Friday, 30 October 2015

Purpose without god

"I didn't ask to be born" The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that's surviving off more hormones than oxygen. 

They're right too. They didn't ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we're even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that's our starting point. 

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don't just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for. 

I have said before that being an atheist doesn't mean I've got nothing to live for, it means I've got nothing to die for. 

Now please don't confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn't* die to save my children, for example. Because I would, of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing. 

But a theist believes that when they die they'll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason...they're only a virgin once. Maybe it's one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I'll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That's what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally. 

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose. 

I don't understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can't enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can't see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it? 

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven...what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary. 

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it's finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there's a last page. 

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it's finished, but my life doesn't. 

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn't why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I'll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not. 

Yes, maybe a theist has an 'ultimate' purpose in life and as an atheist, I don't, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one. 

I'm happy to define my life's own purpose. I'm happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being. 

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said 'I would die without God in my life'. I don't see any honour in this. I don't see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale? 

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It's a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it. 

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn't people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from? 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Questions for an atheist.

Over at GM made a post answering a bunch of questions that were put to her by a college student. GM tweeted that she'd like to see how I, and others, would answer the same questions. I said I would give it a shot, and this is it...

1. Why are you an atheist?
I've never been given good reason to not be one. 

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?
Yes, I was born into a Catholic family and raised to be one. I believed, without doubt or question, that the god of the bible was a real thing. 

3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

4. If not, why did you stop believing?
In short, I thought about it. I questioned what I believed and why I believed it, and realised that what I believed was nonsensical and why I believed it was because I'd been told it was real. I studied more about the universe and realised that what I was learning was inconsistent with the stories I'd been told were true. It got to the point where my understanding, logic, and reason no longer allowed me to believe what I'd been told to believe when I was a child. 

5. What do you think happens to us when we die?
Nothing. We cease to be. 'Us' is gone and we're now a decaying (or burnt) collection of cells, molecules and atoms that will be retuned to the universe. As Lawrence Krauss points out, we are here because stars exploded and the atoms on our left hand probably came from a different star to the atoms in our right. One day our own sun will envelope the earth and I quite like the idea that atoms that have made me who I am, will one day end up in a star again. I like to keep in mind that I was not alive for billions of years. I see no reason to think it'll be different when I'm not alive again. 

6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?
The same place any species that exhibits moral traits gets them - empathy, logic, reason, understanding, compassion. We also have the advantage of being able to discuss things. Years ago a black person couldn't marry a white person. Before that, it was 'acceptable' to own black people as slaves. Today in my country same sex couples aren't allowed to marry, but around the world, that is changing. It's happening because we, as a society, are discussing it and listening to people and being empathetic towards them. Some things we all recognise as 'wrong', some things take a little more time and work. But there is no doubt it's 'us' who is guiding it. 

7. Where do you think the universe came from?
'Came from' suggests that the universe is somehow transient and I'm not sure that it is. I think it was in a 'state' and some as yet not fully understood 'thing' happened which caused that state to expand into what we see today. Why is there something rather than nothing? Krauss says there had to be. I'm not sure. 

8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?
I think they're far wiser than any of their vocal critics and largely misunderstood by people too stupid or lazy to actually listen to them closely. I think Dawkins suffers from overestimating his audience almost daily. This is a shame, given he was once Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. Dawkins loves to hypothesise, particularly with emotive topics, but with the emotion taken out. That's fine with he's sitting around with his like-minded friends. When he does it on twitter, he's dealing with 'the masses' and the 'the masses' are stupid. Dawkins needs to be more aware of this. 
Harris has managed to talk above the heads of people that unfortunately have an audience. These people constantly misrepresent him, despite the clarifications he's made on some of his more controversial topics. These people are gaining an audience, and even for some, an income, from trying to tear down things Harris simply hasn't said. His critics appeal to a lowest common denominator of idiots and people that want to be seen going against the grain. I love how Sam always remains calm and smooth. I loved his quote 'don't judge me by the quality of my enemies'. 
Hitchens was a master orator. A commanding voice, with points to match. I have seen Dawkins and Harris live, but never got to see Hitchens live and I'll always be sad about that. I disagree with him on a few things, but I loved his passion and the way he commanded attention when he spoke. He, somewhat ironically, may have been the only person who could have convinced me a god exists.

9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?
I am a strong atheist. There is nothing about the god claims that give them any credibility whatsoever, in my mind. I have no more reason to believe there's even a chance of a god existing than I do of any other clearly fictional character. God's attributes have everything in common with the imaginary and nothing in common with reality. If it's unicorns or leprechauns or dragons or fairies I wouldn't think 'but maybe somewhere, somehow, they might exist'. I don't see anything that suggests I should give gods and goddesses that benefit either. 

10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?
You make a case against it. You show that gods and goddesses are invented exclusively by primitive, ancient people who didn't know better. We know better now. You show how gods and goddesses reflect the society that invented them. You show how the gods and goddesses of the less advanced nomadic peoples are quite different from the more advanced people of Rome and Greece. You make the case that, if gods and goddesses are a human construct, this is what you'd expect. You show that the spread of religion follows the advancement of the populations that are also advancing. No remote tribe was ever discovered already believing in Jesus. There's a reason for that. You show that god has been the posited explanation for any number of things but has never once been the confirmed explanation for anything. You use the problem of evil. You highlight the logical fallacies contained within all the common arguments for existence. I know I can't prove absolutely that no gods or goddesses exist, but I'm very confident I can make a case beyond all reasonable doubt. 

11. Do you believe in miracles?
What is a miracle? It's a word believers use to describe an occurrence that they can't otherwise explain without invoking god. As in the above answer, god has never once been the confirmed, verifiable explanation for anything - this includes so called 'miracles'. I think some of the events claimed to be miracles have happened, but the actual explanation is nothing 'divine'. 

12. Do you have a support group/system?
I have family and friends that I know will look after me and help me if I need it. I have made wonderful friends online, particularly through twitter. 

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?
No, and I don't know that that would be possible. I try to get people to analyse what they believe, to question it, and to do what I did - ask themselves what they believe and why. If they do that with unbiased honesty, and still come up as a believer, so be it. I don't have a problem with theistic/religious belief in and of itself. I have a problem when people's actions negatively impact others and they cite religious belief as the justification for doing so. Therefore getting people to not believe isn't the goal. Getting people to realise that *their* belief shouldn't negatively impact *my* life is a better goal. 

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?
Not really. It generally doesn't come up in Melbourne when you're out with people. If I'm out with atheist friends I've met through twitter, they already know, obviously. 

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?
Every day pretty much. But regardless of who it is, which god they're arguing for, and how they're trying to argue for it, it always comes down to the same few fallacies. Argument from Ignorance and personal incredulity being the most common. If god isn't real then how.... It's god of the gaps stuff and just doesn't work on me. 

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?
I think my atheism isn't really a problem but my anti-theism hits a few nerves sometimes. They seem want me to go for the 'live and let live' approach but they don't understand that for that approach to work, it *has* to be theists first. Atheists have spent a long time being quiet about our lack of belief and it's done us little good as far as being 'let live' goes. Religion encroaches on way too many aspects of society and it needs to be stood up to. I think a few members of my family don't like that I'm one of the people standing up to it. 

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?
I don't know anything about her, really.