Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Response to Nils Jansma's Continued Mis-Representations and Evasions

The following is a response to Nils Jansma who responded to my critique of  a blog post of his comparing Atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses as "judgmental".  Follow the links back for context.

Nils, Thank you for your response,
With all due respect Nils, you seem to make your best effort to avoid even acknowledging the arguments I had written, let alone addressing them.  I won't go into too much detail, because quite frankly arguing about these topics doesn't interest me much anymore. 

First, I have no necessary problem with the dictionary definition of atheism, and in fact my position would fall under it, I do not think there is a God, therefore I do not believe that a god(s) exist.  I would lean towards the stronger atheist position.  So no, I am perfectly comfortable with the term atheism and applying it to myself.  I still maintain that agnostics are a weak form of atheism as they lack an affirmative belief in god (and weak doesn't have any pejorative meaning in this context).  Dictionary definitions are fine to an extent, but as surely you know words can have multiple meanings, and people regularly clarify the definitions they are operating under.    

You insist that disbelief in God is a position that requires "faith".  Then you should define faith.  Define faith.  I think this is a misapplication of the term "faith."  To doubt that there is a god does not require faith, but is exactly the opposite, it is a lack of faith that a god exists.  One can come to the tentative conclusion that there probably is no god based on philosophical arguments. REASON.  And quite frankly, this effort to classify either naturalistic science or atheism as a religion is tortured logic.

I thought I also made it quite clear that I don't agree with Dawkins' style of atheism, so why do you press me to defend what he says?  For the record, I don't think people who believe in God are mentally ill, just wrong.  If Dawkins has said or has implied such, then I think he is dead wrong.  Dawkins is not our high priest, nor does he speak for all atheists.

My academic background is in anthropology, and from these studies I know that religious belief is a universal feature of human societies, and a normal aspect of human psychology.  Interestingly enough, coming from this appreciation for the vast cultural and religious diversity of the human species leads me to doubt not only the religious beliefs of some tribe in Papua New Guinea, or the ancient Greeks, but also the religious beliefs of my own society.  As soon as you come to an understanding of why you don't believe in the many other gods of other cultures, then perhaps you will understand why I don't believe in yours. 

And why do you insist on stereotyping me as the "angry atheist", and charging that I am projecting it on to you?  I left the JW's a long time ago, and I am over it.  I was simply annoyed at your misrepresentations and over generalizing comparison of JWs and atheists as equally judgemental.  My flippant remark of "so what", was in the context of noting you could say that about any group. An observation like "flowers are red".  I directly addressed why this is simply a sloppy comparison, which you simply ignore.  It would be more accurate to say that JWs, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Muslims are judgemental, as we can take a large set of people and organizations within these parameters and see how they are judgemental of people who don't share their religious dogmas.  Furthermore, they attempt to enforce behavioral conformity not only within their organizations, but within society at large.  There is no comparable "judgmental" efforts made by atheists.  While I don't doubt that there are some atheists who are "judgemental," and there may be some religious believers who are not, it seems silly to focus on atheists as judgemental in light of the history of most of monotheistic religion.

You may know of an anecdotal account that some scientist and professor, who happens to be an atheist abused his power in enforcing atheism on his students.  Yet, there is no reason to believe that this happens with any regularity.  99% of science can be done without having to even consider the question of god.  Of course this is exactly what bothers the religious believer.  They presuppose that God must be an agent in there somewhere, looking for some gap with which to fill up with God, and it bothers them that scientists proceed without god(s).

"Most, if not all, of the “facts” I have been exposed to, support my belief in God more often than not.  Fortunately, we are living at a time when science is learning more and more about the complexity of the universe and life, resulting in a continuous list of surprises as more and more is learned, causing Hugh Ross to exclaim something like, “if you don’t believe in God, wait a week and maybe then you will.”  Nevertheless, there are still many issues I have yet to resolve but I am confident that the outcome will be likewise supportive.  So “what if” God doesn’t exist, what have I lost? nothing--  it is like Pasqual’s wager, better to be safe than sorry.  In saying this, I don’t want to imply that my belief in God is nothing more than a life insurance policy because I actually do believe He exists."

You claim that the continual advances of science in understanding the complexity of life and the universe supports your belief in God.  If that is your interpretation, that is fine with me.  (Again you want to have it both ways, science supports God, can't disprove God).  And that is the second time you have quoted Hugh Ross saying the same things, as if the quote stands on its own.  I asked you for specifics, you gave none. However, I do find it curious that all of this scientific discovery advances without appeal to God's alleged agency.  It is only post-hoc reasoning that the scientific facts support your belief in God.  
"So, the bottom line is, if you can show me a better way of life that maintains good mental health with a character building philosophy that I can teach my children to pursue, I will change.  However, I have to say, I have covered a lot of ground since leaving the Witnesses and sincerely doubt there is anything that can take the place of God in my life and still allow me to maintain my sanity, especially now with the future looking so bleak."  
I note that you claim that belief in God supports you psychologically, emotionally, and morally in coping with life.  I will be completely non-judgemental in stating that there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.  That doesn't mean God exists, but If it works for you, then go with it.  However, I do recommend that you should also acknowledge that others have come up with alternative solutions to the problems that religion solves for you.  Secularists are perfectly capable of living sane and moral lives without belief in God.  I am perfectly capable of teaching my son the difference between right and wrong, to be honest, compassionate, and to do the right thing, without God, and the promise of a reward of eternal life of some variety.  It does seem to me that my lack of belief in God is seen as a threat by you as a believer. 

So in conclusion, if a person chooses to believe in God I don't have any problem with that.  There are problems with Religion as an oppressive institution (somewhat distinct from the issue of god-belief)  that I wish to address in another post.  

Nils, if you do wish to continue our dialogue, I ask you to address the following questions.  Now that you are not a Jehovah's Witness, what do you believe?  Do you believe in hell? An afterlife? Do people need to accept Jesus Christ as their savior for what reward?  How accepting are you of other lifestyle choices (homosexuality, intimate relations outside of wedlock etc.)?  Also, what are your opinions of mainstream American Christianity and its collusion with right-wing politics?        

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