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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Atheism 101: From Non-Belief to Disbelief

This post presents an analysis of the relationship between four (ontological) arguments against the existence of gods and four distinct philosophical and political atheist movements.

1. The freethinker rejects the obligation to believe without evidence. The argument from reasonable non-belief is prominent in freethought. It is an effective counterargument to religious appeals to authority that demand deference for deeply held beliefs without regard for their merit. The freethinker rejects religious dogmatism and indoctrination and regards charges of blasphemy as a means of silencing dissent.

2. The skeptic doubts claims that cannot be demonstrated true. The lack of empirical evidence renders religious claims unworthy of serious consideration. The skeptic understands that invoking supernatural explanations is an appeal to ignorance. The god of the gaps is designed for obsolescence.

3. Secularism is supported by the argument from inconsistent revelations. The rule of law cannot be upheld if there are exceptions based on unfounded, contradictory beliefs. Those who advocate for separation of church and state are fighting for secularism.

4. The argument from evil denies that god can be both benevolent and omnipotent if there is suffering in the world. Humanism is driven by the desire to liberate humanity from servile belief in venal gods who capriciously bestow and withhold favor.

1. "All things are full of gods." Thales (624 - 546 BCE)

Lack of 
Empirical Evidence
The Argument 
from Evil
“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
7. –Democritus 
(c. 460- c. 370 BCE)
“Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun is a hot rock.”
5. –Anaxagoras 
(500 - 428 BCE)
“This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling and measures of it going out.”
4. –Heraclitus 
(535 - 475 BCE)
Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods every deed that is shameful and dishonorable among men: stealing and adultery and deceiving each other.”
2. –Xenophanes 
(c. 570 - c. 475 BCE)
“To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?”
6. –Socrates 
(469 - 399 BCE)
“Men think epilepsy divine merely because they do not understand it. We will one day understand what causes it, and then cease to call it divine. And so it is with everything in the universe.”
8. –Hippocrates 
(c. 460 - c. 377 BCE)
“Our remote ancestors have handed down remnants to posterity in the form of myth, to the effect that the heavenly bodies are gods and that the divine encompasses the whole of nature. But the rest has been added by way of myth to persuade the vulgar and for the use of the laws and expediency.”
10. –Aristotle 
(384 - 322 BCE)
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
11. –Epicurus 
(341 - 270 BCE)
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything simply on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
3. –Buddha 
(c. 563 - c. 483 BCE)
“O, the highly wise! Arrive at a conclusion, therefore, that there is nothing beyond this Universe. Give precedence to that which meets the eye and turn your back on that which is beyond our knowledge.”
9. –Maharishi Valmiki 
(c. IV BCE)
“The Confucians also maintain that the expression that the rain comes down from heaven means that it actually does fall from the heavens (where the stars are). However, consideration of the subject shows us that the rain comes from above the earth, not down from heaven.”
14. –Wang Chong 
(c. 26 - c. 100 CE)
“When people pray for rain it rains. Why? I say: There is no need to ask why. It is the same when it rains and no one prays for it.”
12. –Hsün Tzu 
(312 - 230 BCE)
“To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth—often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it. But truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”
17. –Hypatia 
(350 - 370 CE)
“Since you need a body to do anything God must be corporeal, but if so, it must be either a compound or a simple body. If it is a compound it comes apart and is perishable; if it is simple it is just a thing, like fire or water. If it is one of these it is inanimate and irrational, which is absurd. If, therefore, God is neither a compound nor a simple body, and there is no further alternative, one must declare that God is nothing.”
15. –Sextus Empiricus (160 - 210 CE)
“The teaching of the Christians is self-contradictory: they look for the end of the world but what they really want is control of the empire.”
16. –Porphyry of Tyre  
(234 - 305 CE)
“Fear in sooth holds so in check all mortals, because they see many operations go on in earth and heaven, the causes of which they can in no way understand, believing them therefore to be done by power divine.”
13. –Lucretius 
(c. 99 – c. 55 BCE)
“If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.”
19. –Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi
(865 - 925)
“The seeker after truth is not the one who studies the writings of the ancients and following his natural dispositions puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration and not the sayings of human beings whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency.”
20. –Ibn al-Hazen 
(965 - 1040)
“Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.”
21. –Abdul ‘Ala al-Ma’arri 
(973 - 1058)
 “He who orders his slave to do the things that he knows him to be incapable of doing then punishes him is a fool.”
18. –Muhammad al-Warraq (IX Century)
“I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
25. –Galileo 
(1564 - 1642)
“The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.”
22.  –Ferdinand Magellan 
(1480 - 1521)
“None of the existing religions is good because they all, to some degree, are an instrument of power and drive human beings to fratricidal wars and bloody struggles.”
24. –Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600)
“Life in itself is neither good nor evil; it is the place of good and evil, according to what you make it.”
23. –Montaigne 
(1533 - 1592)
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for any noble purpose.”
29. –James Madison (1751 - 1836)
“The Christian religion not only was first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.”
27. –David Hume 
(1711 - 1776)
“Erecting the Wall of Separation Between Church and State is Absolutely Essential in a Free Society.” 
28. –Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)
“God behaves like a strange king who wanted to test the obedience of his subjects on ridiculous things, and who punished them afterward well beyond their crimes.”
26. –Émilie du Châtelet 
(1706 - 1749) 
“God is a hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof; the onus probandi {burden of proof} rests on the theist.
31. –Percy Bysshe Shelly 
“Every man, either to his terror or consolation, has some sense of religion.”
33. Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
“Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave a paradise for a sect.”
32. –John Keats 
“A material resurrection seems strange and even absurd except for purposes of punishment, and all punishment which is to revenge rather than correct must be morally wrong.”
30. –Lord Byron 
XIX Century
“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”
37. –William K. Clifford (1845 - 1879)
“No one, in the world’s history, has ever attempted to substantiate a truth by a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of a miracle. Nothing but falsehood ever attested itself by signs and wonders.”
 35. –Robert G. Ingersoll 
(1833 - 1899)
“Liberty’s chief foe is theology.”
36. –Charles Bradlaugh 
“Christianity set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires.”
34. –Ludwig Feuerbach 
(1804 - 1872)
XX Century
“Where there is evidence, no one speaks of faith. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”
39. –Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)
 “Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
38. –Marie Curie 
“An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.”
41. –Madalyn Murray O’Hair 
“I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the object of his creation.”
40. –Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

XI Century
“Religions have contrived to make it impossible to disagree with them critically without being rude. They play the hurt feelings card at every opportunity and you are faced with the choice of articulating the criticism or buttoning your lip.” 
43. –Daniel Dennett 
(1942 - )
“People of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they would like to be true.”
42. –Richard Dawkins (1941 - )
“The true authors of God’s eternal word knew nothing about the origins of life, the relationship between mind and brain, the causes of illness, or how best to create a viable, global civilization in the 21st century. That alone should resolve every conflict between religion and science in the latter’s favor, until the end of the world.”
45. –Sam Harris 
(1967 - )
“There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.”
44. –Christopher Hitchens 
(1949 - 2011)