Thursday, February 28, 2013

I Don't Argue With Statues

If you want to convert me, here's a tip: before you give me a book or link a webpage that will "prove your case," read it yourself first.

Your argument is invalid.
I love discussing just about anything, with anyone.  But over the years, I've come to dread the web link or book. Every time I've had books suggested to me, the suggester hasn't read them or "just skimmed them."  They end up surprised when I bring things up, agree it's a terrible argument or idea, they would never argue that, there are much better arguments out there, somewhere. (Funny, they often don't know what they are.)

A book can't discuss. It can't answer questions, it can't clarify points, it can't answer my concerns. It's an argument by proxy, except the proxy may as well be a statue. An echo of an author, an outline of his thought, chiseled in stone, impenetrable and unfixable.

Webpages are worse. When people link these during a discussion, it seems like they just did a quick Google search for "arguments proving this thing I believe" and then linked the first thing that came up without reading it. Zero references, false facts, terrible grammar, and bad arguments.

My new rule is this: we read together.

I'll read your book, or your webpage, only if you will read it with me. We'll chat about each chapter, or each point, and you will respond, or I will go no further. I would love to talk to you.  I'm not spending any more time arguing with statues.

Recently, I found a copy of New Proofs for the Existence of God, lying face up conspiciously on my desk.  Nobody's volunteered that they did it, or told me why. I have my suspicions. When they fess up, we'll find out whether they wanted a conversation or just wanted to waste more of my time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Atheist is a definition AND a label

Spend a little time in the atheist blogosphere, or on the Internet, and you will quickly come to someone who wants to give you a definition of the word "atheist." Quite possibly different from what you thought it meant. It seems like everyone has an opinion about the meaning of "atheist." The problem is, these debates focus largely address the words instead of the people. I think that's the problem. Atheism is now a civil rights social movement, and atheist is a term people use to identify themselves.

In other words, atheist is a label--its definition is inextricably linked to the people who wear it. When you define it smaller you deny people the right to use it, and when you define it bigger you include people who might not want it. When you saddle people with a bad definition it makes it hard to answer the question "you're a what?" successfully.

The reason things get really emotional is that the definition (and label) has been messed up by centuries of religious bile: "immoral," "irrational," "God hater," "communist." It has absurd strawman definitions like "an atheist is one who is certain that no God could possibly exist." And the fact is, these useless and hateful terms have spilled over into the public's understanding of non-believers.

Echoes of this backwards definition spill into the definition debates between non-believers. Some people try to define the word "atheist" so that it reflects themselves and the spectrum of people who call themselves atheist--the inclusive definition "does not happen to believe in a God" is a result. Some people try to define the word "atheist" so that there is room in non-belief for someone who does not want the label--thus "atheists believe there are no Gods" (or the even more extreme "atheists are certain there are no Gods").

At least when you see it on the Internet, most of the argument about "atheist" focuses on the definition instead of the label. Non-believers need to recognize this as the wonderful opportunity it is: there are enough definitions, even in the dictionaries, that we have some latitude to decide for ourselves what we want to be.

A consensus seems to have organically developed among those who call themselves "atheists," and I tend to agree with it and will expand on it at some point ... but the debate is needed. We just need to focus on the right criteria: picking a label we can wear with pride.

I'll close with this thought: "Geek" doesn't look anything like it did 30 years ago, because those saddled with it owned it and changed it. We can do the same with "atheist."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ipocalypse Now

I just want to find out what douche takes the last IP address. It's like when there's only one slice of pizza left and everyone's hungry.

(No, seriously, there are plans in place and we're going to be OK. But we've procrastinated it a bit too long and there will be some potentially painful stopgaps put in place while we transition to a bigger address space.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Shrinking Gaps

The popular cosmological argument for the existence of God goes, "the universe didn't exist at some point, and now it does. Something must have made that happen. Therefore God." It's a silly argument and there are a lot of problems with it, but for a brief few decades one of the premises had some backing from science: we thought that the Big Bang started with a singularity, a point before which time did not exist. Apologists picked up on that and used it.

BBC Horizon had a great show about new theories (and evidence) that could shine a light on what the universe was like before the big bang. This video makes a potentially boring subject entertaining and accessible and makes me want Comcast to carry the BBC :(

(Via Debunking Christianity)

I have to ask though: how much of the curtain do we have to throw back before people will accept that no one is pulling the strings? It was excusable (not rational, but excusable) to believe that God was the puppeteer 1,000 years ago, when we had barely figured out the right questions to ask, let alone had good natural answers. God may have been a God of the Gaps, but the gaps were so big he had a huge role to play--he got to be the designer of all life, the creator of the universe, the one who made the light and the dark ...

But as we shine our light into these gaps, we keep not finding God: we find nature and natural law instead. Not only is God less likely with every discovery, he has fewer and fewer things to do. Now we know that the lights in the sky are stars, driven by natural fusion processes. Now we know that life was not designed deliberately but rather evolved naturally in response to its environment. Now we know that the universe begin in a giant explosion and subsequent expansion, proceeding by known physical laws.

As the gaps are closed, a Christian or Muslim who accepts scientific findings is reduced to saying "hey, you know those natural processes that produced everything you see today? Well, God made the PROCESSES and started them up! And every so often he tweaks them when you aren't looking." What an underwhelming deity. How suspiciously indistinguishable from a nonexistent one.

No wonder they're attacking science. Pretty soon there'll be nothing left for God to do.