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Atheist Experience
FAQ and show 2--6-2005

I have been a viewer of your show for several years. I would like to state that I enjoy the argumentation on the show, and thought I vehemently disagree with most, if not all of the assumptions of the hosts, I would like to commend the cast and crew for a well-done and thought-provoking exposition. However, I take serious issue with several statements on the FAQ and message boards. Below, I will deal with but a few. Even though I realize that atheists cut across a wide range on the spectrum, I will respond to what I disagree with, and will end by questioning the a priori assumptions that the post-Enlightenment world view is any more valid than that of antiquity. The overarching theme will be my disagreement that logic, reason, and science alone can adequately define reality. A word about my assumptions. I am not a Christian, nor am I particularly spiritual, or even an agnostic/atheist. I am not proselytizing, nor am I attempting to insult. Finally, I admit that the themes tackled here are not always congruous. I am just arguing for fairness and taking issue. <br /> I will start off by responding to the FAQ entitled “aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” It runs as follows:<br /> “Even if there was no hell, there are still bad consequences for bad behavior. Our society has laws that threaten criminals with fines, imprisonment, and sometimes death. And even if those laws didn't exist, there would still be the threat of punishment from other sources. For instance, if you commit a murder, the victim's family and friends might come looking for revenge. Nobody likes to be taken advantage of. The justice system just makes the whole process a little more orderly, which is a good thing.”<br /> This neglects the evidence that hell is a pre-scientific and pre-secular way of understanding the concepts of honor and dishonor in society. Was hell understood as a metaphysical reality in ancient Palestine and Near East? Sure. But does this negate the power of its symbolism? Hell seems to function in a dual sense. If you take Durkheim’s stance that religion is the totemic systematization of a collective society’s ultimate concerns, then hell is a valid symbol of drawing the line in the sand between those inside and those outside. Sure, taking it literally is a mistake, and since we have our own way of perceiving reality, I think it only fair to accept that pre-scientific communities had their own ways of looking at the world. The spectacles were different, and hell was a reality for these people in a social sense. <br /> The FAQ continues:<br /> “With rare exceptions, people (atheists included) don't really have the urge or desire to run out and kill or steal or otherwise harm other people. And honestly, when people say "If it weren't for God holding me back, there would be nothing to stop me from being a criminal", we worry about them. If your grasp of right and wrong is so shaky that you can't stop yourself from doing bad things, and you need someone threatening you with eternal punishment to keep you in line, then we wonder how safe you really are to be near.” <br /> Just as hell was a symbol of drawing lines between inside-outside, we do this today with our laws, etc.. We shun those who do not conform to our ideas of sociability, we penalize those in the marketplace who do not have adequate education. Isn’t this just a secular version of hell? In a sense, we as a collective society always condemn those to “hell” who don’t agree with our dogma (that is, the disparate elements that make up our notions of right and/or wrong that have, more or less, been agreed upon through acculturation). Doesn’t this disagree with the relativist stance of “live and let live” that you apply to things like religion and belief or intellectual structures? I find that it is a rather pathetic example of man’s overestimation of the worth and ability of his fellow men (and esp. human collective structures) to solve the problems of the world through reason and science. An example is this: I recall watching today, and hearing Ashley Perrin make the comment that if he went around believing that “all people are scummy,” then “that would suck.” Unfortunately, the evidence from history has shown that men aren’t all that great. In fact, it has shown just the opposite. Genocide, wars, hatred, and pride. Human beings are finite creatures that, more often than not, do lie, cheat, steal, and look out for themselves as egoistic animals. <br /> The attitude of the hosts on this television show betrays their admitted overestimation of the nature of man and his ability to do the right thing. But it also betrays several a priori hermeneutical loci that are based in education, standard of living, race, class, and comfort level. Would Mr. Perrin believe this if he came into contact with a lower-income high-school drop out who beats his wife and drinks? Or perhaps with a filthy rich elitist who subscribes to a particular form of Objectivism that justifies his own sense of superiority and greed? It is more likely that human beings are complex creatures psychologically and socially that defy this simple idea of most people don’t have the urge to harm other people. Karyn Glaser also stated on the show that we have to decide our morality on the basis of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” This seems to be a form of Utilitarianism. However, taken to its conclusion, the end result is justifying pushing somebody who works at McDonalds off the boat to save the doctor. It also means that human beings, who are already hugely imperfect, decide as a conglomerate with even less social conscience what is right and wrong. This means that if we condoned human sacrifice, that’s cool. It means that if someone wanted to rape a daughter, he would simply have to pay her father compensation (please do not use the Deuteronomy 22:28-29 argument, because I am not a literalist, and believe that the Mosaic codes were written by humans to justify their society, and was not sent from the sky on stone tablets). These attitudes subscribe to the idea that human beings are constantly progressing in an ideal way. I would disagree and argue that our “progress” is not really progress at all in any ultimate sense. <br /> Reason and Intellectual Imperialism<br /> Let me start by stating I am not a scientist, and as such, will appeal to authority. Another point I take issue with is the superiority of the scientific world-view over that of antiquity. It testifies to the arrogance of finite beings to exalt themselves. I think Martin Wagner provides a good example when he writes on the FAQ: “Finally, remember that these writings were the product of a primitive, pre-scientific, superstitious and unenlightened culture. People believed all manner of wacky things. Stories were frequently told, and believed, about miraculous events involving Roman emperors and generals. Nothing special here.” Wagner wrote this in response to a viewer who was trying to argue the Easter sightings authentic. What Wagner fails to realize is that, again, like hell, ideas like demonic possession, resurrection, theophanies, were an accepted part of the cognitive imperative, or culture of the time. They served the dual purpose of being taken as a literal place in time, and a symbol that stood for something that transcended it, an idea. As such, their realities and experiences were “real and true” in a social sense. This is equally true of one who subscribes to scientific rationalism and empiricism in the vein of David Hume will only trust observable phenomenon through sensory experience. This is but one aspect of OUR world-view. I find it strange that someone who would perhaps marginally have respect for the world view of Native Americans and non-Americas, denigrates that of an essentially alien culture. It is Eurocentric, and colonialist (in an ideological sense). Wagner seems to subscribe to a point-of-view characterized by the attitude that the perceiver can be distinguished from the perceived- I believe Quantum Mechanics refutes this. <br /> A further issue I have is with the insistence of logic by many co-hosts of this television broadcast. Logic and reason have been the hallmarks of post-Enlightenment culture. In religious language (but not literally, mind you), logic is deified and has become an absolute, infallible monolith that dictates your own version of the Ten Commandments. I question (and reject) the assumption that philosophical reason and/or logic can adequately explain reality. Logic, like scientific method, are a set of rules created by finite, flawed beings. The world, as I’m sure many of you scientifically-savvy folks know, is a complex, strange, and oft-times frightening places. We struggle with the incongruities, just as figures in the past had. We have, at times, to make things such as analogies, create metaphors, etc... This is poetic language. What poetic language does is express the intangible (such as feelings, ineffability, etc...) in symbolic language that creates a “world” of shadow and inference. I argue that religious language has the same intent. While I am not one who subscribes to a Scholastic view of proofs of God (and, indeed, find these useless), I do not believe that a finite being logically-comprehending something constitutes final proof. Asking such different cultures who have such differing spectacles of viewing the world is intellectually imperialist and arrogant. For the time, I am grateful. Keep up the good work.

While I think Mr. Johnson has made several salient points in his post, there are a number of particulars in which I think he has been affected by — sorry to say — New Age fuzzy thinking. Overall, though, a nice post, and I appreciate Mr. Johnson's sincerity in approaching his subject. There's quite a lot of stuff here I could respond to, but I'll address the only the things specifically responding to me. I'll encourage Ashley and Keryn to respond to the passages addressing them.<br /> <br /> I agree that, in primitive cultures, religion — and the supernatural concepts of Hell and divine retribution for sin that it promotes — served a valid social function in codifying normative behaviors. But are such concepts still valid in a modern, scientific age, in which prosaic and rational justifications can be provided for all of the social standards a civilization would require? Is it still necessary to fill people's minds with ideas about fire and brimstone — even symbolically — when it would do just as well to inculcate social responsibility by having people grow up with the knowledge they are part of a society in which cooperative and altruistic behavior has demonstrably beneficial results for all involved, and destructive antisocial behavior has demonstrably negative results? Results which, one might add, are far easier to witness than some unseen lake of fire? Yes, such ideas may not work for all, but we've had thousands of years of the other "symbolic" ideas Mr. Johnson defends, and things haven't been much better. Indeed, much human strife has been INSTIGATED by these potent symbols.<br /> <br /> Mr. Johnson casts doubt that logic and reason are sufficient tools for making decisions about how to live. But I don't see a really good defense of this notion coming from him other than his assertion that human beings are finite and flawed. To which I reply, duh. But, being finite and flawed, we poor humans must use what tools we have. The question then is: which tools are the best? Reason involves observation of the natural world, and drawing conclusions based on those observations. Can our observations of things be flawed? Certainly. This difference is, though, that reason and science offer some sound criteria for gauging their proper application, whereas religious, metaphysical, symbolic, or whatever New-Agey-term-you-wish-to-use methods do not. For example:<br /> <br /> A man may "observe" a nine-foot tall man with four heads walking down the sidewalk, but is his observation trustworthy? If not — if no one else in the immediate vicinity sees this apparition — then we can conclude this person probably does not have full command of his reasoning faculties. He's possibly a lunatic. He sees something, no one else does; his observations are thus messed up — QED. But what if our culture was one in which most people agreed that logic and reason were overrated (it does seem to be veering that way, sadly) and that "symbolic language" referencing a "world of shadow and inference" were sufficient tools for determining what our real world was like? Who then could say that the putative madman WASN'T seeing such a being walking down the street, even though no one else could? Science and reason, while frustrating to believers who wrongly view their methods as limiting (when all science is really doing is failing to flatter their religious or spiritualist prejudices), have an advantage in providing general guidelines that can be independently employed by just about anyone, and that will work the same way reliably for everyone. The "create your own reality" views of the New Age do not have something with that degree of reliability.<br /> <br /> I reject Mr. Johnson's assertion that, because human beings are "finite and flawed," religion (rooted in faith, not requiring proof) and science (requiring rigorous standards of proof) are on an even intellectual playing field. This is demonstrably untrue. And his remark about quantum physics indicates to me he may have gone to see the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" once too often. Quantum physics applies only at the micro (subatomic) or macro (way too big for us to take in) level; it does not rule us at the level at which most of us live our lives. I can say with confidence that, on a normal real-world scale, observer can be distinguished from observed. The keyboard I am typing on is distinct from me, so is the monitor I am looking at. When I eat lunch, my sandwich — happily — is not me (at least not until my body absorbs its nutrients).<br /> <br /> I also wholly reject the notion that science "testifies to the arrogance of finite beings to exalt themselves". If anything does THAT, it's religion, which tells people that the creator of the Universe is their best friend and is intimately concerned with the smallest details of their personal lives. Religion is the ne plus ultra of human self-exaltation and arrogance; we create gods in our own image, after all. But what does science do, if not repeatedly PUNCTURE the balloon of human self-importance? This attitude has been at the root of every anti-science pogrom religion has launched throughout the ages. The fundamentalist war against evolution is based on nothing more than the offense they feel at being told they are simply part of nature, and NOT the holy, precious creations of a Father-God who made us and the entire universe for us to play in. In Galileo's day, the geocentric view of the universe was a key aspect of the church's message that It's All About US. When scientists offered their proofs that the Earth was NOT the center of all existence, the church responded with much anger and even violence. Tell me truly: which of those two views was the one reflecting human self-exaltation and arrogance?<br /> <br /> Science is about the practical pursuit of knowledge through testable means, nothing more. What's more, science has built-in methods of self-correction (such as peer review) to ensure the answers it provides are as accurate as possible and can be independently confirmed. Again I ask, how does science testify to the "arrogance of finite beings to exalt themselves" if the most prominent thing that distinguishes science from religion is the WILLINGNESS TO ADMIT AND ADDRESS MISTAKES?<br /> <br /> I'm glad to see that Mr. Johnson does not "believe that a finite being logically-comprehending something constitutes final proof." But — newsflash! — neither do scientists! Facts in science are only ever provisionally true; there could always be a new piece of evidence around the corner to send us right back to the drawing board. But THAT is precisely WHY scientists love what they do; there is always a new mystery to solve — contrary to religious/spiritual faith, which DOES lay claim to absolute knowledge. Even Stephen Hawking recently announced the new discoveries were forcing him to rethink everything he thought he knew about black holes for the last 30 years. Is that arrogant?<br /> <br /> I can, unfortunately, probably say nothing to change Mr. Johnson's mind if he wants to believe it is "intellectually imperialist and arrogant" to trust the tried and true methodologies of science to decide how reality works, over some romanticized image he has of the "noble savage" out in the plains popping peyote and having glorious visions. I won't deny that the latter guy is having fun, but as for whose facts I'm going to trust, I'll go with Dr. Hawking. After all, HE'S willing to admit he might be wrong....

In my initial response, I mentioned Mr. Johnson's assertion that science and religion ought to be considered ont he same intellectual playing field. Strictly speaking, I note he did not assert those exact words, but when I wrote that statement, I was referring to this passage in Mr. Johnson's original:<br /> <br /> "Another point I take issue with is the superiority of the scientific world-view over that of antiquity."<br /> <br /> To me, when he writes "that of antiquity," he is referring in a meta-sense to religious, metaphysical, mystical worldviews, all pre-scientific. The reason modern science is more trustworthy than beliefs of antiquity is that modern science has the methodologies I discussed to determine accuracy. And these did not exist in antiquity. Ancient peoples, however much some folks wish to romanticize them, did not have the tools at their disposal to investigate the world and then analyze their conclusions, as we do today.<br /> <br /> One more point I wish to mention that I forgot earlier. Mr. Johnson denigrates logic as "a set of rules created by finite, flawed beings," and thus concludes it is inadequate to "explain reality." What he neglects is that the "poetic language" he prefers was created by the same finite, flawed beings. So why is one better than the other, since it comes from the same flawed source? Is it just that religion, mysticism and poetry flatter Mr. Johnson's beliefs and science doesn't? While I think there's a place for poetry in life, when it comes to determining what is factual and what isn't about reality, which is better? The precise language of science, or the poetic language of the mystics? Mr. Johnson and many others may prefer the latter. But it was science, not mystical poetry or ancient beliefs, that cured smallpox and polio, built Mr. Johnson's house, his car, his computer, and grew the food he ate for lunch today. As long as he doesn't lose sight of those things, he can indulge in all the poetic flights of fancy he wishes.

I find it interesting that you chose a term such as "imperialism" to express your views. Those minority groups (i.e. Atheists) not in power have never been accused of imperialistic motivations. It's probably because, well, they are not in a position to exact any sort of "imperialism". However, if you wish to pursue this course of argument you may look no further than the predominate religious ideology in power-- no matter the country. You will find that it is precisely those religious factions that dominate government, legislation and social constructs to conform to their "beliefs". To use reason and intellect to argue against such imperialistic discourse as persued by religion, is a fight for civil rights--not imperialism, but quite the opposite.<br /> <br /> As to Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Physics, they have nothing to do with perception. However, there does exist an uncertainty principle that basically states that in the course of study, interaction, as it were, inevitably will change that which you are studying. In this regard, it is suggested that which you study shall no longer be valid precisely because it has been changed by your interference. Scientists refer to this as the Hiesenberg Uncertainty Principle.

The uncertainty principle is the only part of quantum theory that anyone ever uses in the human experience and is why I decided to put it in my post. In general, Martin is correct in that it is a theory of the sub-atomic realm. It really doesn't do very well in the world of the "large", so to speak, but that is where string theory is valuable. String seeks to merge, if you will, general relativity, which is very good in the "large" world, with quantum theory. For a good explantion, please look to this link:<br /> <br /> http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/

I know it was written in 2005. Nevertheless, there has been no response even though they both wrote two replies. I will 'assume' that means they are right. However, I thought the diatribe sounded like the stereotypical religious right rhetoric, man is evil, disdain for science, and atheists have caused all the problems.

We all have a right to believe what we want. We can abandon all logic when it comes to facts and slither to (symbolism, allegory, metaphor, and poetry) when there is no evidence to back up our claims, or to cover up the obvious silly science and contradictions in the bible.

There is absolutely a difference in folklore and known facts. It seems that allegory, metaphor, and poetic license come into play when anyone wants to find out the facts of the matter concerning the bible. In 1415, the Church of Rome destroyed all knowledge of two Second Century Jewish books. The Benedict XIII firstly singled out for condemnation a secret Latin treatise called 'Mar Yesu' and then issued instructions to destroy all copies of the Book of Elxai. No editions of these writings now publicly exist, but church archives recorded that they were once in popular circulation and known to the early presbyters. Paul said, "My Christ" and "another Jesus."

Also, the New Testament was a construct, a forgery, and a fake. Jesus never existed; a composite figure cobbled together from the myths of many other Gods that long pre-existed Christianity.

There are literally thousands of stories throughout history about the real 'Jesus' that anyone can find. However, the most amazing one is The Man Who Died, London, D. H. Lawrence, 1929. It was a short story originally named The Escaped Cock. "Jesus was taken down too early from the cross, revived in the tomb, astonished his followers, who assumed he was dead, and slipped away to Egypt to enjoy conjugality with a priestess of Isis." It was at the (climatic moment) that he declared, "I am risen."

Despite the fact that the bible is a loaded with metaphors/parables (if Christianity's claims are unfounded and untrue) and its gospels are the products of forgers, liars, and men charged by a certain Roman aristocracy and politicians to create an orthodoxy of religion for their empire, and if it continued to grow as a well-timed and placed falsehood, widening its power and political pull until evidence of its fraudulent foundations was either forgotten or covered up, we would have to conclude something very different.

The Bible is a book that claims to be the infallible authoritative voice of God. That is why people turn to the Bible to back up their own ideas and values. The words of this book are distorted to support all kinds of corruption. The reason people use the bible in that way is to draw from its authority when they say (I am not wrong because God said so and you wouldn't dare defy the ultimate authority.) Or (I can prove I'm right it's in the bible.)

There are all kinds of books being written by those who yearn to prove the fallibility of science; because they think it will prove the validity of the Bible. They have only succeeded in proving that over time technology improves and scientist know more; theories can change but (dogma never changes) the scientists objectives are to gain more information. Those who prefer Bible education to science want people to stop thinking and just believe. They prefer creationism being taught masquerading as science (intelligent design) instead of teaching science.

Weather "It's a Metaphor" or "It's a Fairy Tale" the atoning sacrifice of Christ is never once mentioned in the entire Gospel of Luke (he didn't know.) I doubt that many atheists would even break a sweat worrying about (Hell) or being separated from this ignorant gaggle of geese.

The economic exploitation of defeated territory; and the demilitarization of the citizens has never been because of a presence of TOO MANY ATHEISTS. Imperialism is a powerful force used against less developed nation by those superior in technologies, (US cavalry vs the Indians/the British vs India.) Colonialism/Imperialism is made possible by the use of terror and repression. If you wonder what kind of control the Corp/Government has take a look at what has been going on in America (because they believe that America is a 'chosen' nation.) Were already deliberating on a new and more truly imperialist form of expansion.

Kids become their parents; what happens to us in the formative years will influence what we become. Man is no more good or evil than a cow is good or evil. Man was born good (unless there are defects) that can be defined by scientific methods. The bible did call these defects (demonic possession) because they had no scientific methods to define epileptics or mental illness. We are here to find answers.

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