Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Andy Bannister on Atheism

I’ve always been amazed, sometimes terrifyingly so, at how routinely, how matter-of-factly, how unquestioningly, persons who are otherwise demonstrably intelligent will gleefully repeat and deliberately spread misinformation. And yes, I’m sure I have many detractors who think similarly of me – though they may not grant that I’m at all intelligent! It’s as though societal norms were inherently stacked against facts, reason and evidence in favor of unexamined assumptions, false narratives and elaborate pretenses, all shielded from scrutiny in a way that would put a mother bear protecting her cubs to shame. What is this apparent gravitational pull that empowers deceit and dupery to draw adult minds like fresh droppings attract flies?

I’m sure readers here can think of dozens of examples of this frightening phenomenon right off the top of their heads, but the case in point I have in mind today comes from a short video I recently saw on YouTube. The video is titled Is atheism a belief? and I found the link to it on this entry of the same name posted by Steve Hays over on Triablogue.

Now by posting a link to the video, I can only suppose that Hays approves of its content, for he offers no criticisms or disclaimers in linking to it. And although it’s not surprising to find Christian apologetics blogs spreading propaganda, I’d like to think that Hays would have at least some regard for consistency given his own expressed understanding of what atheism is when he wrote "technically, atheism is just a statement of what an atheist doesn't believe rather than what he does believe" (see the comments section of this blog). (I went back and forth about this with one apologist late last year – see here for some of the juicier tidbits from that exchange as well as for a link to the full discussion.)

If it is the case that “atheism is just a statement of what an atheist doesn’t believe rather than what he does believe,” then why would the question of whether or not atheism as such is a belief continue to persist? And, if Hays realizes that “atheism is just a statement of what an atheist doesn’t believe rather than what he does believe,” why would he post, apparently with approval, a link to a video which insists on the contrary? Maybe Bannister makes some points in his video which might dissuade a thinker from holding that atheism as such is not a belief.

To find out, let’s examine what Bannister says (this is my own transcript of Bannister’s video):
Is atheism a belief? I’m often told by my atheist friends, ‘No, atheism is just a lack of a belief’. Or as the late atheist writer Christopher Hitchens once famously said, he said ‘Our belief is not a belief’. With all due respect to our atheist friends who want to assert they don’t believe anything and therefore don’t have to defend it, I think that idea is wholly mistaken. Let’s explore why by unpacking the idea that atheism is just the absence, just a lack of a belief in God. Well if atheism is just a lack of belief in God, that leads to all kind of strange conclusions. I can think of a lot of things that lack a belief in God. Uh, rocks, rubber chickens, Richard Dawkins’ left foot, Australia, the color blue… All of those things lack a belief in God. Does that make them atheists? I think it would be a very strange person who would want to say that Richard Dawkins’ left foot is an atheist. So clearly to be an atheist means more than just a lack of belief in God.  
But the problems get even more profound. You see, the absence of anything can’t cause something. If I take a hammer and drop it on my foot, it will cause pain. But if I take a non-existent hammer and drop a non-existent hammer on my foot, it won’t cause anything because it doesn’t exist. But atheism seems to cause all kinds of things. It causes skeptical people to write angry tweets at me on social media; atheism caused Richard Dawkins to write a book on atheism and make millions of pounds and his bank manager very happy… And so the list goes on. So for a non-belief atheism looks quite busy.  
Furthermore, people don’t normally gather in communities or groups or self-identify around a non-belief. For example, I lack a belief in the Tooth Fairy. But I have never introduced myself at a party by saying ‘Hi, I’m Andy Bannister, I’m an a-Tooth-Fairian.’ But I’ve met many people who say to me, ‘Hi, my name is whatever, I’m an atheist.’ I know many people on social media who write ‘atheist’ or ‘skeptic’ or ‘freethinker’ in their social media profiles, the more enthusiastic put this flying spaghetti monster or some sort of secular icon there. But they self-identify around the label of atheism, which tells me it means far more than just the absence of a belief in God.  
Atheists are increasingly forming themselves into groups and communities. They’re starting groups on university campuses, they’re meeting together in societies, they’re having conferences, they are even starting churches! This raises an interesting question, doesn’t it? Has atheism not just become a belief system, but is it actually a religion for some people? Now maybe you’re watching this thinking ‘Atheism a religion? Are you insane?’ Well it depends on how you define a religion. A religion doesn’t necessarily mean a belief in God. Most Buddhists don’t believe in God. The academic description that’s used in… by many anthropologists for what’s a religion, is a system of thoughts that attempts to answer ultimate questions: 1. Where did the universe come from? 2. Is there a purpose to life? 3. Why are we here? 4. What’s gone wrong with the world? 5. How are human beings supposed to live? And I suggest my atheist friends have answers, or believe they do, to those questions.  
And then lastly I think that one of the signs that something is a real active belief is other things accumulate alongside it. So for example I’m a Christian, and because I’m a Christian I believe certain things about justice, I believe certain things about truth, certain things about philosophy that follow from my belief that follow from my Christian faith. And likewise many of my atheist friends believe certain things about science; they believe that we’re just atoms and particles, that there’s no purpose built into the universe, that we’re just the result of time plus chance plus natural selection. Most of my atheist friends are materialists, to give that worldview its proper name. And the very fact that atheism attracts these other beliefs tells me again it is a belief – it really is a positive belief, not just the absence thereof.  
Now I say this not to belittle you if you’re an atheist watching this, but to challenge you to realize you do have beliefs. There’s no such thing as a human being without faith. All of us believe something.  
If you’re messing around with the claim that atheism really isn’t a belief system, I suggest it’s really because you haven’t dared to put it to the test and see if it stands up. Why don’t you stop playing the infantile, step into the adult world, and examine properly what you believe, what others believe, and see whether what you believe stands up?
So there’s Bannister’s case. Frankly, after considering what he says – as well as what he fails to say, my respect for Hays would suffer a considerable blow if he found in Bannister’s statements sufficient cause to re-consider his earlier statement of what atheism is. But that’s just me.

I did notice how towards the end of his video Bannister says on the one hand that he’s not saying what he has stated “to belittle” atheist viewers, and then, on the other, exhorts his atheist viewers to “stop playing the infantile” [sic] and “step into the adult world.” Is this “adult world” that Bannister has in mind a realm where people believe that things which we can only imagine are real, that wishing makes it so, that everything that happens is all the result of some supernatural force of will acting upon the world? Is this “adult world” a world where people believe ancient storybooks filled with myths and legends, insist that supernatural beings have been waging a spiritual battle for millennia, and encourage their children to accept religious fantasies as truth?

Which raises another question, which curiously Bannister does not anticipate and address: If atheism is in fact a positive belief, what specifically is that belief? Why go to the trouble of posting a video rant on Youtube complaining about people who conceive of atheism as a lack of belief in gods, and yet not correct this by identifying what specific positive belief atheism actually entails?

And yet, Bannister himself is not entirely consistent on this, for elsewhere (see his article Four Key Principles for Apologetics), he advises his readers to “rediscover the power of questions,” and as an example of such he offers the following (italics original!):
…if a friend self-describes as an atheist, respond, “‘Atheist’ tells me what you don’t believe. But what do you believe?”
Why would he suggest such a question if atheism is a belief?

Bannister also seems to confuse the premise that atheism is a statement of what a person does not believe with the supposition that people who identify themselves as atheists are saying that they have no beliefs at all. Perhaps there are self-identifying atheists out there who claim to have no beliefs whatsoever (the category ‘atheists’ being a hugely mixed bag!), but I’ve never understood atheism to mean this. After all, I identify myself to be an atheist (for I do not believe there are any gods), and yet I do have beliefs! For example, I believe that I would feel safer when my wife drives if she wouldn’t tailgate so chronically (yes, I’ve urged her many times to ‘mind the gap’). Also, I believe that if I mistake Flonase for mayonnaise, my chicken sandwich is not going to taste very good. I also believe that the world would probably be a better place if parents stopped beating their children and spouses. But again, that’s just me. It should be clear, however, that while I identify myself as an atheist, I surely do have some strong beliefs!

Moreover, Bannister exhibits some profound confusion on the concept of atheism, specifically on the need for a concept which distinguishes people who do not believe in gods from the vast majority of people on the planet who do. Of course one would not normally say that the rocks he finds in his back yard are atheists. But we would need to use some concept to distinguish people who don’t accept theistic claims from those who do. In this regard, I see no substantive difference between the concept ‘atheist’ and the concept ‘non-theist’. I’m an atheist; I’m a non-theist. These concepts exist because belief in gods is so common throughout society. Indeed, if Bannister found that virtually everyone around him believed in “the Tooth Fairy” and he did not, he might in fact find it useful to distinguish himself from the common folk in the manner that he suggests. Similarly, we have the concept ‘gifted’ to distinguish exceptionally talented people from those who for whatever reason or another at not so talented. As with the concept ‘gifted’, it goes without saying that proper application of the concept ‘atheist’ is confined to human beings. So while Bannister’s point is cute, it’s nothing more than this, and probably less.

Also, atheism doesn’t “cause” people to assemble into groups, post nasty tweets, or participate in speaking events. It does not follow from the fact that some people who identify themselves as atheists do in fact engage in activities promoting atheism, that atheism is therefore a positively informed belief as such. If atheism causes such effects, why aren’t all atheists doing these types of things? Clearly atheists are humans just like Christians and adherents of other religions, and as such are subject to a wide range of motivations. At the end of the day, people do what they choose to do, within certain constraints, and the primary cause behind engaging in such activities is each individual’s volition, i.e., their choices. Some people clearly think it’s important to find others who like themselves go against some norms of the broader community and share their ideas, and therefore choose to act accordingly.

And yes, atheists are not exempt from the need for a positively informed philosophy; no one is. But ‘atheism’ is not a philosophy. As Hays’ statement above and Bannister’s own sample question both indicate, ‘atheist’ only tells us what the self-identifying atheist does not believe; it leaves entirely open to what said individual actually holds to be true (I’ll get to Bannister’s “ultimate questions” below). And yes, I can certainly sympathize with the desire to find people to share one’s views with, and maybe even attempt to persuade others who don’t share those views. Maybe Bannister would prefer that atheists simply remain isolated from each other.

But the point here is that no one should be surprised to find that atheists do in fact have views about things. It does not follow from this that atheism itself is a belief, as Bannister seems to infer, nor does it follow from the fact that atheism signifies the absence of god-belief that atheists therefore have no views at all. Atheists have views about the universe, about man’s nature, about right and wrong, about social structures, etc., and these views should be examined and weighed for their rational worthiness, just as any other views should be.

Does any of this justify the assertion that atheism is a religion? Obviously it does not. Does being an atheist mean that an individual is necessarily free of religious proclivities, such as irrational devotion to poorly informed or simply bad ideas? Again, no. Atheists are as fallible and subject to anti-philosophical vulnerabilities as religious individuals are, and quite frequently we may find that atheists have inherited tendencies that incline them to habits reminiscent of religious devotion, especially if they were raised in a religious setting in their formative years.

Now let’s consider what Bannister calls “ultimate questions”:
1. Where did the universe come from?
To address this question, we would first need to be clear on what is meant by “the universe.” In this context, I would understand ‘universe’ to denote everything that exists (whether known or not) considered or treated as a whole (cf. Merriam-Websters “the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated” and the Cambridge Dictionary “everything that exists”). On such a rendering, if something exists, regardless of its particular qualities, it exists as a member of the category ‘universe’, which means: no thing could possibly exist outside the universe. The universe is all existence considered as a single whole.

So when one asks “where did the universe come from?” the question strikes me as rather incoherent. Existence exists. Either we begin with existence (in which case we would not need an “explanation” for the fact that existence exists), or we begin with non-existence (in which case no explanation for the fact that existence exists could be logically plausible). Since we know that existence exists, why not start with that?

I certainly do not hold – or “believe” – that the universe is a product of conscious activity; I don’t believe or accept as a legitimate possibility the notion that some magic consciousness wished the universe into being. Why would I accept such a notion? Yes, I can imagine such things, but I know that I’d be imagining this, and I’m honest enough to admit as much. Philosophically, the notion that the universe was created by an act of consciousness violates facts that I have already validated, such as the fact that wishing doesn’t make it so, that imaginary things are not real things, that all evidence points to the fact that existence exists independent of conscious activity, that consciousness is a faculty of perceiving and identifying the objects it comes in contact with (cf. objectivity), not a faculty of creating its own objects ex nihilo and reshaping them at will (cf. subjectivism). And to answer Bannister even further, I’m certainly willing to put these fundamentals to “the test.” If he wants to argue against them, let him demonstrate objects coming into being as a result of conscious activity. If he cannot demonstrate such a phenomenon, and if he acknowledges the fact that wishing doesn’t make it so, that believing something doesn’t make it true, that imagination does not conjure things into existence ex nihilo (all conscious actions, mind you), then what genuine objection could he possibly have against my answer to this first of his questions?

Next:
2. Is there a purpose to life?
My view is that purpose is concurrent with life and thus has a biological basis. A rock has no purpose of its own, but living organisms do. The purpose of a living organism is to take those actions necessary to sustain its life. If it can procreate along the way, so much the better! In the case of human beings, man’s purpose is to live and enjoy his existence. So the answer here is yes, and my basis for affirming purpose to life is based on facts that virtually anyone should be able to understand; it is certainly not based on belief in invisible magic beings. See my blog entry Theistic Misuse of the Concepts Meaning, Value and Purpose. Also check out Harry Binswanger’s book The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts.

Then Bannister asks:
3. Why are we here?
Is he asking how we got here? That’s the birds and the bees. If he wants more specifics on this, there’s a lot of science on the topic of reproduction that’s available for him to investigate.

However, I suspect that his question is complex, indeed fallaciously so, in that it smuggles the premise that we are here to serve a purpose of some being which we can only imagine. In this sense, this question assumes a particular answer to his previous question, one that is implicitly theistic in nature.

Assuming Bannister really means, why live at all? I think it would be extraordinarily arrogant for me to arbitrate this question on behalf of others beyond the general response that each individual should discover his own source of happiness in life.

The next question is:
4. What’s gone wrong with the world?
Since the question as it’s asked here lacks the benefit of grasping something fundamental, I’ll point it out: people who are alive today inherited the world we have from those who came before us. It’s not as though we should casually assume that the world of the past was some pristine work of perfection, and somewhere along the way it was corrupted. We don’t wander into an Amazon rainforest and say, “Gee, how did this place get so overgrown? Where did the gardener go?”

If like human beings themselves, human societies evolved from more primitive models to what we have now, then we would expect to see a trend from beginnings in wilderness to more or less civilized improvements. Rand aptly described civilization as “the progress towards a society of privacy… the process of setting man free from men” (“The Soul of an Individualist,” For the New Intellectual, p 84). Various discoveries were necessary for this progress to get underway, such as the discovery of reason, of property rights, of negotiation, of voluntary assembly, the abolishment of coercion and the use of force, etc. None of these virtues are a given; they need to be chosen and require sustained investment. But clearly not all human beings are on board with these ideals, and it would be foolish to expect that everyone would automatically adopt them into their daily practice.

Constantly ebbing against them are, in my view, two persisting malicious habits, namely: the pursuit of the unearned, and intellectual default. When an individual pursues resources that he is unwilling to earn through his own effort and negotiation with others, he will avail himself to the use of force, coercion, fraud, etc., to get his way. This is often condemned as “selfishness,” when in fact I have come to see it as a form of self-negation: such an individual is not using his own skills to earn the values he seeks, but rather going through life as a secondhander, looting his way from one score to the next. Such a ‘lifestyle’ can only have adverse psychological effects, and the presence of these internal conflicts will not allow an individual to enjoy a happy, fulfilling life. Happiness and guilt are incompatible.

Lastly we have:
5. How are human beings supposed to live?
On my view (and I know I’m in a precious small minority), human beings should live by reason, pursuing the values they need to live and make their lives worth living, including happiness, through their own effort and in voluntary negotiation with others. Unfortunately, most have inherited or adopted to one degree or another the view that the use of coercion, force and fraud in social relationships is inevitable if not outright acceptable and that the pursuit of the unearned, whether in matter or in spirit, is to be tolerated or even encouraged. How many people consider such matters and seek to align their worldview in a manner that is consistently rational and firsthanded?

In following up, Bannister states:
And I suggest my atheist friends have answers, or believe they do, to those questions.
Of course they do; they should at least. But sadly, from what I’ve seen, many who identify themselves as atheists (and especially the more vocal of them) tend to have adopted, often in a manner that is admittedly very difficult to distinguish from religion, norms that have been borrowed from religion, such as anti-reason, the desire for the approval of the group, uncritical acceptance of the herd’s propaganda, self-sacrifice as the moral ideal, the acceptance of unearned guilt as man’s starting point (cf. “original sin” vs. “your excessive carbon footprint”), the denial of individual moral sovereignty, etc.

Perhaps we should ask: What does Bannister’s worldview teach on these points that I have raised in response to his questions?

I suspect what fuels apologists to quibble over such matters so strenuously is suggested in Bannister’s own statements on the matter: he resents the idea that atheists do not have to defend their atheism. Like many apologists, Bannister may feel personally offended by the fact that he must share this world with people who don’t believe in the supernatural beings he enshrines in his imagination, so much so that he wants to put them on the defensive for daring not to cower under such beliefs (for in fact, the bible says in Proverbs 1:7 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”). And herein lies the germs which blossom in an insatiable drive to malign atheism and atheists in quite disparaging terms without justification. And the usual low-hanging characterizations which wend their way through rants like Bannister’s serve to reinforce prejudices which enable believers to rationalize their own evasions and choices not to approach the topics in play in a more honest manner. For in fact, if one were to ask Bannister if wishing makes it so, can he, in a manner that is wholly consistent with the Christian worldview, answer no?

One last point, which naturally follows from the previous: I’ve often marveled, probably more so in a negative way, how some individuals can use this amazing invention called the internet to broadcast their views and yet simultaneously shut off the ability of their readers and viewers from posting their reactions to that broadcast content. I’m talking about disabling comments on things like blogs and youtube videos. Now, I understand that comment sections can be abused. My blog fell victim to this some years ago when one individual in particular overstayed his welcome and abused his privileges in the comments sections of several of my blog entries (one comments section reaching over 900 entries!), thus prompting a very reluctant decision on my part to temporarily suspend comment privileges for all my readers. But this was an anomaly, and it certainly does not represent standard practice here at my blog.

But neither Bannister’s video nor his blog has comments enabled, so his audience cannot directly interact with him and his content. That is the choice he has made.

Of course, Bannister and other theists are welcome to come join the conversation here if they would like to. Perhaps I’m entirely wrong here. If any readers think so, the comments section is available for feedback and input.

by Dawson Bethrick

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11 Comments:

Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Hello Dawson.

Thanks for posting another entry.

// all shielded from scrutiny in a way that would put a mother bear protecting her cubs to shame. What is this apparent gravitational pull that empowers deceit and dupery to draw adult minds like fresh droppings attract flies? //

Nice use of metaphor. Does the question of Mommy Bear pooping in the woods form a close fitting analogy to the use of deception and prevarication by Christian apologists and sundry subjectivism fans? Me thinks yes, so I have more respect for the evangelists of Islam who promise to straight out kill me unless I convert.

Banister as quoted by Dawson // Let’s explore why by unpacking the idea that atheism is just the absence, just a lack of a belief in God. Well if atheism is just a lack of belief in God, //

He's package dealing by not acknowledging the distinction between "belief in" and "belief that". The former entails one deriving emotional comfort from mental consideration of the alleged belief; the later has to do with the question begging assignment of truth status to a claim.

(Time's up. More later.) Cheers. :)

June 29, 2017 7:42 AM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Banister - // The academic description that’s used in… by many anthropologists for what’s a religion, is a system of thoughts that attempts to answer ultimate questions: 1. Where did the universe come from? 2. Is there a purpose to life? 3. Why are we here? 4. What’s gone wrong with the world? 5. How are human beings supposed to live? //

1. Existence has always existed, and there is no other than existence, so there is no place where existence could have come from. B’s question 1 is a stolen concept fallacy as it assumes the primacy of existence while denying it.

2. The purpose of life is to live. My purpose is to promote my ultimate value, my life with my happiness as my highest most important goal.

3. There is no “we”; Man is not a collective. Individuals are here because they were manufactured by their Mother’s gestation and due to sexual reproduction.

4. Human civilization in contrary to the values of Man qua Man because people accept gross subjectivism rather than objectivism, superstition instead of facts, collectivism instead of individualism, socialism instead of capitalism, and altruism instead of egoism.

5. Objective Ethics answers B’s fifth rhetorical question; I suppose he thought these questions too difficult for those non-superstitious rejecting his make believe pretend God.

June 29, 2017 10:38 AM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Good stuff Dawson.

// One last point, which naturally follows from the previous: I’ve often marveled, probably more so in a negative way, how some individuals can use this amazing invention called the internet to broadcast their views and yet simultaneously shut off the ability of their readers and viewers from posting their reactions to that broadcast content. I’m talking about disabling comments on things like blogs and youtube videos. //

The reason they seek to monopolize the medium lies in their primacy of consciousness subjective worldview where they assume their opinions substitute for reasoned objective conceptual argumentation by others. Or as one of your other readers used to post, they confuse the road map for the road, and in the cases you refer unto, it's purposeful.

June 29, 2017 6:22 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Checked in and noticed a new entry was up. I haven't read it yet, but I will.

Thanks again!

Ydemoc

June 30, 2017 8:04 PM  
Blogger Jason mc said...

Just saw this update. Always great to see a fresh new IP post, even if it's not presup-specific!

On the issue of closed comment sections, I think there's some valid justification for doing this:

1. To ensure discussion in your comment section is high-quality, or even just to prevent it from dropping to abysmal lows, can be a demanding task. I can't fault authors or video-makers who prefer to invest their resources elsewhere.

2. YouTube comment sections have a particular reputation for low-quality discourse. To put it lightly! Maybe it's partly due to the sort of audience that video content attracts, compared to writing. I also blame YouTube's comment features. Once a video has gathered some number of comments, you can't straightforwardly read them in chronological order. The default order is based on a mixture of recency and voting. So the expectation and reality is people join in a comment pile without reading what's been previously posted. Hence, a predictable accumulation of endless redundant repetition.

For controversial topics, opposing sides upvote comments they agree with. So the voting system has little to do with encouraging posting quality.

Simply: YouTube comments are bad technology.

If you're making YouTube videos, get on Blogger or WordPress to make useful comments section for your viewers to use. (And eventually... ditch YouTube and write on your blog. Writing is the best!)

J

July 03, 2017 1:38 PM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Hello Dawson, Ydemoc, Justin, Jason

I just read Dawson's discussion - // exchange between Christian apologist Paul Manata and myself took place in early October 2005 in the comments section of this entry on the blog Goosing the Antithesis. The title of the blog entry was Question of the Day #2, dated October 8, 2005, by Francois Tremblay //

on Dawson's Katholon site at link http://katholon.com/DBvPM1005.htm

This discussion occurred about twelve years ago and Manata made a fool of himself, but the interesting idea was the argument presented by Dawson.

P1: If Christianity presupposes the primacy of the subject over the object of cognition, then Christianity affirms metaphysical subjectivism.

P2: Christianity presupposes the primacy of the subject over the object of cognition.

Conclusion: Therefore, Christianity affirms metaphysical subjectivism.



The usefulness of this argument is that it defeats all versions of TAG. This is significant because there is no evidence based verification for any form of theism or deism or super-nature belief. Dawson's closing remark summed up:

I’ve shown that Christianity is a subjective worldview, Paul. I’ve shown this to be the case because of the orientation it assumes between subject and object at the most fundamental level (as Vantillians might say, at the level of one’s “presuppositions”). Your worldview presupposes a subjective basis, and a subjective basis cannot support reason, logic, morality, science and other necessities of human life.

Dawson remarked regarding Manata's evasions.

You’ve not been able to bring any lasting challenge to my argument. After I’ve shown my argument to be invulnerable, you say “so what?” “big deal,” and repeat, over and over again as if it were relevant, that it “doesn’t bother” you. I pointed out already that “bothering” you is not the aim of my argument. Those who deceive themselves can resort to this kind of defense mechanism all they want, but it’s irrelevant. By repeating this, you simply show that you’re not truly interested in philosophy, knowledge or truth.

Thanks Dawson for saving that interesting discussion.

July 03, 2017 2:17 PM  
Blogger Jason mc said...

Greetings all

I wanted to post some thoughts on Andy Bannister's material.

The drive to frame atheism as a belief or a religion comes, I think, from considerations for apologetic tactics. Apologists are tired of being on the defensive with atheists. They want to defend the faith by attacking their opponents. But a lack of belief doesn't represent a convenient attack surface area. Beliefs do.

If apologists can identify atheism-as-religion's distinctive core belief(s), then they have a clear target upon which to concentrate their critical arsenal. To attack core atheist beliefs would constitute a logical, economical strategy to critique atheists as a collective. It'd be more efficient than analysing the views of atheist individual atheists and formulating suitable, unique critiques.

But it won't do much good when the fact of the matter is: atheism isn't a religion. Atheists don't share a core set of precepts. But we're not completely idiosyncratic in our ideas, either. So apologists might find it sensible to concentrate on the core ideas shared by significant numbers of atheists, without pretending that they're universal to all atheists. Like materialism, which Bannister mentions. He indicates that he knows materialism isn't the same as atheism.

But he thinks atheism somehow 'attracts' materialist ideas. I think, speaking from experience, those ideas are attractive because of their simplicity, and because of the established efficacy of science. Modern mainstream religious dogma is specifically anti-materialist, so it seems only atheists come to adopt materialism. It's rare now, but forms of theistic materialism have been known to exist too! Manichaeism has been characterised as one such example.

He lists a few beliefs he ascribes to his atheist, materialist friends. I largely agree with them, and I don't even identify as a materialist. Something to explore later, perhaps.

As for the seemingly inexplicable power of atheism, as a mere lack of belief, to have causal powers on the actions of atheists... here's another angle on that mystery! Self-identification as an atheist isn't identical to being an atheist. The former is a cognitive act, unlike the latter, strictly speaking. That cognition is what has causal efficacy. That's why it seems that atheism can partly cause atheists to gather in groups, or post Flying Spaghetti Monster memes, etc. It's always self-identified atheists doing that stuff. Not babies or atheist rocks.

Regards, from my atheist chair

J

July 05, 2017 2:23 PM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Hello Jason, good comment. Thanks for posting.

Jason remarked If apologists can identify atheism-as-religion's distinctive core belief(s), then they have a clear target upon which to concentrate their critical arsenal. To attack core atheist beliefs would constitute a logical, economical strategy to critique atheists as a collective.

It's not difficult to see that most atheists who aren't Objectivists are either liberal or progressives or socialists or hammer & sickle red flag waving communists and hence collectivists who seek to enslave humanity and impose Marxist totalitarian tyranny featuring hard wage and price controls, draconian police state legal codes, and destruction of existing social orders to be replaced by organizing populations into industrial and agricultural armies. In as much as Christians oppose the new atheist monsters, I stand with them despite their silly religious beliefs. Saving Capitalism and Liberty from a modern Marxist "cultural revolution" is far more important that defeating a Calvinist apologetics hobbyist in discussion of their mysticism.

Just because it's appropriate here's Eclectic Media discussing the beauty of capitalism.

https://youtu.be/ENoxUcZryR4

July 06, 2017 7:55 AM  
Blogger Jason mc said...

Hello Robert, and thank you!

You raise a great point. There seems to be a correlation between atheism and economic leftism. There are of course exceptions. There are a bunch of active Christian social-democratic parties across Europe. There's something called Islamic Socialism, but I don't know if that's a force with any real power behind it.

I'm not bringing those up to counter your point, because I don't disagree... I've noticed atheists tend to lean left. But it'd be good to have some hard stats on the topic.

Civilisation is at stake. So this is clearly a more important issue than materialism. Much more interesting and complex too. (Really, who cares about materialism? I bet most materialists don't much care about materialism.) I'm not sure what to make of it. Piekoff's DIM Hypothesis probably offers an explanation. I haven't got around to reading that yet...

But I don't really worry about the threat of hardcore Marxist communism. Lefties today are fragmented into too many different squabbling factions to establish a dictatorship anywhere in the West, aren't they? They can succeed in pushing things in a leftward direction here and there. They're competing with many forces (including among themselves).

Aside from Objectivists, I'd struggle to name any other identifiable capitalism-friendly atheist group. Maybe they tend to be averse to labels and group-identification. I'm not an Objectivist, but I'd go as far as to call myself a fellow traveller. I'm not afraid of labels, as long as they're accurate. Going back to the original topic... I tend to prefer the label of 'non-theist' over 'atheist'. It seems less prone to confusion, but it really has yet to battle-tested. The label 'agnostic' also applies to me, but I avoid using it, as it causes little but confusion.

July 06, 2017 1:42 PM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Thanks Jason:

Good point and very fortunate too. But I don't really worry about the threat of hardcore Marxist communism. Lefties today are fragmented into too many different squabbling factions to establish a dictatorship anywhere in the West, aren't they? They can succeed in pushing things in a leftward direction here and there. They're competing with many forces (including among themselves).

Most of the young communists with who's comments I've interacted post many fallacies so easy to detect that even I can identify and provide countering refutations, and I'm no where near as well versed in rational philosophy as is Dawson. Their conversations quickly degrade to passive aggressive threats and insults when confronted with logical reasoning like the point raised by George Reisman in his book "Capitalism" p.23.


link to screen capture of text: https://postimg.org/image/s0povzajt/


Link to pdf of Reisman's book: http://capitalism.net/Capitalism/CAPITALISM_Internet.pdf

Thanks for chatting with me. I hope you are successful in your positive life affirming endeavors while living the good life.

July 07, 2017 6:12 AM  
Blogger Jason mc said...


Hi Robert, I found this discussion enjoyable, best of luck with the good stuff in your life too!

George Reisman's book is another one I've decided I should read. I know it's a big one.

July 07, 2017 12:52 PM  

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