited at 2011-09-08 08:49 pm (UTC)
amaebi From: amaebi Date: September 8th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do understand why it would look to someone without any personal acquaintance with an entity like the one I call God, as if such entities are posited as explanations. There are myths-of-origin in most faith paths—among other myths. And it’s easy when one has no perception of this entity people tell you they relate to, to treat it as a sort of Harvey: “So why would you want that?” But to one in relationship with the entity, that’s not a relevant approach. It’s like saying, “I hear what you’re telling me about Apu, but I don’t know Apu, and I can’t believe Apu exists. What function is your belief in Apu’s existence filling for you?”

(I bet you’re thinking about invisible unicorns. Go ahead! And also think about gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong and weak forces, the space-time continuum, and quarks. Among other not-so-directly-tangible things.)

Contrariwise, you attribute an instrumentalist view of the physical universe to Christians. I’ve found human beings in general tending to justify or decry elements of the universe in terms of their perceived usefulness to human (“Daddy, why are there wasps? They sting and don’t give honey.”) But not Christians more than others.

You distinguish science from the reading of a magic and unchanging book, the Bible. You rightly note the ability of scientists to revise stories arrived at through the scientific process. But you seem to think that readings of Scripture are static—when even the collection of texts within that book demonstrate rereadings of earlier texts.

And did you know that most of the things you dislike in Christian doctrine and behaviour are largely or entirely non-Scriptural?

Beyond that, though, most Christians read Scripture as literature that speaks to them, not so unlike how you read Stephen Donaldson. (Yes, that includes recognizing that the stories in the Bible are just that—stories. As if there were anything wrong with stories.) And that approach has been more typical than a literalist approach over the centuries—literal reading, ironically and sadly, was a product of the same processes involved in the scientific revolution.

I know there are Christians who assert that they’re literalists today, and I don’t want to disrespect or disparage their reports of their procedure, but I can’t conceive what they think they’re doing. (What’s a literal reading of Peter’s vision in Acts 10? And what’s Peter’s clearly-supposed-to-be-correct vision?) From outside and sadly without much sympathy, what I see occurring is the cherrypicking of texts.

I know that you and I have different understandings of our access to objective reality. But when you say that “science adapts to reality, but religion can’t,” which I’ll read as adaptation to the advent of superior explanatory fit with observed data—well, you’re just not correct. You surely don’t actually imagine that faith traditions, or Christianity, have failed to change in response to changing preferred explanations? And you don’t think that the Roman Catholic Church continues to hold that Galileo was wrong and therefore heretical, let alone seeking to try, imprison, or excommunicate heliocentrists after Galileo?
amaebi From: amaebi Date: September 8th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: "OK, sure, let's do this."

Now, as for your three questions to me, and their applicability to Christians-in-general:
(1) I have the strong sense that the entity I call God is all about creation. I have no more specific opinion—though like enormous numbers of Christians, I perceive no inherent contradiction between the cosmological and biological accounts of the coming-into-being of this universe and this world, and involvement of such an entity.
I don’t really know or have an opinion on whether or how what I call God knows me—and I’m not convinced that humans could ever have much understanding of such a thing. But here I’m pretty sure that you’re right—that Christians overwhelmingly think God knows them and other humans personally, in a rather unconsidered way.
(2) I know that prayer makes a difference: it has changed me. I know that prayer makes a difference: I know that it shapes communities that pray together, for good or ill or just Whatever. Aside from that, I have no view—but I’d be pretty creeped out if prayer really did act as a lever to the physical world. Again, I think that you’re probably right about Christians in general, assuming that you mean that we tend to think our prayers can convince God to do as we ask.
(3) I’m really amused by the notion of a contest between the Bible and reality. :D I’m not quite sure what you mean, but I’m taking it that you ask this question based on some view about literalist reading of the Bible, which I agree with you in finding tiresome, and which I also find internally inconsistent, as I mentioned before. And which is very far indeed from universal among Christians, even on a nominal level.

Now, I understand that you’re trying to convince me I’m a Very Bizarre Christian. And—since I know an awful lot of Christians—you’re not going to succeed. But suppose for a moment that I am a Very Bizarre Christian. So what? Should I not, o logical and scientific one, stand as an empirical contradiction to your generalizations about Christians?

I would like to ask you to consider changing your framing to “These are things Christians do that I find revolting/unjust/rude/primitive/ignorant/etc.”—which I wouldn’t have boo to complain of, you know.

But there really are profound differences between saying, “I dislike Xs who do/are x” and saying “I dislike Xs because they do/are x.” One of them is that the risk of being or sounding like a bigot with the second framing is a lot higher. It is one of the hallmarks of bias to generalize about a defined group and insist that members of that group must display the traits or behaviour in the generalization. Another is to deny the relevance or defined-group-identity of a member of that group who demonstrated something denied by the generalization. That’s what stereotyping is.

You don’t want to sound like that, do you?

Consider how ignorant, aggressive, and rude Christians who make assertions about what atheists are like. Surely not a part of Christian culture that you want to emulate.
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