- Becoming Atheist: Humanism and the Secular West | Reviews in History
- Russel Blackford reviews a book about the social history of atheism in the 20th Century in the West, looking especially at the gender differences in how interviewees expressed their reasons for leaving religion.
(tags: atheism history gender russell-blackford)
- The Evolution of Trust
- Interactive exploration of repeated Prisoner’s dilemma type games, where you can play with payoffs and strategies.
(tags: trust game mathematics maths)
- Broadpwn: Remotely Compromising Android and iOS via a Bug in Broadcom’s Wi-Fi Chipsets | Exodus Intelligence
- Broadcom kicking it old school: “In order to facilitate patching, an extensive thunk table is used in RAM, and calls are made into that table at specific points during execution. Should a bug fix be issued, the thunk table could be changed to redirect to the newer code.”
(tags: android wifi broadcom broadpwn security)
- Circles Sines and Signals – Introduction
- Some nice graphics introducing the Discrete Fourier Transform.
(tags: learning fourier-transform signal dsp)
- Why Stop Funding Hate deserves answers – Creative Review
- “The Stop Funding Hate campaign is gaining traction and giving brands difficult decisions to make.” If you want something you can do, this is something you can do.
(tags: daily-mail newspapers hate daily-express politics)
- Why the economy can’t explain Trump or Brexit – OpenLearn – Open University
- Authoritarian social attitudes and the rate of change of minority population in an area are better predictors of Trump/Brexit voting than poverty.
(tags: trump brexit psychology authoritarianism politics)
- Responding to Tim Keller’s “Making Sense of God” Talk
- A shorter and better version than my own rebuttal of the book the talk was based on.
(tags: tim-keller Religion philosophy Atheism)
- The President and the bomb | Restricted Data
- The US military won’t stop a president from using nuclear weapons, the system is designed to make sure they can do so, not to prevent them.
(tags: politics military nuclear president)
- Street Epistemology: An Effective Response to Credulity – YouTube
- Anthony Magnabosco discusses his experiences applying the methods from the book “A Manual For Creating Atheists”.
(tags: street-epistemology atheism argument conversion)
On the Reddits, there’s a bit of debate about what we should understand by the term “atheist”. The most popular view among atheists there is that their atheism is a “lack of belief”, and that they make no claim about whether or not God exists. Take the sidebar on /r/DebateAnAtheist as an example of this view:
For r/DebateAnAtheist, the majority of people identify as agnostic or ‘weak’ atheists, that is, they lack a belief in a god. They make no claims about whether or not a god actually exists, and thus, this is a passive position philosophically.
What’s going on here?
Firstly, some people think that someone who believes or who states a belief has a “burden of proof”. See Frank Turek’s blog, for example, where he makes the analogy to a courtroom (I guess he doesn’t know about Scottish law). In this view, the atheist needs to make their case, they can’t just sit back and wait for the apologist to make theirs. The “lack of belief” atheists accept that a person with a belief has a burden of proof, so they are careful to say they don’t have a belief, just a lack of belief.
Secondly, apologists also like to say that atheists have a belief, therefore they have faith (meaning unevidenced belief), therefore we’re not so different, you and I. Again, a “lack of belief” atheist might accept that a “belief” is “something accepted on faith”, and that believing without “positive evidence” is always bad, but deny that they have a belief.
Finally, the apologist and the “lack of belief” atheist might both accept that “you can’t prove a negative” and relatedly, that to claim to “know” something requires you to be absolutely certain of it.
I think what’s going wrong in all these cases is that the atheists have gone too far in accepting stuff which the apologists made up to muddy the waters (or, more charitably, which is confused thinking shared by atheists and apologists), but then suddenly realised they need to pull up just before crashing into an undesirable conclusion.
What does the “lack of belief” view get right? Well, people do have degrees of belief, so it’s true to say that failing to accept one belief is not the same as believing the opposite belief. The classic example quoted by “lack of belief” atheists is the jar of beans: if I say I don’t believe the number of beans is even, I’m not saying it’s odd, I’m saying I don’t know. If I wanted to put a number on it, I’d say it was 50% likely to odd and 50% likely to be even, in the absence of any other information.
However, if I thought it was 50% likely that there was a God, I’d still be in church every Sunday. The consequences of being wrong are too great to risk on a coin toss. I think most atheists consider it much less likely that there’s a God, unlikely enough that, if the question were about anything other than God, they’d be happy enough to say “X does not exist”.
Burden of proof
Going back to the first point, we should distinguish between rules of debate (or of a courtroom) and rules of rationality. An atheist who goes into a debate and says just sits there repeatedly telling their theist opponent “you haven’t proven your case” deserves to lose the debate. Entering into a debate requires taking up the burden of convincing the audience.
But it’s not true that if we want to be rational, we take on a duty to defeat all comers when we believe something or say out loud that we believe it. Being rational means we ought to have good reasons for our beliefs, but our time is limited, so we cannot become experts on everything. Rational belief in evolution doesn’t require us to rebut everything in a Gish Gallop in a way which would convince a creationist.
It’s not that hard to come up with good reasons to think there isn’t a God based on our background knowledge: on the face of it, the universe looks nothing like what we’d expect if there were. We’re rational in believing and saying that there are no teapots in the asteroid belt, no unicorns on Pluto, no fairies at the bottom of the garden, and that there’s no God.
Belief, faith, and evidence
On to the second point. As I’ve mentioned previously, atheism doesn’t require faith, at least in most common senses of the world. A belief is just a mental assent to some statement of how things are. This assent isn’t something that only happens because a person has faith: perhaps they have excellent reasons for their belief (or perhaps they don’t: both cases are examples of belief).
There’s also some confusion about evidence, where some people don’t realise that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Something that doesn’t happen when your theory says it should have can provide as much evidence as something that does happen.
Proving a negative, absolute certainty
We can certainly prove a negative in mathematics (the square root of 2 is not a rational number, there are no even primes above 2, and so on). Outside of mathematics, it’s difficult to reach 100% certainty for anything we believe, but that just means that we’ll have to make do without it. It’s generally harder to show that something does not exist than that something does (where we can just point to an example of the thing), but remember, something that does not happen can still be evidence.
When someone says “I know there is no God”, they might be doing a couple of things: they might be emphasising the strength of their belief (“I don’t just believe it, I know it”) and/or making a claim that this belief is true and justified (which is traditionally what knowledge means to a philosopher). The confusion between these two is responsible for a lot of argument between people who know a bit of philosophy and those who don’t.
In either case, just because we can think of ways in which we could be wrong does not mean we shouldn’t believe something or act on that belief (for example, by saying out loud that we believe it or know it).
Are atheistic arguments failures?
Sometimes, people say they’re “lack of belief” atheists because of the variety of things one could refer to as gods, but that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good capital-“G” God does not exist. I think this is one situation where the “lack of belief” idea makes sense: where the person has not really considered all the possible things that could be called gods. We can only formulate a belief when we know what we’re talking about. (But see You can’t know there isn’t an X out there, previously).
But, elsewhere, I’ve also seen Internet atheists respond to Christians with the “lack of belief” definition, i.e. saying that they lack belief in the Christian God. This seems to imply that those atheists think all the arguments against the existence of that God are failures (they’re presumably aware of the arguments if they’re discussing atheism on the Internet), so they can’t say there is no such God, only that they “lack belief”. That’s an odd thing for an atheist to think!
- Is a lack of belief the best we can do? and Knowledge and Counter-apologetics on Twitter (the latter talks more about what philosophers mean by knowledge).
- a discussion of the burden of proof in philosophy, where the professionals say that the idea of a burden of proof doesn’t do anything like the sort of work that the Reddit atheists (and, I’d add, Christian apologists like Turek) want it to do. See also the parent comment from the professional philosopher.
- Reddit user wokeupabug wrote a classic critique of “lack of belief” atheism.
- Daniel Fincke writes that Not All Who “Lack Belief in Gods” Are Atheists and I Know There Is No God.
- Twitter’s missing manual / fuzzy notepad
- Things I didn’t know, as I rarely actually write to Twitter because my impression is that it’s useless for discussion.
(tags: twitter manual)
- What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times
- It’s all about psychological safety.
(tags: collaboration team work employment management google)
- Which God Do Atheists Reject?: David Hume on Straw Gods
- The theist will say that there is Something or Other that Created the universe, but they cannot tell us what this Something or Other was (other than that they call it ‘God’) nor can they say what it means for the Something or Other to Create. At most, as Anthony Kenny argues, they can say that ‘Create’ specifies some unknown and incomprehensible relationship between the Something or Other and the universe.
The atheist can agree to this much. There is some explanation for the universe’s origins. Perhaps future inquiry will reveal the explanation and we’ll be able to fill in the details.
(tags: hume david-hume philosophy theology god atheism)
- Genesis chapter 1 through 1500 years of English – YouTube
- via livredor, a reading of Genesis 1 through 1500 years of English.
(tags: language english bible)
- Just why can’t we atheists see that religious belief is reasonable? Some religious answers
- “Why do we atheists reject religious belief, and consider it irrational? Here is a survey of some of the explanations that have been offered by the religious. They’re not good. “
(tags: atheism religion philosophy stephen-law belief rationality)
- Is a ‘lack of belief’ the best we can do? | The Philosopher’s Groan
- “There is a common view – one you yourself may hold – that the only intellectually honest position for an atheist to have is a ‘lack of belief’ in gods. Today I’m going to argue that this definition is confused, and should be retired. It is too broad to be useful, and that we ought to reserve the word ‘atheist’ for active disbelief in the existence of gods. Furthermore, I’ll try to demonstrate that we have a much stronger positive philosophical case for rationally believing that no god – theistic or deistic – exists.”
(tags: atheism philosophy agnosticism belief)
- 86ing a.k.a. Throwing Someone Out Of Your Venue | It’s The Way That You Do It
- After all the discussions on harassment, I’m coming to the conclusion that the hardest thing is not finding the right words for your code of conduct, but actually dealing with the nasty business of having to tell someone they’re doing something wrong and maybe they can’t come back. Here’s a post from someone who’s done it.
(tags: harassment lindy-hop lindy dancing safety)
- The austerity delusion | Paul Krugman | Business | The Guardian
- “It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. Britain’s opposition has been amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation, and has made hardly any effort to challenge the extremely dubious proposition that fiscal policy under Blair and Brown was deeply irresponsible – or even the nonsensical proposition that this supposed fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis of 2008-2009.”
(tags: austerity economics deficit debt paul-krugman politics labour)
- David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish | The Marshall Project
- David Simon (“The Wire”, “Homicide”) blames the drug war for the breakdown of trust between the police and the community following the abandonment of constitutional protections. Points out that the police force is largely black. Petyr Baelish really did cook the crime stats, too.
(tags: baltimore the-wire david-simon drugs police politics)
- A Manual for Creating Atheists – Godless Haven
- “Godless Haven” has a good review of Boghossian’s book, “A Manual For Creating Atheists”.
(tags: review atheism peter-boghossian epistemology)
- Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks – HBR
- Interesting research into the sort of place where you’re expected to be available all the time and work all the hours. Some successful men found ways to “pass” i.e. to appear they were hard workers while finding time for other things (like their families). Women tended to ask explicitly for allowances to be made for child care and their careers suffered for it.
(tags: work hours time employment sexism feminism)
- Justin Schieber on Twitter: “Nobody just lacks belief in unicorns. We all believe (for good reason, mind you) that they are fictions. So too is it the case with gods.”
- Justin Schieber (an atheist) argues against the claim that “atheism is just a lack of belief”. This seems fair enough: what atheists tend to use the claim for is to say that they don’t have a duty to rebut any random stuff someone comes up with, but in fact, we consider the eixstence of gods and unicorns unlikely based on our background knowledge and the lack of expected evidence (which is evidence of absence), and this is a legitimate belief.
(tags: belief god atheism theism unicorns evidence epistemology)
- 60 Years On: Academic Atheist Philosophers Then & Now : The Critique
- Graham Oppy reviews 60 years of atheist thought in philosophy. Interesting stuff. Is it true to say that people think sceptical theism means that a theist should not be convinced by the evidential problem of evil? I thought that sceptical theism had problems of its own, but I rely on people like John Danaher to digest the literature for me rather than reading journals or anything…
(tags: graham-oppy atheism philosophy theodicy religion)
- Faith vs. Facts – NYTimes.com
- “a broad group of scholars is beginning to demonstrate that religious belief and factual belief are indeed different kinds of mental creatures. People process evidence differently when they think with a factual mind-set rather than with a religious mind-set. Even what they count as evidence is different. And they are motivated differently, based on what they conclude. On what grounds do scholars make such claims?”
(tags: faith facts psychology religion anthropology scott-atran)
- Britain Uncovered survey results: the attitudes and beliefs of Britons in 2015 | Society | The Guardian
- The Graun surveyed about 1000 people and weighted the results according to the UK’s demographics. Among other things, the bit about religion was interesting to me: their survey said “A majority of Britons (82%) do not actively practise a religion and a clear majority of the population (61%) agree with that “These days religion is a negative influence in the world rather than a force for good.” Unsurprisingly, those who associate with a religion are less likely to hold this view.￼”
(tags: survey britain secularism religion belief attitudes politics guardian)
- God Doesn’t; We Do: The apologist two-step–McGrew and Marshall on Boghossian
- Argues that Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” use “faith” in a very similar way to the way Boghossian does, namely “We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.”
(tags: faith peter-boghossian apologetics religion)
- The economists’ manifesto – FT.com
- The FT asks a random selection of economists what they’d do if they were PM. A whole lot more sensible than the politicians’ one.
(tags: economics politics FT finance)
- The button that isn’t | Restricted Data
- There’s no actual big red button to launch all the missiles. Interesting article on nuclear command and control.
(tags: nuclear icbm button war missiles)
- Secular Solstice: Doing good for goodness’ sake – The Washington Post
- The WaPo reports on secular solstice celebration. Sounds cool.
(tags: atheism religion solstice)
- “Yer a Developer, Harry” – Programming Is Magic
- How being a programmer is a bit like being a wizard. Via andrewducker.
(tags: magic programming spells software wizards)
- A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing by Christian Caryl | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
- The Imitation Game is pretty bad as history. Via HD on Facebook.
(tags: biography film review turing history war world-war-II)