Atheism is not a choice

Picture this: your colleague is in a wheelchair. She broke her back years ago, and is completely paralyzed from the waist down. There are some nasty people who claim she is not paralyzed after all, she can walk. You scoff at this: haven’t you seen with your own eyes how helpless she is? Hasn’t she explicitly said she is totally incapable of moving a muscle from the waist down? Then you go for a run one day and come across your supposedly paralyzed colleague doing the same. You’re stunned, shocked to the core, question your senses. Convince yourself you were mistaken. But you see her running again, and again, and again. You come up close to her and talk to her, question her in hope that it’s a case of mistaken identity. This is definitely the same woman you work with every day, who goes around in a wheelchair claiming to be paralyzed. She can walk, in fact, she can run, and this is not a doppelganger.

Your belief that she can walk – is that a choice?

If you were to claim my belief no gods exist is a choice, you would be making the same kind of claim. Where choice comes in, is if you’re faced with evidence and choose to run away, to stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalala instead of facing the truth and its implications. Choice also comes in where you choose how to interpret what you observe. This is a complicated and delicate aspect of choice, which deserves a thorough examination of its own. Suffice to say that there is a difference between taking a certain perspective and living in denial. In my case, I lived in denial for at least a year before finally accepting the truth.

Let’s hope Lou will one day turn around at just the right moment, and do the same.

How not to evangelise to an atheist: Secularism is Atheism part five

If you haven’t yet, read this or this post won’t make sense.

Countries that were once Christian have become secular (atheistic) in their public institutions. How has this happened? I think there are several factors:

1. The invention of a creation myth that allowed for aggressive atheism. This is cosmic evolution….

2. This materialistic creation myth took over the universities because it appealed to thee intellectual pride that thrives in such institutions…

From Creation Magazine, Vol. 37 No. 1 2015

When I read that, I am affronted. To claim the generally accepted scientific theories were invented by evil atheists with an agenda, and accepted due to intellectual pride, is to write off thousands of people who devoted their lives to a sincere, honest search for the truth, and were prepared to risk vilification, loathing, and often physical harm for it. It’s to basically defecate on the principle of approaching a question with a heartfelt effort to leave your preconceived notions and biases at the door.

The crowning glory is that this insult is dished out by people who examine the world from the platform of a foregone conclusion, who then twist everything to fit their already made up minds. Continue reading

How not to evangelise to an atheist

I wondered, as I opened our post box to find an issue of Creation Magazine waiting, how many of these copies are received by creationists, and how many are bought for non-creationists by creationists, to convince them to change their minds. In our case it’s certainly the latter. I am an atheist, this magazine subscription was bought by a creationist relative after my husband, in an exchange of comments on Facebook, offered to buy him a copy of Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker for Christmas.

Reading it gives me an opportunity to try to explain how these kinds of beliefs look to me, with a genuine effort to keep animosity and exasperation out of it. Hopefully it can save someone the trouble of trying to evangelise their neighbourhood atheist with stuff like this. When your atheist friend/family member is confronted with the following, these are the thoughts that go through their mind:

Secularism is Atheism Part One

Secularism is Atheism Part Two

Secularism is Atheism Part Three

Secularism is Atheism Part Four

Secularism is Atheism Part Five

Whale Shark Mystery

Slippery Slope

Focus Section

Amazing Ancient Chinese Treasure Ships

Conclusion

Liar, Adulterer

Ray Comfort is a(n in)famous street preacher who has used the same routine in public confrontations for years. First, he asks whatever random stranger agrees to talk to him whether they’ve ever told a lie, then, whether they’ve ever lusted after someone in their hearts. He then asks them what you call someone who tells lies, and what you call someone who commits adultery, aiming to get the answers: “A liar; an adulterer.” He then claims that by their own admission, they are a liar and an adulterer. Ray of course controls the cameras and posts the footage, and we seldom get to see those folks who don’t play the game.

There’s a problem with the liar, adulterer thing. Firstly, a person who has told lies is not a person who tells lies. I occasionally drink wine or beer, that doesn’t make me someone who drinks -> a drinker -> an alcoholic. In fact, I think of myself as someone who doesn’t “drink” because I enjoy a drink so rarely. Ray’s assertion that someone who has told a lie is a liar, is just stupid.

There’s also a problem with the adultery thing, but it’s a bit more complicated, and a bit willfully silly. Yet if Ray insists on taking the tack of pedantic interpretation leading to anyone who has told even one lie is a liar, one has to consider this problem. He can’t use a strict interpretation of the meaning of words in one assertion, then do an about-turn to make the second assertion work.

The heart is an organ that pumps blood. You couldn’t commit adultery with it if you tried, and committing adultery in it would be impossible for the person the heart belongs to. Unless, of course, you perform a heart transplant, preserve the removed heart, and when the patient has recovered, they commit adultery in the midst of the chopped-up pieces of heart. Messy, and not exactly erotic. Also, even then, arguably not possible as “in” would strictly mean inside, and no two human beings are going to be small enough to fit inside a human heart.

So to me, Ray’s spiel doesn’t make sense. No doubt those who find themselves on his side may wish to look at the original Hebrew of the related verses or whatever to argue the point (and many Christians think Ray Comfort is an embarrassment and harmful to their cause), but Ray makes many of his arguments based on the English translation of the bible as we know it today. What’s equally intriguing, watching his videos, is what an angry man Ray is. How sad must you be to go around trying to convince random strangers that you are better than them.

 

For one of the best, clearest explanations of the theory of evolution that I have ever come across, listen to Matt Dillahunty explain it to Ray in this video. It’s really long, but it is extremely interesting and the exchanges are polite and clear. It gives Christians an understanding of the views of most atheists and the workings of science – which are so often misunderstood – so worth watching no matter what your beliefs are.

Oprah’s cringe-worthy gaffe

There’s a good bit of attention generated by part of an interview Oprah Winfrey had with swimmer Diana Nyad. Winfrey questioned Nyad on her statement to producers before the show that she is “not a God person”. On Nyad’s reply that she’s an atheist, but in awe of the wonders of our world, Winfrey then took it upon herself to redefine God so as to dismiss Nyad’s statement and declare her a God person after all.

I was just thinking about this, putting it in other terms. Imagine the person she was interviewing was Barack Obama, the topic whether he identifies as African.

“You told our producers you’re not an African, but you’re deeply aware of your African roots?”

“Yeah, I’m not an African person [this could have happened in real life, if it was Whoopi Goldberg in the interview]. I’m an American.”

“But you have African roots?”

“I don’t understand why anyone would find any contradiction in that. I can stand in a hall with people who have African roots and think of themselves as Africa, I can marvel at the strength and beauty of our shared cultural influences…”

“Well I don’t call you an American then. I think if you can accept and love your darker skin, the history of your ancestors, then that is what African is. It’s not being born and raised in Africa.”

I don’t get that this woman felt it’s okay to redefine someone else according to her dictates on what’s what, when in any other context that would have been outrageous.

Never mind even African identity, what about religion? What if Oprah spoke to someone who was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity, but still appreciates the beauty in Jewish culture. What if Oprah told that person that then they are not a Christian? Would that have been okay?

It bugs me that people are so insensitive and feel such a right to dictate when someone else declares no belief in gods, when in any other context such liberties would not be tolerated.

 

Syrupy sweet, and not true

I just saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall:

When you have faith in yourself, you don’t need others to believe in you.

That’s simply not true. We’re interconnected creatures, we need each other. It’s only the most exceptionally exceptional among us who could keep having faith in themself when nobody else does. We don’t like hearing this, but unfortunately a truth doesn’t become untrue if we dislike it hard enough: you need people to affirm you, to believe in you, to give you positive messages about yourself. Sometimes, it only takes one, but more likely, you’ll be your best if you find friends who see the best you can be.

The flip side is true: we all need to understand just how crucial our role in others’ lives is. You can affirm, build up, encourage, or break down and kill spirit. Which will it be?

I remember watching a documentary about Karen Carpenter years ago, and I wish I could find it now. What stands out in my memory is someone, it might have been her brother, remembering how during her teens, Karen overheard someone say to a friend: “If only she wasn’t so fat.” From that point onward, Karen became obsessed with her weight. Of course there’s a myriad factors involved in a disease such as anorexia, but who knows? Maybe if Karen had heard: “What a beautiful young woman that is,” it might have set her on a different path. So much rests on us not so much believing in each other, but seeing and highlighting what’s good.