Archive | Atheism

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Certainty About the Origins of the Universe

In a recent Slate essay, Ron Rosenbaum argues that agnosticism is preferable to atheism because atheists wrongly believe that they can explain the origins and nature of the universe:

I think it’s time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as “a theism”—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety.

Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing.

I think Rosenbaum fundamentally misconceives the nature of atheism. Atheism is not a complete theory of the nature of the universe. Rather, as I discussed here, atheism is simply a rejection of the existence of God, by which I mean a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and completely benevolent (the definition [traditionally] accepted by [the vast majority of adherents] of the major monotheistic religions). One can reject the existence of God without believing that we “can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence.”

There are numerous arguments against God’s existence that don’t depend on any particular theory of the origins of the universe. In my view, the “problem of evil” is one of the strongest. For a good and accessible summary of the major arguments for atheism […]

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Are More Intelligent People More Likely to be Atheists?

In this post, I criticized psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa’s widely discussed recent article claiming that more intelligent people are more likely to be politically liberal. Kanazawa also claims that his data shows that more intelligent people are more likely to be atheists. This claim is better supported than the article’s argument about political liberalism. Nonetheless, the evidence isn’t nearly as strong as Kanazawa suggests. My own conjecture is that Kanazawa may be right about countries such as the United States, where atheists are a small minority, but less likely to be correct about the many nations where atheists are a much larger fraction of the population.

On the plus side, Kanazawa’s measure of atheism (survey responses stating a lack of religiousity and lack of belief in God) is better than his extremely dubious definition of liberalism. Even this part of his analysis is not completely airtight, since lack of religiosity doesn’t necessarily equate to lack of belief in God. Still, the two are at least highly correlated, and Kanazawa gets similar results for a General Social Survey question that directly asks respondents whether they believe in God. Controlling for various other variables, including education, gender, and race, more intelligent respondents are more likely to say that they don’t.

Unfortunately, however, Kanazawa improperly generalizes from the US results. Only about 2 to 10 percent of Americans are atheists and agnostics. In an overwhelmingly religious society, it is probable that relatively more intelligent people would be more likely to question conventional wisdom – especially since many of the arguments for atheism are counterintuitive. Kanazawa wrongly assumes that atheism is just as uncommon in the rest of the world as in this country. He cites the fact that The Encyclopedia of World Cultures refers to atheism in its descriptions of only 19 cultures, […]

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Why is it More Wrong to Attack a Person’s Religion than their Secular Moral or Political Views?

Ireland has recently enacted a law banning “blasphemy,” which has in turn attracted plenty of justified criticism:

Secular campaigners in the Irish Republic defied a strict new blasphemy law which came into force today by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court.

The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000).

It defines blasphemy as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted”….

But Atheist Ireland, a group that claims to represent the rights of atheists, responded to the new law by publishing 25 anti-religious quotations on its website, from figures including Richard Dawkins, Björk, Frank Zappa and the former Observer editor and Irish ex-minister Conor Cruise O’Brien.

Michael Nugent, the group’s chair, said that it would challenge the law through the courts if it were charged with blasphemy.

Nugent said: “This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

There are many strong objections to the new Irish law, including the ones noted by the Atheist Ireland leader quoted above. I want to criticize the implicit assumption that it is somehow more justifiable to forbid criticism of religion than of secular political or moral views. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I […]

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