17 June 2008

Atheist Q&A meme

So Abbie over at erv got tagged with this little meme and invited her readers (that would include me, and it should include you) to answer them. Here's mine:

Q1. How would you define "atheism"?

Atheism isn't a positive belief, it is simply a lack of belief in a deity. That's all. This non-sense that it's a "religious belief that takes faith" would be laughable if so many Christians didn't think it was a serious argument. The reason that's it's laughable is because it's a distortion of mainstream non-belief, as only a very few non-believers actively deny any possibility of a god or gods (yes, even Richard Dawkins acknowledges that god "X" is possible), otherwise known colloquially as "strong atheists." The vast majority of non-believers, in my experience, treat God as possible, but in the same sense that it's possible that the Earth was sneezed into existence by a chimera, i.e. not likely enough to even begin justifying a belief.

So atheism is just a lack of belief, not a belief in non-belief.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
I was raised in a "dual-faith" household, if you could call it that. Both my parents are Christian, but my mother is Catholic while my father comes from an evangelical protestant family. I say dual-faith because while my parents love each other very much, they have never, in their 36 years of marriage, agreed on the Christian doctrine. My mother secretly baptized me herself because my father forbade a Catholic baptism, and my father's mother used to worry that her son and grandchildren (my dad, my sister, and myself) would be drawn into Hell with my Catholic mother.

So how did they approach faith with my sister and I? Well, compromise mostly. Both my father and mother talked to me about their different faiths, and we attended Episcopal churches as our usual (Catholic rites pleased my mother, while the C of E's independence from Rome pleased my dad). I was read to out of a comic bible when I was 3, and got my first real Bible at age 7. I was encouraged by both my parents to explore the Christian faith in all its forms, which led to me attending many different denominational churches: Catholic, evangelical, methodist, unitarian, even a Jewish synagogue. (I never went to a Baptist church, though, my parents were pretty clear about not hanging out with them, and it wasn't until later on in my life that I figured our why: they're fuckin' crazy!!!)

Anyway, in addition to my parents, both sides of my extended family are very religious in their own respects. My mom's brother is a Catholic priest in Cincinatti, and the whole family is devout Catholic. On my dad's side, my grandfather was a minister for a time back in the 50s and 60s, and I have a cousin who started his own congregation, also in Cincinatti. The rest of my dad's family is mostly evangelical protestant. Thankfully none of them seems to be a creationist or dominionist, though the usual craziness over abortion and gay rights is alive and well.

I was a Christian for well over 20 years, before I realized that there really isn't much to Christianity at all aside from superstitions and wishful thinking.

Q3. How would you describe "Intelligent Design", using only one word?

Inane. See also: meaningless.

Q4. What scientific endeavor really excites you?

I love history, but I have a hard time considering it science, even as a "soft science." History is just too muddled by differing disciplines that it's impossible to really consider it scientific (I have to be a philosopher, a psychologist, a sociologist, an anthropologist, and a political scientist all at once in order to be a historian.)

So I'll pick my favourite "hard science," which has to be geology (Sorry Abbie!). I spend too much time climbing on all the wonderful ridges, cliffs, boulders, and rock outcroppings in southern Illinois for it NOT to be my favourite. Oh, and I love finding fossils at the roadcut on IL-146! I still have yet to find a coveted trilobite, but I'm sure I will someday!

So I like fossils, but geology is also the study of VOLCANOES!!! And I'm sorry, but forces of nature don't come any sexier than that! One of my fondest memories is the times I went tromping through the San Francisco Volcanic Field in central Arizona with my dad and best friend from high school Matt: the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, SP Crater, walking the lava flows...so much w00t it should be illegal!

Plate tectonics is fascinating to me and every time I've been in an earthquake (3 so far) instead of running for the nearest doorframe like a sane person should, what do I do? I go outside to watch the world shake!

Anthropology was my first major, but I'll admit that I only got into it because I loved the idea of working with fossils. Biology continues to awe me, and I love getting into discussions of science regardless of the discipline, but I have to say that geology is what gets me excited.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?

I think it would be to get the ones who try to argue that science disproves god. These are usually the high schoolers who are just now discovering life without religion and are in rebellion against their upbringing. I went through a bit of it, but I was never so naive to believe that science definitively disproves any god. It can disprove a literal interpretation of holy scripture, but then, this was never a problem for me when I was a Christian. I was lucky enough to not have been so indoctrinated that I thought Genesis was a play-by-play for creation, and not the metaphor for creation it so obviously is.

Anyway, I think the effect this has is to further polarize the debate. I don't think that people who claim science disproves all gods are looking for a debate, they're looking to provoke an argument for the sake of argument, or to satisfy some juvenile need for validation.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said "I'm joining the clergy", what would be your first response?

"If you wanted to lie to people on a regular basis, why don't you just become a politician? At least that PAYS!"

Q7. What's your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

Them: does that fossil have a date printed on it?
Me: Yes, only denialists and morons are unable to read the isotopes that say "OH HAI! I'z 1.3 billyun yeers olde!!1!!1"

I also like this one:

Them: The US was founded as a Christian nation!
Me: Then why isn't god or Christ mentioned anywhere in the Constitution? Article VI anyone? Establishment Clause? Treaty of Tripoli of 1793? Hello????

And the latest one, courtesy of "Expelled:"

Them: Science caused the Holocaust!!!
Me: Yes, it also caused the massacres and pogroms throughout Europe for 2000 years prior to the 20th century horror. Oh wait! No it didn't, that was CHRISTIANITY! My bad! (Then I begin by listing the many organized massacres, beginning with the Rhine Valley in 1096.)

Q8. What's your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I dunno. I've gotten a bit of flak from being a pantheist, but it's mostly just 13 year olds (in mind if not in body) who go after me. Other than that, I don't think I'm that controversial.

Q9. Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

I think Sam Harris. He seems to be the most appealing to me, mainly because he believes that there is still a place for the ineffable in life, as evidenced by his fascination with Eastern mysticism, which I share. I'd like to meet Dawkins just so I can say I did, but I'm not that enamored of him. Hitchens would be a riot, and we both like scotch a lot, so that would probably be fun. I've honestly never read anything by Dennet, though I did see part of his "debate" with Dinesh D'Souza, if you could call his smackdown of Di-know-nothing a "debate."

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

Abbie said the President, and I can't think of a better answer. Maybe the Pope, but just for the lulz. :P


ERV said...


Teh ERVs and teh fozzles has mutch in common.

Doubting Foo said...

Q7 - The Christian nation arguement! I totally forgot about that one. I am having that argument with my family at the moment.

Q9 - Agreed. I like that about Harris. That was a hard one to answer.

Ace said...

I get attacked on a regular basis for being Spiritual & a Pantheist.

Ive been told on numerous occasion, one cannot be an Atheist and Spiritual at the same time and its now to the point that I am looking at Naturalistic Paganism as my spiritual home instead. Sigh.