Monday, June 10, 2013

Clash of the Atheists

The word “atheism” was originally like “barbarian,” “gringo,” “gaijin,” or other such labels for types of foreigners. “Atheism” was defined negatively by certain religious people to mark some group as not belonging to that religion. Thus, the early Christians were called atheists by the Romans and then Christians called pagans unbelievers. As the well-known new atheist Richard Dawkins has noted, “atheism” is a peculiar term since there aren’t similar names in circulation for many other sorts of outsiders, such as “agoblinists,” meaning those who lack belief in goblins, or “aliberals” meaning those who fail to be liberal. Clearly, this is because “atheism” was originally a pejorative label that meant asymmetric opposition to a certain powerful force within nearly all societies. There’s no powerful institution that takes the existence of goblins for granted and so there’s no need for “agoblinism,” and although there are opponents of liberalism, such as conservatives, their opposition isn’t asymmetric, because conservatism is just as powerful an ideology. After the modern revolutions in Europe, however, opponents of religion in general earned cultural credit and so “atheism” lost its pejorative connotations. Only in special cases within the last century or so, such as during the Cold War when Americans spoke of communists as “godless,” has the lack of theistic belief been assumed to be bad. The conventional definition is value-neutral and so whereas a foreigner to Japan wouldn’t proudly call himself a gaijin, atheists have taken over their disparaging label. But confusion remains, because “atheism” still doesn’t identify what anyone actually believes; the label means merely the lack of belief in gods or in the supernatural.

Atheistic Subcultures

If we ask what the positive ideology of atheists is, we find there are some interesting divisions between atheistic subcultures. First, there’s the tradition of skepticism, going back to Voltaire, David Hume and even to the ancient Greeks, but which is now fuelled more by hacker culture, libertarianism, and the internet. Atheists like Michael Shermer, Penn Jillette, and the YouTube stars known as The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t are atheistic only in passing. More positively, they’re debunkers on all fronts, zealously opposing any trace of irrationality since they fear the mob mentality. They subscribe to the modern ideal of the critical thinker who earns her freedom by using her rational power as a defense against attempts to manipulate her with fallacious rhetoric and pressure tactics. For the modern critical thinker, freedom is autonomy, the ability to choose how to act due to your control over the contents of your mind. Self-awareness, logic, and the pragmatic pruning of your concepts to match the real world are the tools that carve out your independent self in the first place. Rationality thus liberates you from your instincts and from the natural forces that make you a mere animal. The skeptic’s moral task, then, is to doubt all statements until she’s assured that they’re well-supported by evidence and logic. This moral imperative of skepticism derives from the libertarian (classic liberal) link between freedom and rationality, which was forged during the Enlightenment by the early modern humanists.

There’s another aspect of current skepticism, though, which is a technological one. After all, the internet is a boon to anyone who feels duty-bound to check and to double-check facts, to learn about every topic under the sun, to err as little as possible, because the internet contains all the information in the world at the touch of a button. If the equivalent of a snake oil salesman badgers a skeptic on a street corner, the skeptic can whip out her handheld computer, search the salesman’s name and commiserate with others in a chat room, sharing each other’s doubts and findings of fact. The libertarian wants freedom of information and this is what the internet is supposed to achieve. Of course, the internet can spread nonsense and demagoguery as easily as it can the light of reason, but skeptics choose to wield this weapon to challenge all claims and all systems. Not just ancient religions fall by the wayside, but so too do conspiracy theories, paranormal claims, tribal superstitions, urban legends, and even conventions of political correctness. 

This last barrier to rational self-control, the political imposition of codes of conduct on the libertarian skeptic, puts the skeptical atheist at odds with what I’ll call the postmodern liberal humanist. According to the latter sort of atheist, the skeptic’s rationalism is rather retro, since scientists from Darwin to Freud and from Einstein to Heisenberg to the mathematician Kurt Gödel have shown that the dream of perfect rationality is misplaced. We are animals, after all, and the modern myth that we transcend natural forces is comparable to ancient religious conceits. We’ve entered a postmodern period in which we must cope with moral relativism and with the historicity and value-ladenness of everything we say. Whereas libertarianism looks back to early modern liberalism, postmodern liberalism is an academic game in which the liberal employs the old-school humanistic rhetoric without being able to religiously commit to the modern faith in social progress through the work of individuals who’ve been liberated by their knowledge.

Feminist atheists have made their voices heard in the new atheist movement, by proposing what they call Atheism Plus, meaning atheism plus general skepticism and liberalism. The stronghold of this subculture of atheists is the blogosphere that includes Freethought Blogs. Thunderf00t used to write a blog under that banner, but he was kicked out because he challenged the feminist complaints about sexual harassment at atheist conferences. In Thunderf00t’s YouTube videos, including a multipart one called Why ‘Feminism’ is Poisoning Atheism, he lambasts postmodern liberal atheists for their political correctness, maintaining that that form of group-think is comparable to religious dogmatism. According to Thunderf00t, many more atheists agree with him than with the postmodernists, since the politically incorrect atheists on YouTube have a much larger following than the elitist ones on the blogosphere. Meanwhile, postmodern liberal humanists decry YouTube as a cesspool for misogynists, racists, and other troglodytes, and these humanists insist that atheists are required, by the dictates of critical thinking, to be liberal and thus politically correct.

The circling of the wagons around YouTube and the liberal blogosphere shows the rift between libertarian skepticism and postmodern liberal humanism. Libertarians dream of almost unrestricted freedom; these folks are close to being anarchists and social Darwinians, heedless of the potential for ultrarationality to break down the social order and even to destroy the will to live. For example, the tech savvy libertarians who hang around YouTube are likely thrilled by the ability to share information on the internet, even though this means that the producers of content lose a lot of money or can’t make a living. Certainly, these libertarian skeptics relish the opportunity for offensive speech, which YouTube allows, whereas the postmodern liberals prefer a higher standard of speech since they have a more academic sensibility. As I said, postmodern liberalism is an academic game in which a feminist, for example, can redefine “harassment” to mean merely a form of speech, because after all, as Derrida said, there’s nothing outside the text, meaning that reality is socially constructed so what we say is of ultimate, metaphysical importance. We speak reality into being, according to postmodern philosophy, and academic standards of speech are easier to enforce on blogs, so there are these two warring atheistic camps: on YouTube there are the libertarian debunkers, while in the blogosphere there are the postmodern feminists and other liberal atheists. Their dispute is about just how free our thoughts should be. Should there be no restrictions at all on what we think or are critical thinkers forced to adopt liberal values? Ironically, once religious dogmas are abolished, freethinkers seem to find themselves quarrelling over whether they must pay homage to a new creed.

There’s one more faction that conflicts with the libertarian skeptics, but allies with the postmodern liberals: the strategic optimists. These are the atheists whose overriding goal is to end traditional religion, and instead of just longing for a world with no religion they have a two-pronged plan. First, they wage all-out war against theism. Thus, you have the new atheist media campaign, including the books by the so-called Four Horseman and others, as well as the debates on YouTube, the radio, and elsewhere. What makes this assault new is the lack of respect shown to religion. The idea is to give people with religious faith no more respect than anyone is due whose beliefs are highly suspicious. Besides the hostility towards theism, though, these new atheists are careful to put their positive values in the best light. The idea is to win converts by selling the atheistic lifestyle. This was the point of the 2009 Atheist Bus Campaign in the UK, which displayed the sign, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

So this time the problem for the libertarians isn’t postmodern political correctness, but a more strategic reason for restricting free speech. The libertarian debunker wants to say whatever may pop into her head even if her comments turn off potential converts to atheism. She’ll use science and logic to demolish theistic arguments, but she’ll add some ridicule of her opponent, which betrays her stridence and resentment. Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne are usually annoyed by the so-called accomodationist’s call for atheists to strike a friendly tone when talking about religion. The accomodationist takes the cheery sales pitch so far that she’ll pretend that theism rarely if ever conflicts with science. The accomodationist hopes that a religious person can slowly make her way to atheism, first by putting her toe in science, as it were, without thinking she thereby has to give up her religious beliefs. Eventually, when she acclimates to the scientific waters, she’ll lose interest in her archaic religion. But this sales strategy is spoiled by the hotheaded atheists who are absolutists about freedom of thought and who act like a bull in a china shop, smashing belief systems willy-nilly in the names of Reason, Science, and Freedom.   

Putting aside the libertarian skeptics, there’s a more important, philosophical rather than political conflict to consider. On the one hand you have the strategic optimists as well as the postmodern liberals and on the other you have what I’ll call the Nietzschean atheists. For one reason or another, the former believe that atheism poses no threat to morality, social unity, or the prospect of happiness. The postmodern liberals are actually nihilists but they’ve learned not to care, to distract themselves with academic games, and they’ve grown accustomed to liberal values even though they’d have a hard time justifying them on naturalistic grounds. By contrast, Nietzscheans think that modern atheism was revolutionary, that the death of God was a catastrophe and that atheists have to rethink their values instead of presupposing theistic ones. For example, if there’s no immaterial spirit, what becomes of freewill? And if freewill is problematic, so is morality. So maybe authentic atheists should be amoral.

The conflict here isn’t quite the same as one between optimists and pessimists. The Nietzscheans aren’t necessarily fatalistic about the role of atheism, as though social unity or happiness were impossible for atheists. But these darker atheists do indeed raise the possibility, at least, that atheism is socially bad. Mind you, these atheists all believe that theism is false, but the dispute is about the social consequences of that fact. I think of the division here rather as one between exoteric and esoteric atheism. Those who think atheism poses little if any special challenge to society, to morality, or to sanity aren’t as interested in the truth of the matter as they are in the public image of the new atheist movement. The postmodernists are social constructivists so they think that reason is a mask for ulterior motives and therefore that what matters are the hidden moves that determine which rules become dominant. And the strategic new atheists want to project a positive image of atheism to achieve their goal of ending traditional religions. By contrast, the Nietzscheans are more interested in the truth of what authentic atheists should think about normative issues, come what may.  

The Nietzscheans are allied with the larger group, the philosophical atheists, who in turn oppose the scientific atheists. The latter solve the problem of the gulf between the progress of science and technology, on the one side, and the lack of such progress in society and in human nature, on the other, by ignoring the field of philosophy in which that problem can be posed. Scientific atheists rest the weight of their war machine against theism on the sturdy grounds of science. That is, they think the question “Does God exist?” is a scientific question and they throw philosophy out with theology, regarding both as obscure. These atheists are typically accused of being scientistic, of thinking that all knowledge is scientific and that the arts or humanities departments in colleges or universities are therefore more or less fraudulent. The best response seems to be Jerry Coyne’s, which is to define “science” so broadly as to make the word synonymous with “reason,” and then to welcome the rational efforts of philosophers, historians, and the rest as cognitively worthy by virtue of being honourifically scientific.

Now, philosophical atheists like Massimo Pigliucci maintain that the question “Does God exist?” cannot properly be answered just by employing scientific methods. The question is philosophical and so atheists need philosophy and not just science to flesh out their worldview. Moreover, philosophical atheists typically stress that knowledge isn’t just a matter of getting the facts right, that is, of having a report of all the available information. Reason needn’t be reduced to instrumental reason, to the project of understanding how things work. Knowledge requires that our beliefs be rationally justified, and justification is partly a normative matter of interpreting the facts, of assigning them meaning and judging their relevance, coherence, usefulness, and so on, to form a worthy worldview. Existential atheists like Nietzsche and Sartre were philosophical in this sense. Indeed, although the existential movement in philosophy is long out of fashion, the existential challenge to some of the atheistic camps, not to mention to theists, remains. What impact does the universe’s godlessness have on our values? In other words, what ought we to do with ourselves, given that all of the theistic religions are embarrassingly wrong?

The cosmicist and horror author, H.P. Lovecraft, raised this same challenge and although he’s Nietzschean in the above sense, he may also be scientistic. True, his short stories show scientists humiliating themselves when they confront transcendent aspects of nature, as their attempts to learn ultimate truths render them insane, but this means only that our best scientific picture won’t be complete, on his view. Still, Lovecraft assumes that there are no ultimate normative truths and thus that the pursuit of knowledge is purely scientific as well as being tragic. At any rate, Lovecraftians, or cosmicists, and nihilists join the Nietzscheans in fearing the psychological and social implications of atheism, but philosophical atheists needn’t be so pessimistic.

Philosophers disagree with scientific atheists about whether knowledge has an artistic side, and so the scientific atheist worries that granting such a side lands you on a slippery slope to theology. If some beliefs must be evaluated by nonscientific standards, such as aesthetic or moral ones, there’s less glory in bringing the Hammer of Reason down on theism. The fear is that theism is much easier to defend on philosophical grounds than on scientific ones, and so philosophers find themselves sleeping with the enemy. Better to identify knowledge with the body of scientific discoveries and thus to force the theist to make a grim choice between the scientific masterpiece and a crude premodern sketch of the world, than to admit philosophical and artistic aspects of knowledge and thus to give theism undo respite. The philosophical response is just to say that the truth is more important than any such strategic concerns. Does knowledge have normative or subjective dimensions? If so, does science tell us everything there is to say about them? Moreover, even if theism were more easily defended with philosophy than with science, this needn’t mean that theists have a free pass. For centuries, philosophers have hammered theistic arguments. Still, the danger remains, as is evident from the specious philosophical case for theism put forward by the likes of Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig.

Resolving the Conflicts

There are surely other ways of classifying atheists, but taking the above as representative, what’s the likelihood that atheists will resolve those disputes? The questions of strategy for the new atheist movement seem to me trivial, because the atheist’s commitment to the scientific picture of the world dictates that certain goals are futile. The utopian dream of ending religion seems downright supernatural in light of the universality and thus innateness of the religious impulse. Because we are what scientists say we are, namely a very clever species of primate, we aren’t machines that follow only our calculations; we have instincts, intuitions, feelings, creative urges, speculative visions, and irrational biases. Along with the other social animals, we struggle in competitions for survival and the many losers bow to the minority of victors, forming dominance hierarchies. We tend to worship gods for the same reason that betas and omegas both fear and honour the alphas for not killing them or kicking them out of the fold. But because we’re so clever, we’ve discovered the difference between what we’re naturally led to believe and what’s really the case. A minority of people takes to heart the heartlessness of reality, and these atheists wish everyone would do the same. But atheists should know better, and so the kerfuffle over what tone of voice atheists should adopt strikes me as self-indulgent and likely short-lived.  

As to the matter of freedom of thought, both libertarian skepticism and postmodern liberal humanism seem to me on shaky ground. What is free thinking without the kind of freewill that requires an immaterial kernel of a self which the atheist knows doesn’t exist? The problem with offensive speech is just the ethical one that rude people are unpleasant to be around, and when an atheist mocks theists, she might as well hurl insults at the force of gravity. Moreover, the skeptic’s pretense of ultrarationality is dubious, since unless she’s autistic, sociopathic, or otherwise incapable of relating normally to people, the skeptic has an irrational, undignified side too. For example, she likely has a sex life. Moreover, the atheist who contends that liberal values are the most rational commits the category error of assuming that reason has much to do with our preference for certain values and ideals. Postmodern humanists don’t infer that they should be liberal, so much as they utter the modern humanist slogans even though they no longer trust them because science has demolished the modern myths as well as the premodern, theistic ones.

The conflict between scientific and philosophical atheists also has a foregone conclusion: while science may suffice to convince people to abandon ancient explanations of the world, no one is content with a worldview that consists entirely of scientific explanations. Indeed, science is motivated by values of rationality and power. Again, because we are what scientists themselves say we are, people will tend to be religious in one way or another and we’ll ask philosophical rather than just scientific questions. Then again, because science empowers us more than philosophy, scientific atheists will be able to keep pretending that philosophy doesn’t matter, because philosophy will be the less popular discipline.

As I suggested, the clash that matters most is between those who think atheism has no transformative implications and those who fear otherwise. I happen to side with the Nietzscheans, but the doom and gloom of Nietzschean atheism seem hysterical to many secularists. Even if atheists ought to have a very different way of life than the one that makes sense to theists, atheists can easily ignore the existential obligation, just as they can ignore philosophy in general. Optimistic atheists can maintain that we each supply our life with meaning and that there’s no remaining philosophical burden. Like the side of the Atheist Bus says, the atheist can just get on with life as if nothing’s happened. To the Nietzschean, this carefree sort of atheist might as well be wearing blinders. Doesn’t she see the horror of a godless world, the emptiness of our self-made meanings, and the absurdity of our pastimes? There are cheerful atheists and there are melancholy ones, but while the former will be happier, the latter may see further--and curse themselves by doing so.


  1. Should we take the article's associated pictures as an endorsement of the black ops duo handling the drywall for the next phase of mass nihilism?

    1. No, they're just from funny South Park episodes that deal with the themes of this article. Two are from "Go God Go," which shows atheist groups warring over the differences in their pretentious names, like "United Atheist Alliance" etc. The other picture is from another multi-part episode ("Ass Burgers") that parodies The Matrix: reality is crappy but only the elite can see the crappiness and they cope by drinking alcohol to get back to the illusion world. This is relevant to the split between the optimistic atheists and the Nietzscheans.

  2. "Then again, because science empowers us more than philosophy, scientific atheists will be able to keep pretending that philosophy doesn’t matter, because philosophy will be the less popular discipline"

    I think it has more to do with philosophy asking questions or bringing up "issues" (like this article does) that either nobody cares about, or have no effect on anybody in any measurable way. Science actually has tangible benefits and provides evidence for it's claims, while a lot of Philosophy talks in circles about metaphysical issues that the philosophers thought up, with none of it putting bread on the table.

    I just don't get why anybody should care about any of this. This article basically says:

    "A lot of people, whose only similarity is that the don't believe in a god, have different opinions on how to act in the World and what's the best way to understand reality".

    ...okay. So what? Atheism is just the absence of belief in a god, so I wouldn't expect nonbelievers to share all the same views any more than I would expect people who don't play golf to.

    1. New Atheists don't care about these issues because it ruins their little game. The tribe needs an enemy. The problem is that they offer very little when it comes to living life. Many can see how precarious these groups are. Especially when the big questions are being asked. Have a look at Atheism + . As important as it may be to have a group to fight off the fundamentalists, I have a sadistic desire to see the whole thing collapse.It's what happens when you organize the 'truth'.

    2. Once again, so what? Atheism is simply not being a theist, so I wouldn't expect a non-participatory view to have anything to offer when it comes to life's problems. Those questions are "answered" by our own experiences, and making our own meaning, and that's a pursuit that, for many people, has nothing to do with a desert ghost named Yahweh.

      You guys seem to be arguing that religion provides useful illusions that make people behave, and the New Atheists aren't being melancholy Nietzschean enough for your taste, and I just don't get why anybody should care about that, especially since that was never their goal.

      Are the religions' truth claims supported by any evidence or not? Do religions make claims about how the World really works? And are the New Atheists kicking fundamentalists away from infringing on peoples' rights? I think the answer to all three of those is yes. Whatever problems New Atheism may have, it's actually dealing with religion AS IT REALLY IS, and not spending time wrestling with the "Death Of God" in our society.

    3. Yes. It's dealing with religion. And religion is not going anywhere. At the heart of it the problem itself is the ignorance and tribalism that breeds conflict. No human being is completely rational. The atheists are not tackling the source of this conflict. If they were their little game would be destroyed. You say they don't care about the death of God. So what is their goal? The definition of atheism is of course not being a theist. Then why are their groups of people under the banner of atheism with all the famous figureheads like Sam Harris and Dawkins? You can use your definition of atheism to get out of the argument Ben puts out there. The real question is why exactly there is a group that shares a non belief? It's ridiculous. I'm technically an atheist. But I would never say it to anybody. It's an identity that separates us from them. It creates conflict and as can be seen the delusion of religion creates conflict and the groups of non believers are tearing themselves apart. Why? Anybody honest with themselves can see right through the bullshit of these movements. They are not wise or sincere. Somebody selling atheism can be just as annoying as the witness that knocks my door.

      Religion is not about explaining how the world works but how we perceive it. It's dangerous territory since it requires a tremendous amount of patience and sincerity with yourself. It's about freedom. Read Jung's works if you want to understand how myth is an important pat of living and the real reason for religious belief is not quite as irrational as you make it out to be. If you do not accept this then I would ask you what truth is it that you possess? Or these atheists? Since God is dead what kind of situation are we in? An optimistic one? What is religion? Psychologically, how different is religion from any other coping mechanism we have to deal with everyday life? How often to we indulge in stories and myths and fantasies? Anybody who has not given this some serious consideration is not being honest with themselves.

    4. Tom,

      I agree this article isn't particularly deep. I have others on atheism and theism that go deeper, I think, but this one's just about bringing to light the fact that there are atheist factions. They all agree on atheism, but when it comes to the positive side of their worldview there are differences. That's all. And the most important difference, for me, is the one between the carefree humanists and the Nietzscheans.

      You seem carefree and you're not interested in philosophy in general or in doom and gloom moaning about the philosophical implications of atheism. As I write elsewhere on this blog, if a new atheist is genuinely content and at peace with her atheism, as opposed to pretending to be cheerful for a political reason (to attract theists to atheism), this is because this atheist already has religious beliefs in the Durkheimian sense, but she lacks the philosophical curiosity or self-awareness to appreciate that irony.

      We can't all be interested in everything, so I understand that some people will be more interested in science than in the arts. This is largely a matter of character. If you get into scientism to justify this preference, though, you'll be putting forward philosophical arguments that will draw you into philosophy and religion, and you won't want that because those subjects bore you. Philosophy is logically but not psychologically inescapable as soon you start asking some meta-questions.

      But to answer you directly regarding why anyone should care about the conflict between, say, the cheerful humanists and the Nietzscheans, you should care if you're interested in truth. (If you are, you'll have figured out that knowledge has a normative, value-laden side, and so it's not all about evidence, as if we were robots rather than largely emotional and instinctive animals; this is where myths, religion, and aesthetics come into our worldviews.) If you're interested more in empirical truth, your inquiry will stop with science, and there's certainly more than enough in the sciences to occupy anyone's attention for a lifetime. Again, I'd caution you to avoid appealing to pragmatic or scientistic arguments to justify that preference ("Science has tangible benefits and evidence"), since then you'd be doing philosophy despite yourself, and that would draw you away from the sort of discussions you'd prefer.

      So we can leave philosophical issues to those who are interested in dealing with them. These folks are called philosophers for a reason (they love knowledge more than conventions, worldly pleasures, or even their own happiness or sanity, etc). We should all be aware of our limitations and inclinations.

    5. I loved this post, and it was deep. With all due respect to Tom, I think he is being deliberate obtuse

    6. "OBTUSE!? OBTUSE!?"

      Sorry, whenever people call other people obtuse I always think of The Shawshank Redemption.

  3. Great post!
    It gives a good overview of the fraction within atheism. There are some new to me too, which is cool because I'm always curious about new perspectives (even irrational ones ;-)).

  4. Great blog. :)

    I have a few things to share, and would like to hear your feedback:
    In the Nietzschean sense, religion is essentially a teleological explanation. We moderns presuppose a teleological framework, that human existence or the natural world has a purpose - and we think it is hidden, only amenable to revealed truths. In the ancient world, an obvious source of this teleological framework is found in ancient Judaism, from 800 to 150 BCE, approximately. The ancient Hebrews attributed purpose to Divine Will, that it was all part of God's plan.

    Around 350 BCE, the Hellenistic Greeks shifted from a non-teleological framework to that of philosophy, and Plato offers an exemplary case: the Ideal Form, located in a heaven of perfection. Those eternal forms explained the inferior copies we know at our level of physical, sensual existence. However, the Hellenic Greeks wrote and performed many tragedies that often referred to an arbitrary force of cosmos, a capricious, unpredictable and implacable force they called Moira.

    Since then, teleology evolved once Platonism and Judaism joined forces in Christianity, and Christianity eventually became secularized as Western Culture. Prior to the Enlightenment in 1650 (approx) the center of authority resided in God or at least in the Church. After the age of reason, about 1800, Western Culture had shifted this center of authority to human reason. Nietzsche noted this shift, and in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he introduced a German neologism: hinterwelt. It referred to the projection of another world, a place beyond this one, e.g., heaven. Despite the success of the Enlightenment, Western culture still clung on to a Hinterwelt. It was too difficult for Westerns to give up teleological explanations, and that is why religion still lingers, even though God is already dead - pre-empted from the center of civilization.

    However, there exist a group of people that lacks a hinterwelt today, even though the teleological framework is inescapable: the Deaf people. They exist in a world that is real, and separate from the hearing world. However, the Deaf often refer to Fate as the cause to major events in their life. That reference brings back the classical Greeks and their tragedies. They thought Fate (as Moira) was unpredictable, unlike our modern conception of fate as destiny.

    The Deaf use classical Fate for many reasons:
    * They are "fated" to be deaf, since that was completely random.
    * They are almost always frustrated by communication barriers in the hearing world, and they constantly experience oppression.
    * That led the Deaf to a fatalist mindset, resigned to accept their situation because they felt powerless to change their situation.

    It is true that like most moderns, the Deaf are usually religious - but only in an individual sense. The Deaf world itself lacks the resources for the Deaf to locate religious answers for their teleological needs. That means they must borrow from other older cultures.

    1. Thanks! I think it's a little odd singling out deaf people as outsiders. In my blog I talk about omegas in general as frustrated outsiders who may be forced to confront our existential predicament, because they lack the distractions that come with more success in life. They're effectively wandering, detached monks living in the margins of society.

      I also talk of natural processes as being undead and pantheistic, which bring back some sort of teleology. The metaphysical systems of Plato and Aristotle were teleological too, I think, although they weren't theistic.

    2. I grant that talking about Deaf culture was a little out of left field, but I thought the framework of teleology contributes to the discussion of atheism, irrespective of the color of their underwear.

      I am intrigued with your "undead god" and how it ties with the teleology that western culture has locked us moderns into, and whether it is the only possible way of understanding existence. Hence the non-teleology of the Hellenic Greeks, and that of the Deaf today. Nietzsche claimed that we moderns would not be able to handle a non-teleological existence today, but the Deaf demonstrate otherwise. :)

    3. I'm not sure I follow you. Surely Plato's and Aristotle's metaphysical systems were teleological. And I don't see how deafness in particular bears on whether someone is likely to believe that life has a purpose. Suffering in general can make us lose hope, but then deafness is only an example and so we'd really be talking about omegas, losers, or victims.

      The point about the undead god is that if science forces us to be atheists, we're forced then to think of nature as self-creating and self-evolving. This makes nature the ultimate creative power and so we're left with pantheism. Natural processes are neither dead (inert) nor living (mindful or personal), and so they're undead. The world is thus a monstrous, horrible place, not simply a beautiful or a loving one, as saccharine, sentimental folks like to kid themselves. We need artists to sublimate these dreadful existential facts and come up with a religion that sweeps even nihilistic atheists off their feet. That's what Nietzsche tried to do and we should pick up where he left off.

    4. By "Hellenic philosophy" do you mean the presocratics?

    5. By "Hellenic Greeks" I mean the period between Homer and Euripides. As for philosophy, I'm not sure what that means. :)

      My original comment clearly states that the Hellenic greeks were non-teleological, up until Socrates (Plato to be exact), given their tragedies (at least until Euripides). I agree with your remarks about the undead god, if only in an aesthetic sense.

      And calling deafness "suffering" or omegas or losers or victims, is a very disappointing remark, and I apologize for introducing something you're clearly not familiar with, except from a condescending POV.

    6. Oh, I misunderstood what you were saying about the ancient Greeks.

      I have experience with physical and mental disorders (Tourettes and OCD), so I don't look down on anyone. Or rather, I look down on everyone equally, including myself. I also try to avoid political correctness wherever possible. So while deaf people can overcome their disability, they still suffer in ways that others don't and they're at least temporarily victims of natural forces or accidents, which cause the disability. I make the same point about gay people in my article on case studies of aesthetic morality. I'm not against gay marriage, but I am against all forms of happy-talk that whitewash the absurdities and tragedies that nature inflicts on us.

      So my apologies if I've offended you, but I certainly think you misunderstand me if you think I was condescending towards deaf people. I don't put myself on a pedestal, so although I criticize lots of things, I don't look *down* on anyone.

    7. That is the thing. You see it as a disability. I see it as a culture.

      There's the difference. I accept your apologies, but not your views.

      Back to the original point - the atheists are still stuck within the same teleological framework that has been around since the early days of Christianity. They all still have a hinterwelt in their backpocket, irrespective of their favorite ice cream flavors, whether they lack the "right" belief in the given "god" of a culture.

    8. I think deaf people can have a culture and a physical disability; indeed, the culture grows out of a response to the obstacle that the world throws in their way. What else would unite them culturally, but their shared obstacle?

      Anyway, I agree that the optimistic atheists may derive their values from an obsolete way of looking at the world. I don't know if teleology is crucial here, since most atheists accept the scientific picture from which teleology is banned. Mind you, there's something teleological about the secular humanist's trust in social progress.

    9. Actually DC is not reducible to disability.

      DC includes more than the deaf - it includes those who learn ASL or other sign languages as their first languages such as the children of deaf adults (CODA), as well as translators and teachers who live their entire life within the community.

      I checked your blog on omegas. It isn't exactly a perjorative, but you are using it only from the mainstream POV, which is based on a medical one. After all there are Alphas, Betas and Omegas within the Deaf community.

      As for scientific atheists, they reach teleology once their questions turn from how to why. They will always hit on the teleological framework when scientific questions turn into philosophical ones (methods of knowledge, history of science, etc.). The only non-teleological path ends in fatalism, and has only existed within the Archaic Greeks.

  5. The problem I have with atheists who reject philosophy, is that they are running from the same questions theists run from. Particularly the question, why should humans continue to exist? The reasons scientific atheists have for this and other similar questions are all moral, not scientific. Have you seen any videos from Inmendham, his delivery tends to turn a lot of people off, but he does make some interesting arguments for ending human existence.

    1. I side with the philosophical atheists too and I talk more about the difference between scientific and philosophical atheism in another article (link below).

      I haven't watched Inmendham's videos, but I have addressed the question of antinatalism at length elsewhere.

  6. Here's his website, if you are ever interested.

    1. After reading your comment I listened to a few of his videos on YouTube. I see what you mean about his delivery, and McLuhan's point about the medium sometimes being the message comes to mind. He's certainly an angry guy. Now, I agree there's a lot to be angry about. I like to rant as well, but coarse language is cliched and intellectually lazy.

      I'm going to return to some themes that come up in his discussions when I write specifically about nihilism. Like I said, I began to address this in my article on antinatalism. I'm also intrigued by the idea that life is ultimately a bad thing. But I prefer to think about transforming life into something better, as opposed to ending life (whether by suicide or an end of reproduction).

      I think of this in existential terms: we face the predicament that some basic facts of what and where we are aren't to our liking, and that although many people are happy and feel more pleasure than pain, the inequalities between people are grotesque and they indicate we're part of some monstrous natural process. So we shouldn't just go with the natural flow (following our instincts, etc), but should do something revolutionary. We've got to reevaluate our values, as Nietzsche said, and lift up our spirits by creating myths (emotionally moving fictions) that do justice to the modern world, including science. What we need is a new and fitting religion, what I call an unembarrassing postmodern one.

    2. ...and so it is our duty to lie to the masses; to motivate them to grand crusades that give meaning to their worthless lives.

      You are walking the same path that Dick Cheney did recently. You are in the shoes of Strauss and Herzl; of Rove and Kissinger. The miseries of the world are made by people who want to use fear and ignorance to conceal truth and beauty.

      I'm only doing this because it helps you, sweetheart. Stop trying to run away. Don't make me do it any more. Why did you make me hurt you? I'm only doing this because it helps you, sweetheart.

    3. Well, I'm familiar with Leo Strauss, especially through Shadia Drury's excellent books. But I don't think all myths or fictions need to be lies. On the contrary, I consider them attempts at art. Great art can move and inspire us. The idea of a lie implies that the liar knows otherwise, but art isn't simply counterfactual. It's normative and speculative, taking us in new directions to follow our ideals and so to transform the world of mere facts. And I'd like to see great art (made up of ideas) for the elites themselves, not just for the masses. So I don't regard the Nietzschean project as necessarily condescending. I explicitly reject the Straussian solution in "Nietzsche and Secular Liberalism."

      Granted, I talk a lot of about esoteric and exoteric knowledge, but not even this implies any condescension or call for coercion. Remember, I think power corrupts, so the elite become sociopaths and nihilists who desperately need something to believe in. Science-centered folks don't help since they take philosophy in general off the table, not to mention religion. No, the esoteric perspective I'm thinking of belongs to the outsiders and marginalized, the detached and disheartened drifters, artists, and omegas whose suffering may make them desperate enough to create a revolutionary story that can enchant even postmodernists.

      This isn't a prediction, of course. All of this is speculative philosophy and fiction. I'll content myself by watching the Nietzschean movie Man of Steel, and then go back to lamenting the fact that religion is mostly left now to Philistines who settle for ancient and obsolete stories (Christianity, Islam, etc).

  7. This video pretty much sums up life on earth, although it is pretty harsh. I'm not sure I agree with humans continuing to reproduce, but realize it's a very taboo subject.

    1. I watched the video. Thanks for the link. The most compelling parts are the scenes of animals eating each other, especially the members of the same species (alphas and betas against the omegas?). Very hard to watch.

      And I agree with some of what Inmendham says, but I have some disagreements as well. He actually contradicts himself when he says (at around 3:30) that the "only function" of our intelligence is to scheme for selfish ends, but then he adds that "most" of the human race is owned by that function. I agree that reason probably evolved as a means of scheming our way up the social ladder, but Inmendham leaves out the possibility of an exaptation, or of an accidental byproduct of an evolved trait. Just because a trait was naturally selected because of one of its effect doesn't mean the trait has no other effects which might later become prominent. Clearly, not all uses of reason are so narrow-minded. Modern science is a striking counterexample, and I hold out the possibility of another one: an unembarrassing postmodern myth that makes life bearable by giving us a nobler direction than the one that most living things have.

      Also, Inmendham talks about the "purpose" of evolution as the throwing together of a gladiatorial war. This metaphor is misleading since there's no mind responsible for evolution, so it has no objective purpose. This is why I use the metaphor of undeadness, because it's more fitting. Natural processes are undead, but those processes have built relatively self-aware and intelligent creatures who have the self-control to choose to revolt against the monstrosities all around us. Precisely because natural processes are only undead, as opposed to intelligently controlled, we have the potential to redirect them.

      To the extent there's any objective meaning in nature, the meaning would have to be a pattern that makes some moral or aesthetic interpretations more compelling than others. If the universe will necessarily end with the destruction of all life, that's certainly a raw datum that makes a tragic rather than a comedic story about nature more compelling. But there are such things as tragic heroes, and maybe that's what we should strive to be. Helping nature to end life, by committing suicide or ending reproduction isn't a case of heroic rebellion; rather, it's giving in to the natural tragedy.

    2. I tend to think that humans simply are not built for utopia, they are built to compete. All of the previous optimistic future visions have not come to pass, we seem to be moving closer to dystopia. The use of anti-depressants is likely to continue to rise, these drugs allow people to tolerate a life they would otherwise deem intolerable. The reason I have chosen not to have children is not because I have given up, it's because the pain and suffering they will inevitably endure isn't worth it imho. I'm not a huge fan of Nietzsche, as I feel he allowed too much of his own psychology to seep into his philosophy. I'm more a fan of Zappfe. Having children is extremely problematic, they are brought into existence without consent. We have not exactly built a great nest to lay our eggs, and even if it was a good nest, there are still the issues of risk, suffering etc.

    3. My reply to antinatalism:

    4. Anon,

      I don't think tragic heroes need to shoot for utopia exactly, so that's a bit of a red herring. But in my article on antinatalism I wind up agreeing that anyone who's sensitive to harsh existential facts would have to have an extra hard time raising a kid. So maybe having kids isn't for everyone, such as melancholy folks or Nietzschean atheists.

    5. Unfortunately, people who have the most children are not insensitive/resigned to harsh existential facts, they are completely unaware of them. There is a video on youtube called Demographic Winter, it goes into the declining birth rates in the developed world. The only people having enough children to grow their populations are devote religious groups. Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Muslims, etc. In other words, people who believe in fairy tales.

    6. Sigh, devout.

  8. I'm not able to view the video, it says it's not available in my country.

  9. It's the Monty Python Cover of the song "Always look on the bright side of life" maybe another version of it is available for you on youtube. Sorry if you expected something deeply serious ;-)

  10. Ha, no problem. I am an anti-natalist, but do have a sense of humor.

  11. BC, have you seen a movie named Begotten? It's an old surrealistic b/w movie that is not for the faint hearted folks. It begins with a horrific depiction of God committing suicide through disembowelment. Then a woman appears from under his clothes (she's Mother Nature) and starts to, well, handjob the corpse. She uses the semen to impregnate herself with what later is revealed to be a human. The rest of the movie they walk around (the helpless human is crawling) and all sorts of absurd and cruel things happen to them.

    1. No, I haven't seen that movie or many other experimental films, for that matter. Looks interesting, but I wonder whether the mythology hangs together. The Rotten Tomatoes site says some Druids take Mother Nature and her child, and kill and bury them, and then life grows from their grave. So who are the Druids? Aliens? Or a separate evolutionary tree before the one we're familiar with?

  12. On the subject of atheistic tribalism/fundamentalism: I've always been a fan of theological noncognitivism/"igtheism"/"ignosticism" myself (I really don't like those labels in quotes though...too easily misheard in casual conversation as atheism or agnosticism, which is like fucking up The Aristocrats joke by saying "The Aristocats!"). I think the atheist focus on theism belies a kind of psychological projection of the importance theism is granted before really measuring up to any reasonable test of cognitive validity...which, of course, is it's own stance on theism that has a kind of hipster one-upmanship written all over it. But what can ya do when these same people still think of themselves as having selves, Dennett included (however sassy he may wiggle his cute little theorybottom in all the adoring atheists' faces)? Probably nuthin' unless we can grow enough magic mushrooms for the whole world.

    1. I don't think the differences between atheists all come down to tribal instincts or games of one-upmanship. It's hard to know what to do after the death of God.

  13. If we extend theistic concepts beyond monotheism, many cultures/religious traditions/spiritual traditions/mythologies (including in pre-Christian Europe and pre-Judaic Middle East) include built-in coping mechanisms that have been in place for centuries or longer, examples including the depiction in polytheist mythologies of deities dying of a variety of different causes, something commented on in the West by Ancient Greek and Roman theists and atheists alike in debates stretching even into the early days of Christian dominance (when many who were theists about polytheism and atheists about Christians still held common truck with the atheists about both on the hope that the Christian thing was just a phase of a couple Emperors and the bend-with-the-wind aristocratic hangers-on), and while the general disillusionment that began to emerge around Imperial Cults (as Emperors lacking even the pretence of divinity that Julius and Augustus PR'd for themselves started demanding deification one after another) led ultimately from poly to monotheism, the contemporary theological climate of transition included people whose "theism" ended and began with philosophical concepts like Prime Movers and Ultimate Realities, which are metaphysical but not necessarily theistic (and even then, there were unbelievers of unknowable concepts among the philosophers back then as well) and that's to say nothing of the transition into atheism of large swathes of Hindu South Asians in the wake of Jainism and Buddhism more than 500 years before the birth of Christ (both of which were ALSO predated by the smaller swathes dedicated to Carvaka/Lokayata atheism in the centuries previous).

    Ideas of tribal gods "dying" when tribes were overcome in the Middle East was also the reality that the proto-Judaic peoples would have been party to, and the Bible records them interacting with cultures who we know now held those beliefs during the time periods being talked about in the OT, and indeed many of those traditions had continuity even until after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East in the early days of Islam.

    That said, with the exception of the Grecco-Roman atheists and those of the Indian sub-continent (the only examples I can think of right now, though I'm sure more exist that my Western education didn't deign to cover), these are largely migrations from one theism to another theism, so your point stands across a cross-section of cultures/religious traditions/spiritual traditions/mythologies. But there ARE exceptions, so I think to speak of it being hard to know what to do after the death of God (or, less mono-centrically, the death of theism) is probably a little weird to, say, a Jainist whose atheist traditions predate white Westerners wringing their hands about it. Especially since Westerners had much the same to say before Westerners were wringing their hands about it.

    1. I think you're saying that many atheists in the past have had merely tribal differences, because their atheism was a matter of opposing specific forms of religions that led to the creation of new forms. But there's limited and then there's unlimited atheism. Opposition to merely Roman religions isn't the same as atheism in the modern sense, the latter being opposition to all possible kinds of religious faith (even though they often wind up being Scientistic or worshipers of pop idols or mass-produced material items).

      Even Jainism, as I understand it, is a sort of substitute religion in the Nietzschean sense. Instead of creator gods it features ubermenschen, or fordmakers who've cleared away all the gunk off their divine spirits so that they can enjoy their superpowers like Neo who left the matrix. This isn't theistic, if by "theism" we mean belief in a supernatural deity, but neither is Jainism atheistic in the modern sense.

      Context matters here, as you know from your knowledge of history, and what drives modern atheism is the revolutionary rise of science and the individual beginning with the European Renaissance, which gave us a highly mechanistic and egoistic worldview. I know there were forerunners of naturalism in ancient cultures, but none of them could have been as all-encompassing, because none was motivated by the unique power of modern technoscience.

      So I wonder whether ancient atheists and skeptics could have felt the postmodern sort of existential angst. Do you know of documentary evidence of ancient nihilism that compares with the modern sort? There's Xenophanes's mockery of theism, and certainly the Roman elites were cynical about many religions even though they participated in the Roman cults of personality. But was there an ancient kind of atheistic existentialism? An ancient Nietzsche, for example. That's what I'm curious about.

    2. Well, as I understand it, the theism highlighted in Jainism is a sort of pantheism that needs to be respected to the extent that ascetics (not regular lay worshippers, although it is definitely encouraged among lay worshippers) have to avoid stepping on or drinking insects, and can't eat plants that would be killed by their harvesting (i.e. root vegetables and so on), only those which fruit and drop things, and the idea is to toss the scraps and seeds (as well as shit out the remainder) like non-human animals would into the ecosystems that can sustain the furtherance of the plant you just ate from. So while they're not scientists, exactly, they understood ecological thinking through a kind of pantheism that, today, some Jainist thinkers and holy men from a cross-section of Jainist sects are willing to recognize (from their pre-prepped atheism about other forms of theism of their time and beyond, such as the Hindu culture they were responding to and the endless litany of colonial faiths that they were also atheistic about) that their own pseudo-pantheism does not need a divinity within it to be correct, and that indeed they have ever responded to accusations of enshrining divinity in things by Hindu theists angry that they deny Hindu theism with the same sort of Buddhist ascetic shrugging smile that says, "Well yeah, it's neither true nor not true. Like anything." There's a really amazing form of Jainist non-violence (they've developed it in every possible direction) that is there primary form of argumentation, and I think you might find it really interesting. I'll link it here:

      Anekantavada, syādvāda and nayavāda are concepts that have allowed Jainists to extend openness about other beliefs while maintaining super-Pyrrhonic skepticism about their own. And, in part, this is why their atheism has always "known what to do" after the death of theism. Much better than dogmatic Western minds, anyway.

      So it may not be a pre-Nietzsche Nietzsche, exactly, but in some ways they prefigure much of the nihilist thoughtstreams in which lil' ol' Friedrich splished and splashed by a fuckton of a long time, without succumbing to nihilism because of their ascetic community of freethinkers...which sounds a lot like something Nietzsche advocates!

    3. Yeah, regarding relativism, it's amazing how postmodern Jainism was long before postmodernism. I think the extreme veganism and ahimsa are due to the belief that all living things have a divine core, an omniscient and omnipotent spirit that's held back by karma but that's released after sufficient reincarnation and enlightenment. So there's a kind of Hegelian theism here, with divinity coming at the end of a process rather than at the beginning.

      Still, when you compare Buddhists or Jains to Christians, it's like the difference between adults and children. And yet Christians far outnumber the more enlightened folks...

      When I first learned about Jainism, I was struck by its Nietzschean themes. These include the doctrine of pluralism, the atheistic cosmology, the emphasis on personal discipline, and the Gnostic idea that we have the potential to become a higher form of being.

      But the most important difference for me is that Nietzsche was an existentialist. The overman is all about creatively and heroically overcoming harsh facts by re-evaluating the values that no longer make sense after the end of theism. By contrast, Jains have an elaborate quasi-theological system, despite their relativistic qualifications. And yet Jains regard the Fordmaker as a hero.

      Have you read David Zindell Neverness series? If you like science fiction, Jainism, and Eastern religions in general, that's a worthwhile series, although it has a few quirks.

    4. What a bunch of incoherent pseudo-intellectual, self-congratulatory, self-referential horseshit this comment is. It is so sad that you think you have a point. Wee are all dumber for your comment. Stfu.

    5. Oh, so you're talking to me, Thorgasm. So far, your comments are pretty trollish. I take it you're an offended Christian, though. Is that right? Would you mind picking a specific issue and showing where I've gone wrong, instead of just hurling insults? I can't imagine Jesus telling someone to STFU.

  14. Stfu you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting basement dwelling faux-philosophical megadouches! Yours is a petty trivial localized earth bound philosophy unworthy of the universe. Save your pseudo-intellectual blaather for the next Comic-Con.

    1. If this comment is directed to me, it shows you haven't read much of what I've written. Surely it's wise to gather sufficient evidence before you render your judgment. In this case, that would require reading the relevant writings of the person you're attacking. Without that knowledge of what you're talking about, your comment comes off as merely trollish. Can you at least be more specific about what you find objectionable in this article?

    2. Wow, your comments have really opened my eyes. I mean, this is mind blowing stuff! You make some powerful points, except ... let’s put the Hitchens-Dawkins Kool-Aid down for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality…. Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. Indeed, why are you even bothering to comment at all? No atheistic position can be taken seriously until two threshold questions can coherently be answered. 1. Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate. On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are material. Therefore, everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism? Also if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of religion. Ridding the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’ or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism, there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow. We are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by the next asteriod, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short, if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’ 2. Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate. If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing. As rude as it way sound (and I AM NOT advocating suicide) the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing. Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position. In the end, we all know you can’t answer these questions because yours is a petty, trivial, localized, earth bound philosophy, unworthy of the universe. Finally, is there a basement dwelling troll left in the multiverse who doesn’t drag themselves out of the primordial ooze and logged onto this site in order to announce our collective atheism towards Thor, that gardens can be beautiful without fairies (a powerful rebuttal to fairy apologetics, by the way, but it leaves a lot unanswered about the Gardener), and that we cling to Bronze Age skymen due to our fear of the dark? Let me translate that to neckbeard: you are unoriginal, you are wrong, and you are a clown. Also, FTW atheism is incoherent: http://communities.

    3. Prepare to be pwned, Thorgasm. I asked you to say something worth refuting, because all you did until you posted this wall of text is launch vulgar personal attacks that demonstrated you had no clue where you are on this blog. You think you're talking to a new atheist, whereas even the article above shows that I'm a Nietzschean one who disagrees with much of what the new atheists say. Elsewhere, I mock Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and other scientistic atheists (see, for example, my satire on the NA's condemnation of sleep and sex as irrational.) So I invited you to be more specific and substantive so we could have an interesting discussion.

      Now you post this tired list of theistic arguments which likewise shows you're not interested in a serious exchange. How do I know this? Because googling that hackneyed wall of text proves that you've posted it verbatim to other websites. You see, I am an intellectual. That doesn't mean I'm especially intelligent, but it does mean I care about ideas. So if I were to criticize some article, I'd make sure I'd read the article beforehand and I’d tailor my response to it. Otherwise, how would I know my criticisms were relevant? How would I know I wasn’t embarrassing myself?

      In this case, you've assumed I'm a typical scientistic new atheist. Lo and behold, though, the internet contains a multitude, so it turns out that some of your arguments are irrelevant to my worldview while others I've addressed on this blog. For example, I've summarized my response to the typical theistic proofs in “Theism: Does its Irrationality Matter?” and I've addressed the issues of atheistic nihilism and suicide in "Brassier's Nihilism" and "Enlightenment and Suicide." (For these articles, search the Map of the Rants, located at the top of this blog.)

      What I'm saying, then, is that you've disappointed me. I thought maybe you were giving me the holiday gift of providing me the opportunity to have a stimulating exchange on the question of God's existence. But you don't care about ideas or the truth. Like I said, you don't even know where you are when you step into this blog, because you haven't read anything I've written and you just repost your anti-atheism screed wherever you go.

    4. But I’m in a generous mood this holiday season—not towards you, but towards my readers. So I’ll address your arguments. I’m not assuming you’ll respond; instead, I’m rebutting them to amuse my actual readers. To begin with, then, your arrogance is off-putting, because combined with your implicit Christian message it makes for a muddled worldview. In short, you’re not making Jesus proud. I assume you’d justify your obnoxious tone by saying atheists are controlled by demons, so they deserve no respect. I’d respond to such demonization by saying to you: “Boo!”

      You actually seem to think Christians have the high ground when it comes to a rational justification of their religious beliefs. If you believe that, you’re living in something like the Fox News bubble. Most of the world’s scientists are atheists and in their professional capacity, scientists are paradigmatically rational. The proofs you offer have been refuted many times since the Enlightenment. Most Western philosophers currently reject them as fallacious. More importantly, those proofs are irrelevant to authentic Christianity. The only reason Christians came up with naturalistic theology is because the rise of modern rationality provided an alternative, wholly secular way to live, for which the Church couldn’t stand. Obviously, Aquinas came before the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, but Aquinas took Aristotle as his model of how to think, and Aristotle was a naturalist.

      In any case, authentic Christians like Kierkegaard take the existential route of realizing that our life choices aren’t wholly rational, because we’re much more animalistic than the wannabe ultrarational Enlightenment thinkers let on. So faith is needed either way. I actually share this existential criticism of rationalistic atheism. Yet you want to play the rationality game and pretend not just that Christianity is rationally defensible, but that Christians have all the rationality on their side while atheistic naturalism has no leg to stand on (presuppositionalism). That’s just foolish.

      Contra the cosmological argument, how the universe began isn’t up to a priori reason. It’s a scientific question. Now science uses math and string theorists currently have a kind of faith in mathematical models even though the models really have only pragmatic value when stretched so thin (i.e. when they’re not yet testable, as in the cosmological context). In any case, the proof equivocates on the word “cause.” The question of what “caused” the whole universe isn’t analogous to the question of whether every event in the universe has a cause. Thus, the theist has no right to the intuition arising from our experience of causation within nature.

      C.S. Lewis’s argument from rationality commits the naturalistic fallacy of reducing logical relations to causal ones. Naturalists may explain logic in terms of causal relations, but this wouldn’t mean that the appeal to some cause (e.g. to natural selection) either justifies or undermines any argument (any logical relation between statements) in the epistemic sense. In other words, philosophical discourse emerges from animal behaviour and so isn’t reducible to any such impersonal goings-on. A naturalist needn’t be an extreme eliminativist who denies the existence of psychological, epistemic, or other higher-level phenomena.

    5. As for the fine-tuning argument, the theist here equivocates on “explanation,” by saying that the fine-tuning in physics requires an explanation, while then offering God as the explanation. Physics deals with scientific explanations, whereas the theist deals with phony ones. Positing God to account for the presumptions of some physical theory explains nothing at all, since obviously God would be more mysterious than nature.

      Irreducible biological complexity doesn’t prove that God exists. Are you saying it proves creationism and refutes natural selection? Take that bit of “reasoning” into just about any university biology class and see what happens. Just try to get out of there without causing raucous laughter at your expense.

      You say morality proves God. Plato refuted that long ago with the Euthyphro Dilemma. Also, naturalists can explain morality in terms of kin selection, the Handicap Principle, and exaptation. Again, even if morality is mysterious, positing God doesn’t explain anything in the scientific, rational sense, since God is more mysterious than any natural explanandum.

      So much for your list of hackneyed proofs. I’m an existential atheist, so unlike the new atheists I don’t worship reason. I say everyone holds something to be sacred by means of a leap of faith. My top standards are aesthetic, not rational. Ultimately, I reject Christianity because Christian myths are hideous when read in light of the postmodern zeitgeist.

      You ask why atheists even engage in debate. The standard NA answer is that religion is dangerous, especially in the US and Middle East, so secularists need to undermine religious faith to protect the progressive secular world. You say this doesn’t work because atheists have no basis for speaking of progress. In fact, atheists are free to speak of subjective values. You say there’s no objective value on atheism, but theists don’t make values objective; on the contrary, they say right and wrong come from God, who is a subject. So you’re confusing objectivity with universality. You want right and wrong to be absolutely the same for everyone. Why should that be so? Societies differ, as do individuals. Why should their ultimate values be exactly the same, just because they’re biologically human? This again would be the naturalistic fallacy, of inferring that right and wrong derive from some fact. Facts can explain why we value what we do, but the question would remain whether we ought to hold those values.

    6. You say atheists have no reason to be objective. Here, you miss the fact that most scientists are methodologically naturalistic, meaning that they’re pragmatic about their arguments and models. Naturalism is preferable to theistic supernaturalism because the former works better. For example, the former gives us technology and allows us to reliably predict the future. How reliable are religious prophecies? Theology is closer to art than to science, so theists really have no business pretending that their religious beliefs are rational. That’s just a category mistake. Religion may be useful to many individuals who feel the need to personify nature, but that’s no longer the default position after the modern revolutions. Nowadays, many people don’t feel the need for theistic religion, although I’d grant that everyone wants a religion of some kind. For example, some atheistic naturalists effectively worship science, reason, or technology. Still, a personal creator of the universe is hardly any longer the precondition of a viable religion.

      Continuing with your strawman version of atheistic naturalism, you say we’re just historical accidents on this view and have no reason to expect to live forever. Indeed, death is what makes life worth living, whereas if theists were to actually listen to what they say when they spew their archaic memes, they’d realize immortality would be a curse and that theists needn’t care so much about their earthly life, assuming they believe they’ll live forever. That’s why Jesus would have had so little problem sacrificing himself, because he would have taken his religious faith seriously, which is something that can’t be said for most Christians who ever lived. Likewise, this is why the Islamist terrorists who sacrifice themselves as they murder infidels have more intellectual integrity than the materialistic Christians who claim to believe they’ll live forever even though they behave as if their life were limited. In any case, absolute death makes biological life precious. On theism, earthly life has comparatively little value, which is why all theists ought to be ascetics and those who aren’t are disgraceful hypocrites.

      As for suicide, see my article on the matter. You say I’m unoriginal, even though you haven’t read anything I’ve written. I’m not your typical new atheist, so you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you want to talk about originality, it seems to me your sort of internet trolling is awfully clichéd.

      Anyway, happy holidays everyone!

  15. Intriguing critique (translated in Greek here). I've dealt with the odd phenomenon of A+ myself extensively when it first appeared two years ago.

    If my assessment of the atheist community is accurate, the whole shebang was caused more by the boredom that has been gathering in the community, than the real novelty of the A+ proposal. Same thing goes for the community's interest for any atheist X-Gate. You can refute theistic arguments for so long before it grows stale.

    While your analysis is quite accurate as for the differences between the subcultures, this boredom seems to have artificially inflated the size of the specific conflict (and any inter-atheistic conflict for that matter).

    1. Thanks for the translation. I know what you mean about the boredom. The other day I read Thomas Frank's interview with the atheist Barbara Ehrenreich and she pointed out that the Hitchens-Dawkins style of attack on religion is boring. I suspect that that style of attack really is something you grow out of (unless you're making a lot of money from it). I got those attacks out of my system years ago when I debated Christians in the Secular Web discussion forums. One of the main reason the traditional theism-atheism debate is stale is that you learn pretty quickly that it's useless, that few minds are ever changed by that debate. The lesson I draw is the existentialist's one: reason is barely even relevant to our deepest convictions.

      Mind you, I'd have thought that A+ is more about the influence of feminism among secular humanists, than just about the staleness of the old issues. Maybe you're right, though, that the boredom has inflated this new issue. I'd actually link A+ to my critique of Canadian culture. In both cases, we see postmodern liberals flailing around to do something interesting even as they pretend they haven't the deep, religious beliefs to justify any such effort. A+ is about fighting for the rights of women and minorities, because Reason alone is supposed to force that defense. But that's errant nonsense. Reason alone has no normative implications whatsoever. And postmodern liberalism undermines its values with the scientistic myth of ultra-rationality. So these liberals become closeted nihilists who are left to pay mere lip service to politically correct values.