The Future of Atheism: Beyond the Question of God

December 3, 2010

Host: Chris Mooney

Recently at Pomona College in California, three atheists—one of them a Point of Inquiry host—got together to debate the future of the movement.

And some sparks flew.

Topics raised included the rise of the so-called "nones" (those professing "no religion" in surveys), the lack of representation for atheists in the U.S. Congress, and the debate between moderate or "live-and-let-live" atheism as opposed to a louder and more aggressive version.

Despite their disagreement, it was clear that it’s an exciting time for the movement, as atheism becomes more visible in American life. Where do we go from here?

The students in the packed audience have that in their hands.

Panel participants were:

David Silverman, president of American Atheists. Mr. Silverman attended Brandeis University and specialized in computer science; he worked as an inventor at Bell Labs for 8 years. He then served at American Atheists as national spokesperson, vice president, and finally president, a post he assumed this year.

Hemant Mehta writes the "Friendly Atheist" blog and serves on the board of directors of the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Secular Student Alliance. He has also appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and is author of the book I Sold My Soul on eBay, released in 2007.

Chris Mooney is a host of Point of Inquiry.

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

When will the podcast be available as a podcast?  Currently it’s not available for download through Libsyn: http://pointofinquiry.libsyn.com/rss

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 7:05am by mtnmann Comment #1

This is something I’m very frustrated about and we are working on it.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:14am by CMooney Comment #2

When will the podcast be available as a podcast?  Currently it’s not available for download through Libsyn: http://pointofinquiry.libsyn.com/rss

We were having a problem pushing the show to our RSS feed, but everything should be good now!

Sorry about that.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 9:22am by Adam Isaak Comment #3

Accomodationist? How about tolerant?
  Silverman is a piece of work, over the top even by strictly secular standards of manners and balance. Everyone is talking about his childhood. Silverman sounds, as do many aggressive atheists, like he had issues there. Hey, grow up. We’re adults now, rational, remember? Everything isn’t about you.
  Christianity and some other religions teach (even nag), and to a considerable extent practice charity, benevolence, honesty, good character, honorability, fidelity, kindness, self restraint, generosity and similar virtues. I find it suspicious this is almost never admitted by the militant atheists. Oh, they do talk about every atrocity committed in the name of Christianity since the 2nd century.
  Christianity and some other religions also exert peer pressure in responsible directions. Religions do an imperfect to poor job in all these efforts. Atheism does far worse. Religions also, and atheists usually do admit but trivialize this, provide people with community, structure, and meaning in their lives, and they do a far better job of it than agents of the All Mighty State which galls liberal atheists no end.
  Atheism is like some of these insect larvae that are eaten from the inside by parasites. In this case the parasite is political liberalism which is high jacking atheism . Example, the homosexual agenda. Nobody and no society needs a religion to tell it homosexuality or any other sexual perversion is disgusting in the extreme and immoral. Even most atheists don’t have trouble agreeing that other perversions (whose practitioners aren’t so beneficial to the Democratic Party) are worthy of social and legal disapproval. We don’t need religion to tell us slavery and convenience murder (excepting abortion, of course) are morally wrong. Deception, bullying, vandalism, cruelty to man or beast. You have to be drunk with liberal conceit, or have personal issues that compromise your objectivity, to think atheists have done a better job of identifying and opposing evil than Christians. And yes, I am an absolute atheist with no belief in the supernatural realm whatsoever.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 9:45am by rg21 Comment #4

Accomodationist? How about tolerant?
  Silverman is a piece of work, over the top even by strictly secular standards of manners and balance. Everyone is talking about his childhood. Silverman sounds, as do many aggressive atheists, like he had issues there. Hey, grow up. We’re adults now, rational, remember? Everything isn’t about you.

Nothing like a little amateur internet psychologizing to inform a discussion.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 2:20pm by RBH_III Comment #5

Accomodationist? How about tolerant?
  Silverman is a piece of work, over the top even by strictly secular standards of manners and balance. Everyone is talking about his childhood. Silverman sounds, as do many aggressive atheists, like he had issues there. Hey, grow up. We’re adults now, rational, remember? Everything isn’t about you.

Nothing like a little amateur internet psychologizing to inform a discussion.

I think rg21 made some good points and certainly tried to contribute to the discussion. Instead of starting with an ad hominem attack, why not show where his analysis is wrong? It would be more productive, IMO.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 3:03pm by Write4U Comment #6

I think rg21 made some good points and certainly tried to contribute to the discussion. Instead of starting with an ad hominem attack, why not show where his analysis is wrong? It would be more productive, IMO.

Ad hominem defined.  Nope, I don’t see one in my post.  However, conjectures about “issues in his childhood”?  Now there’s an ad hom.

Now, what are these “good points”?

1.  Christianity and some other religions teach (even nag), and to a considerable extent practice charity, benevolence, honesty, good character, honorability, fidelity, kindness, self restraint, generosity and similar virtues. I find it suspicious this is almost never admitted by the militant atheists.

In fact, IIRC Hitchens has acknowledged this.  I don’t know about Dawkins.

2.  Christianity and some other religions also exert peer pressure in responsible directions. Religions do an imperfect to poor job in all these efforts. Atheism does far worse. Religions also, and atheists usually do admit but trivialize this, provide people with community, structure, and meaning in their lives, and they do a far better job of it than agents of the All Mighty State which galls liberal atheists no end.

False dichotomy.

3.  Atheism is like some of these insect larvae that are eaten from the inside by parasites. In this case the parasite is political liberalism which is high jacking atheism . Example, the homosexual agenda. Nobody and no society needs a religion to tell it homosexuality or any other sexual perversion is disgusting in the extreme and immoral.

Personal feelings about homosexuality as the arbiter of morality?  Ludicrous.

4.  We don’t need religion to tell us slavery and convenience murder (excepting abortion, of course) are morally wrong

Read Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

5.  You have to be drunk with liberal conceit, or have personal issues that compromise your objectivity, to think atheists have done a better job of identifying and opposing evil than Christians.

That’s a historical claim that’s at best disputable.  Damned few atheists have killed another person in the name of atheism.  In the name of suppressing alternative power centers, yes.  In the name of a cult of personality, yes.  But in the name of atheism as such?  Nope.  Can one say the same about religions, even Christianity?  (Hint: Mass crimes against humanity & genocides.)

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 3:40pm by RBH_III Comment #7

Nobody and no society needs a religion to tell it homosexuality or any other sexual perversion is disgusting in the extreme and immoral.

Apparently, the ancient Romans and Greeks missed this memo.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 4:36pm by TromboneAndrew Comment #8

rg21
As you can see there are many weaknesses in your argument…...does this help?

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 4:50pm by Write4U Comment #9

. Nobody and no society needs a religion to tell it homosexuality or any other sexual perversion is disgusting in the extreme and immoral. Even most atheists don’t have trouble agreeing that other perversions (whose practitioners aren’t so beneficial to the Democratic Party) are worthy of social and legal disapproval. We don’t need religion to tell us slavery and convenience murder (excepting abortion, of course) are morally wrong. Deception, bullying, vandalism, cruelty to man or beast. You have to be drunk with liberal conceit, or have personal issues that compromise your objectivity, to think atheists have done a better job of identifying and opposing evil than Christians. And yes, I am an absolute atheist with no belief in the supernatural realm whatsoever.

I forgot that you were a rabid and irrational homophobe.. :-/

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 5:02pm by asanta Comment #10

I forgot that you were a rabid and irrational homophobe.. :-/

Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll better clarify his point in his next book “Mein Kampf Book 2”

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 5:28pm by ExMachina Comment #11

ExMachina,  I believe the saying is “the best trick that the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he does not exist”. 

I regards to homosexuality; everyone has their free will.  Unfortunately society has dampened the line as to what is morally sound when it comes to homosexuality.  If your kids are surrounded by the acceptance of the same, then they now have the decision to choose the gender i which they fall in love with.  I find that people have a hole in their soul that needs to be filled.  In some it maybe belonging to this forum.  In others its being homosexual, in all the same we are missing a piece of the puzzle .  Like every puzzle you find a piece that fits but does not belong.  Sometime you realize it before you finish the puzzle; in other times, at the end.  Just like what happened with Darwin.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:04pm by ltothexo Comment #12

Unfortunately society has dampened the line as to what is morally sound when it comes to homosexuality.

Explain please.

  If your kids are surrounded by the acceptance of the same, then they now have the decision to choose the gender i which they fall in love with.

Whether you fall in love with the someone of the same sex or the opposite sex is mostly genetically predetermined. It has nothing to do with free will. Take Uganda or Nigeria, two places where it is life threatening to be gay. It has not decreased the incidence of homosexuality. Look at our own military where coming out as gay or lesbian can get you booted out of a career you have invested a significant amount of time and energy. There is nothing to show that the incidence of gay or lesbian soldiers have fallen, only that they remain hidden from the rest of their troops. You are born with your sexual preferences, and it is a sliding scale, few people are totally homo or heterosexual.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:13pm by asanta Comment #13

I’m fascinated by people who take everything literally and who appear to have essentially no sense of humor.  I thought ExMachina’s purposful twist of the common saying was quite clever, Itothexo.

No, no one has free-will.  [See the close to 200 page thread in the philosophy section.]  I find that people have no souls in which to have a hole.  However, I do believe humans are social animals who enjoy relationships with others.  Most of us happen to be attracted to and prefer sexual contacts with the opposite sex, but a significant minority are attracted to and prefer same sex contacts.  I don’t know what you are implying by “missing a piect of the puzzle” or that “fits but doesn’t belong”.  You may be hinting that those who are homosexual have found pieces that fit but that don’t belong.  If that’s what you are saying, I diasgree.  I feel that only narrow and controlling people try to force others into their own mold.  If two straight or gay people find and are happy with each other, there are no missing or not belonging pieces.

And if you are also hinting that Darwin became a believer at the end, I seem to have seen that it’s apocryphal.

Occam

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:29pm by Occam. Comment #14

And if you are also hinting that Darwin became a believer at the end, I seem to have seen that it’s apocryphal.

Absolutely apocryphal.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:31pm by dougsmith Comment #15

Sometime you realize it before you finish the puzzle; in other times, at the end.  Just like what happened with Darwin.

The Lady Hope myth.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 8:40pm by RBH_III Comment #16

I’m fascinated by people who take everything literally and who appear to have essentially no sense of humor.  I thought ExMachina’s purposful twist of the common saying was quite clever, Itothexo.

And if you are also hinting that Darwin became a believer at the end, I seem to have seen that it’s apocryphal.

Occam

I had a bit of a chuckle of ExMachina signature and I do have a sense of humor.  That is why I entered the correct quote.

I included the line of Darwin because one of my non believer friend told me about it and I thought I could throw that in to remind him if he ever get to read the post.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 9:00pm by ltothexo Comment #17

Unfortunately society has dampened the line as to what is morally sound when it comes to homosexuality.

Explain please.


You are born with your sexual preferences, and it is a sliding scale, few people are totally homo or heterosexual.


Well you pretty much proved my point with your response to the scale.  If it is a sliding scale then the introduction of preferences could move it in either direction.  How could it be that some one that is a flamboyant homosexual could turn into a normal person.  My friend does a perfect interpretation of a homosexual and he is not gay.  I believe it to be true with others.  If in fact you are born with it.  then hormonal treatment can cure it.

I respect your position, just want to share mine.

[edited to correct quotation markers so itothhexo’s statement isn’t mistaken for being made by Asanta.]

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 9:13pm by ltothexo Comment #18

Please clean up your quotes. I don’t not want people to think I would take such a vile position. :-/

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 9:56pm by asanta Comment #19

Well you pretty much proved my point with your response to the scale.  If it is a sliding scale then the introduction of preferences could move it in either direction.  How could it be that some one that is a flamboyant homosexual could turn into a normal person.

A ‘flamboyant homosexual’ is normal.

My friend does a perfect interpretation of a homosexual and he is not gay.

I can do a perfect interpretation of my dad. I am neither my dad, nor am I a man. So what. When a gay man, or lesbian woman does a ‘perfect interpretation’ of a ‘straight’ person, it means absolutely nothing. It says nothing about their sexual preferences. It could be their usual personality. Not all gay men are ‘flamboyant’, not all lesbians are ‘butch’.

I believe it to be true with others.  If in fact you are born with it.  then hormonal treatment can cure it.

This statement shows how incredibly ignorant you are on this subject.

I respect your position, just want to share mine.

I cannot respect willful and bigoted ignorance.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 10:05pm by asanta Comment #20

Thank you for showing your true nature.  You do not know me. It may be that I do need to read up on the subject although it is idiosyncratic.  Enlighten me on the subject then.  Do you suggest anything I could read?  I do, the Bible.  Oh by the way I have 3 gay friends and I treat all my friends the same, being that they are white, black, women or gay. Do you do the same?

Also before you use a word like “bigoted ignorance” find out its true meaning.

Bigoted—utterly intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

Ignorance—lack of knowledge, learning, information, etc.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 10:56pm by ltothexo Comment #21

I’m sure Asanta is only judging you by your prior posts, and to that extent both she and I know you.  I read the bible through when I was a child, and I loved it.  I had read and enjoyed most of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Swiss, etc. mythology so when my aunt gave me a child’s bible I found it another delightful source of mythology.  As an adult, I felt I had to read it if people were going to challenge my atheism, and I found it still complete fairytales, but sillier and less fun than it was for a child. 

I believe a major cry of the bigot after making a discriminatory remark is, “One of my best friends is _______.” 

Occam

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 11:37pm by Occam. Comment #22

Sometime you realize it before you finish the puzzle; in other times, at the end.  Just like what happened with Darwin.

The Lady Hope myth.

Really, we could mythify anything then.  Thanks for the post.

Posted on Dec 05, 2010 at 11:39pm by ltothexo Comment #23

ltothexo

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make philosophers convincing enough to make you believe there is no such thing as a soul.

And what, pray tell, is a soul?  Knowledge of God or knowledge of self?

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 3:58am by Write4U Comment #24

Thank you for showing your true nature.  You do not know me. It may be that I do need to read up on the subject although it is idiosyncratic.  Enlighten me on the subject then.  Do you suggest anything I could read?  I do, the Bible. Oh by the way I have 3 gay friends and I treat all my friends the same, being that they are white, black, women or gay. Do you do the same?

Also before you use a word like “bigoted ignorance” find out its true meaning.

Bigoted—utterly intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

Ignorance—lack of knowledge, learning, information, etc.

Bullshit.

It is clear you don’t treat your gay “friends” the same, nor I suspect your black ones or female ones. After all, do you say in an argument “I have 3 straight friends” as some sort of license to dump on straight people? Do you use your straight friends as human shields? Do you call their preference for male-female sex disgusting?

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 5:50am by Bruce Gorton Comment #25

Sorry but I’m transparent as they come.  We can not escape from the culture that we come from.  Although I look white, I’m married with a Native America and I’m Latino.  I’m not dumping on homosexuals but do believe that given a morally sound upbringing, choices of life preference would be different.  Certain religious and socials groups do in what it seams have a no tolerance to homosexuality.  I may believe in some of the values they represent, I do not belong to any of them.  I actually look at the person inside, stripping away what they look like and their sexual preference. My friends do the same and clearly know my stand on the topic.  This does not affect our bond, my friends are more rational then most defending the topic here on the forums.

“So we’re different colours and we’re different creeds; different people have different needs.  It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong.  I’ve never ever met you so what could I have done. I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man help me understand”—Gore, Martin L

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 6:57am by ltothexo Comment #26

Sorry but I’m transparent as they come.  We can not escape from the culture that we come from.  Although I look white, I’m married with a Native America and I’m Latino.  I’m not dumping on homosexuals but do believe that given a morally sound upbringing, choices of life preference would be different.  Certain religious and socials groups do in what it seams have a no tolerance to homosexuality.  I may believe in some of the values they represent, I do not belong to any of them.  I actually look at the person inside, stripping away what they look like and their sexual preference. My friends do the same and clearly know my stand on the topic.  This does not affect our bond, my friends are more rational then most defending the topic here on the forums.

“So we’re different colours and we’re different creeds; different people have different needs.  It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong.  I’ve never ever met you so what could I have done. I can’t understand what makes a man hate another man help me understand”—Gore, Martin L

Or alternatively they don’t call you on your bullshit. You are dumping on homosexuals, and using your gay friends to do it. If you are anti-gay that’s one thing, there are a lot of people like that, but to get called on it and raise your friends to say “Hey I am no bigot”? That’s cowardly.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 7:04am by Bruce Gorton Comment #27

And what, pray tell, is a soul?  Knowledge of God or knowledge of self?

eg. would be that it is what prevents you from getting to sleep when you have done something wrong.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 7:05am by ltothexo Comment #28

On the original topic:

There is no future of atheism beyond the question of God, and nor should there be. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, so once that’s settled the issue goes the way of all victorious civil rights movements - irrelevance.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 7:20am by Bruce Gorton Comment #29

Bruce has the right idea here, folks. Let’s try to get back to discussion of the program.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 7:32am by dougsmith Comment #30

I’ll repost this later. Too tired to reply just yet.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 7:35am by ExMachina Comment #31

ya lets do

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 9:28am by ltothexo Comment #32

On the original topic:

There is no future of atheism beyond the question of God, and nor should there be. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, so once that’s settled the issue goes the way of all victorious civil rights movements - irrelevance.

If only it would be that simple.  The success of any hegemony is the fact that it rules by fear where even the most mundane behavior may be forbidden and punishable in the name of State, Royalty, God, Hell.
Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”. How do we replace Scripture as a basic teaching tool? A comprehensive Book of Humanist Values seems necessary to replace the good ole Bible. The problem is that people believe religion is a good thing, not a dangerous practice that lends itself to abuse and Holy wars.
I realize that Atheism itself is not required to provide such a basic cultural teaching tool, but if we were to outlaw scripture, many people would be very confused and unsure of their place on earth and what’s more, their place in “heaven”.
How to bridge this gap is the question.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 3:24pm by Write4U Comment #33

Mooney brings absolutely nothing to these debates. He sanctimoniously tells us to shut up and has absolutely incoherent reasons for telling us to do so. If he wants atheists to stop telling the truth or be honest, then if anyone should shut up, it’s him.

It’s completely laughable to think that The God Delusion created more believers than it did non-believers. That book has done wonders for the position of atheism and critical thinking. Any book that says why false ideas are false and why we should value critical thought over superstition will only HELP our cause and people like Mooney are part of the problem we are facing - that we should be in the closet and fear being biten. No way!

Mooney is an annoying shill to Templeton. I just wish they would get it over with and give him the Templeton prize and maybe then he’ll stop being so irritating after getting what he so obviously covets.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 4:05pm by kennykjc Comment #34

Mooney and Jennifer Michael Hecht are on the same side. Hecht made an unbelievable claim in a ‘debate’ against PZ Meyers on POI. She insisted that after all the work she did to turn theists into a-theists, one glance at those dread activist atheists caused them to run cowering back to their churches, and she had to deconvert them once again. Silly.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 9:13pm by asanta Comment #35

Mooney and Jennifer Michael Hecht are on the same side. Hecht made an unbelievable claim in a ‘debate’ against PZ Meyers on POI. She insisted that after all the work she did to turn theists into a-theists, one glance at those dread activist atheists caused them to run cowering back to their churches, and she had to deconvert them once again. Silly.

It’s difficult to tell if she was just dealing with “skeptics” who are theists just complaining about atheists or that she was just making it all up to bolster her argument… but I agree, it was definetly a poster moment for the accomodationalist bullcrap we’ve been seeing over the last year.

Posted on Dec 06, 2010 at 10:03pm by kennykjc Comment #36

On the original topic:

There is no future of atheism beyond the question of God, and nor should there be. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, so once that’s settled the issue goes the way of all victorious civil rights movements - irrelevance.

If only it would be that simple.  The success of any hegemony is the fact that it rules by fear where even the most mundane behavior may be forbidden and punishable in the name of State, Royalty, God, Hell.

Yes, like that evil hegonomy of a-unicornists. The issue of whether there is or isn’t a god being for all intents and purposes has no settled has no real bearing on anything else.

Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”. How do we replace Scripture as a basic teaching tool?

Why would we want to? There are plenty of atheist parents who educate their kids fine - in fact rates of atheism positively corrolate to people attaining higher levels of education - scripture as a teaching tool strikes me as more inhibiting rather than promoting it.

A comprehensive Book of Humanist Values seems necessary to replace the good ole Bible.

I don’t think so. I think what is needed is to encourage people to explore moral issues themselves and come to their own conclusions. Besides this is more “Where to next for humanism?”

The problem is that people believe religion is a good thing, not a dangerous practice that lends itself to abuse and Holy wars.

I think the problem isn’t so much with religion as authoritarianism, which religion is a province of. There isn’t much difference between the Spanish inquisition and a communist state’s secret police.

I think we need to move on to the point where we have a sort of mental anarchism - no authorities simply people who are willing to squabble about their positions, to be taken up or rejected by individuals based on who makes most sense.

Or at least that is my take.

I realize that Atheism itself is not required to provide such a basic cultural teaching tool, but if we were to outlaw scripture, many people would be very confused and unsure of their place on earth and what’s more, their place in “heaven”.
How to bridge this gap is the question.

This isn’t about banning ideas, but rather the long process of ideas falling out of favour to the point where they cease to be taken seriously. A bit like Flat Earthers - it doesn’t take legislation to make them look silly.

Posted on Dec 07, 2010 at 7:23am by Bruce Gorton Comment #37

Excellent points Bruce. Very Clear. Again and again we keep seeing this issue brought up about where atheism is going, or how can atheism successfully replace religion….argghhh!
Unfortunately this leads people to start creating new labels like “new atheists” or “militant atheists”.
I think if we really got to the bottom of this we would see that these question posers are at heart agnostic, or are people who still are searching for meaning or some internal order. An internal order not unlike the same one that is the impetus for faith in deities.
Sorry…but I think that is the case. I mean we have tons of threads here where the participants are clamoring and philosophizing away trying to find some meaning, some other matrix…morals, values, free-will, spirituality etc, humanist manifestos, or science based morality!
Come on!

Posted on Dec 07, 2010 at 2:56pm by VYAZMA Comment #38

Really good podcast Chris—thanks for using this debate.  I am only to the “3rd question” but the give & take discussion flows very well.

I wish “to God” that something like this had been on my campus when I was in college.  It sounds like all the speakers were atheists from a young age and I don’t know how typical that is.  I was still a better-than-Catholic Episcopalian when I was in college and I wish there had been this information then.

A personal thing about this podcast for me is that my little sister went to Pomona College (where they did this debate), and she walked to church with me when I was in junior high and she was upper elementary.  If I had “straightened things out”  by the time she could to college,  I think her life would have been much different, probably better. 

We talked about this on other threads—do you think a family member would appreciate reality-based truth, or would it really hurt them.

Anyway back to the debate—good production with excellent sound,  everyone participating. We know Chris’s voice but it is kind of easy to confuse the other two—I think it might help a little for people to address each other by name for the 1st 5 minutes or so.

I actually think the two issues of stem-cell research and gay rights are easy to sell to responsible Republicans as well as Democrats— as we recall Barry Goldwater was both Republican and strong church-state separation advocate.

Thanks again both for the podcast and for doing something like this on campus.

Posted on Dec 08, 2010 at 5:28pm by Jackson Comment #39

I got a chance to listen to this debate yesterday—I found myself almost entirely in agreement with Hemant Mehta.

I found David Silverman’s claim that there are 50-60 million atheists in the United States to be highly implausible. A close look at the demographics of the “nones” (as well as the atheists in organized religions—those who self-identify as members of a major religion yet answer “no” when asked if they believe in God) suggests to me that he’s greatly overstating the number.

And even though many atheists want to define “atheism” to mean mere “lack of belief in gods” (as opposed to “disbelief in gods”), most agnostics will continue to disagree and not self-identify as atheists.

The Pew Forum’s stats:  http://pewforum.org/Not-All-Nonbelievers-Call-Themselves-Atheists.aspx

Of those who say they do not believe in God,
24% identify as atheist
15% identify as agnostic
35% identify as nothing in particular
14% identify as Christian
10% identify as other faiths
2% don’t know/refused to answer

The total of all of those amount to 5% of the population, or about 17.5 million.  So 4.2 million who don’t believe in God self-identify as atheists.

When you look at it the other way—first ask who self-identifies as atheist or agnostic—you get more agnostics than atheists (2.4% vs. 1.6%).  See http://religions.pewforum.org/affiliations, the “unaffiliated” consist of those two groups plus 12.4% of the population who self-identify as “nothing in particular.”  But of those so-called “atheists,” 21% answer “yes” to the question, “do you believe in God or a higher power,” as does an even larger percentage of the agnostics.

On that survey, 2.4% of the population self-identify as atheists (even if they believe in God), or about 8.4 million people.  If you substract those “atheists” who say they believe in God, you get about 6.6 million (which doesn’t quite match the 4.2 million from the other survey).

But there’s no way you get anywhere close to 50-60 million, even if you could all who self-identify as atheist and all who answer “no” to the question of whether they don’t believe in “God or a higher power.”

Another way to look at it—what’s the membership of American Atheists?  Or even the sum of membership of all U.S. atheist groups (which would involve a lot of multiple-counting, since many people are members of multiple atheist groups)?

Posted on Dec 09, 2010 at 6:51am by Jim Lippard Comment #40

Why is Chris Mooney employed by the Center For Inquiry?  In this discussion, he was at best overwhelming negative about a whole variety of issues that I thought CFI considers incredibly important and worthwhile.  I say “at best,” because I actually thought he was straight-up *against* them rather than merely pessimistic about them, but that could just be my own bias against him creeping in.

Do CFI people listen to these podcasts?  If so, do they ever comment on these boards, or should I consider contacting them directly?

Posted on Dec 09, 2010 at 3:44pm by cheglabratjoe Comment #41

I finished it today.  Still think it was a better-than-average podcast.

The word which was occurring to me that Mooney and the others might have used is “strident”—

I think that it doesn’t make 100% sense to talk about scientists who believe in evolution but also that God intervenes in “undetectable” ways in evolution.
I agree with Chris Mooney that there is some common ground but there is at the same time a gap.

It’s not clear whether they don’t really believe in evolution, and don’t know it, or whether they don’t really believe in God, and don’t know it.


Rather than saying “recently at Pomona College”, I would like to see the CFI intro document the exact date (Nov 11)
Here are some comments on one of the Pomona webpages:
http://tsl.pomona.edu/new/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1583&Itemid=67

Posted on Dec 09, 2010 at 4:17pm by Jackson Comment #42

Why do we speak of theistic, pro-evolution people as though we need to reconcile with them? They’re ipso facto not in the fight over evolution that concerns atheists or science educators, so I don’t know why we’re dwelling on them in connection with evolution. Such people already *are* allies in the real-world context of the disputes over textbooks, cirriculum decisions, etc.

The more important question concerning our relationship with theistic, pro-evolution types is whether, over the next horizon, they’ll swing the same way: the next time scientific evidence challenges one of their supernaturalist, faith-based beliefs, will they side with the findings of the scientific method or will they decide to wall off reality because their identity is wrapped up in the faith-based position?

The dispute isn’t over evolution, but over the broader matter of what counts as a legitimate basis of belief. Faith, assertion, whatever makes one feel good —or— the scientific method? Which yields reliable answers?

Re: conversion—Mooney has a very expansive idea of what “conversion” means. He seems to use it as a catch-all that includes both going door-to-door to attempt to persuade others to adopt new beliefs (a thing that religious people do, but atheists do not do) and simply adducing arguments and evidence against religious propositions. Adducing arguments and evidence is, I suppose, a form of “conversion” if you squint hard enough, but using that word as a synonym for advancing arguments is an extremely unhelpful and clouding use of a loaded word in the context.

Posted on Dec 09, 2010 at 8:55pm by danceswithanxiety Comment #43

I begin to think that Chris Mooney should found a new group: Atheists for Religion.

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:47am by eplommer Comment #44

I begin to think that Chris Mooney should found a new group: Atheists for Religion.

With S.E.Cupp??

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 at 10:03am by asanta Comment #45

Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”. How do we replace Scripture as a basic teaching tool? A comprehensive Book of Humanist Values seems necessary to replace the good ole Bible.

I agree.  One of the powers that the Bible had thousands of years ago is that is took advantage of written communication which was new at the time.  This allowed knowledge to be better communicated over time and over generations without distortion of what the original author said.  Today, it’s not that we don’t have a record of knowledge by brilliant authors who have come up with better philosophies than the Bible had, it’s that we have so much of it.  It’s not all in one place like the Bible provided.  Atheists say that atheism had nothing to do with the atrocities of communist and fascist regimes and I guess I agree with them, but if you remove a source of guidance and support for people’s lives it’s going to leave a vacuum.  Those dictators knew this and they hoped people would turn to them for guidance after they made religion illegal.  If organized religion is going to be eliminated then all the functions it was serving need to be replaced with something else.

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 at 10:46am by brightfut Comment #46

And even though many atheists want to define “atheism” to mean mere “lack of belief in gods” (as opposed to “disbelief in gods”)

What’s the difference?

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 at 5:38pm by kennykjc Comment #47

And even though many atheists want to define “atheism” to mean mere “lack of belief in gods” (as opposed to “disbelief in gods”)

What’s the difference?

I can see a subtle difference. A “lack of belief” may suggest being uninformed on a subject. “Disbelief” to me, suggests knowledge but rejection of the subject.

Posted on Dec 11, 2010 at 12:10am by Write4U Comment #48

Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”. How do we replace Scripture as a basic teaching tool? A comprehensive Book of Humanist Values seems necessary to replace the good ole Bible.

I agree.  One of the powers that the Bible had thousands of years ago is that is took advantage of written communication which was new at the time.  This allowed knowledge to be better communicated over time and over generations without distortion of what the original author said.  Today, it’s not that we don’t have a record of knowledge by brilliant authors who have come up with better philosophies than the Bible had, it’s that we have so much of it.  It’s not all in one place like the Bible provided.  Atheists say that atheism had nothing to do with the atrocities of communist and fascist regimes and I guess I agree with them, but if you remove a source of guidance and support for people’s lives it’s going to leave a vacuum.  Those dictators knew this and they hoped people would turn to them for guidance after they made religion illegal.  If organized religion is going to be eliminated then all the functions it was serving need to be replaced with something else.

I think where action was taken against churches and temples the reasoning by post-revolutionary European governments wasn’t to “replace” religion as a guide, but instead seize religious assets.

If you consider the French revolution for example, the church at the time was one of the major land-owners due to centuries of cozying up to nobles who were dying without heirs. Combine that with the fact that religion has historically had a favourable tax treatment and I think a big chunk of the repression you see in European revolutionary governments could be laid at the feet of people wanting the money.

Particularly if you consider the debts incurred by those revolutions, and compare the whole thing to the American revolution where land was relatively plentiful - meaning the land held by the church didn’t have the same relevance.

Posted on Dec 11, 2010 at 1:40am by Bruce Gorton Comment #49

And even though many atheists want to define “atheism” to mean mere “lack of belief in gods” (as opposed to “disbelief in gods”)

What’s the difference?

I can see a subtle difference. A “lack of belief” may suggest being uninformed on a subject. “Disbelief” to me, suggests knowledge but rejection of the subject.

The difference isn’t subtle.  The atheists are just a mirror image of the theists making a big deal over something that is barely worth paying attention to.  European pseudo-intellectualism.  Hardly any different from arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Argue about whether or not there is intelligent life in the Andromeda galaxy.  What difference does it make what answer you choose to come up with.  Flip a coin and move on.  LOL

The problem is religion affects politics.  It is a mind game just like politics.  It is really about people controlling other people on the basis of psychological bullshit.

psik

Posted on Dec 11, 2010 at 8:11am by psikeyhackr Comment #50

Deleted for flash of temper.

Posted on Dec 12, 2010 at 4:23am by Bruce Gorton Comment #51

Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”.

Is this true? There’s a whole world of books out there. Do atheists need a, single, handbook? If so, why?

Posted on Dec 12, 2010 at 5:47am by eplommer Comment #52

Do CFI people listen to these podcasts?  If so, do they ever comment on these boards, or should I consider contacting them directly?

I produce the show at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, so we’re definitely listening to it. I can only speak for myself, but I read the forums often, so this is a fine way to contact me. You can also email me directly at aisaak[at]centerforinquiry.net.

Feedback is always appreciated.

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 at 10:04am by Adam Isaak Comment #53

Atheism does not provide for such “guidance”, other than secular law and a humanist approach to one’s environment. Unfortunately, there is no Book to which all can refer for “guidance”.

Is this true? There’s a whole world of books out there. Do atheists need a, single, handbook? If so, why?

Can you recommend one book that offers a comprehensive summation of what science has discovered (the way things work) and practical philosophical moral conclusions that would be suitable as a living guide for all humans (including atheists)?
Even the bible and other theist handbooks are made up from numerous manuscripts, accounts and delusions, but they are practical (portable) moral guides for many in their everyday lives.

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:35am by Write4U Comment #54

The problem is religion affects politics.  It is a mind game just like politics.  It is really about people controlling other people on the basis of psychological bullshit.
psik

Is there a difference in “mind control” and “governance”?
The Constitution and BOR are fundamental expressions of a nation’s morality but are too vague for daily application. Moreover, even here in the US (secular law) we see references to a “Maker” and “God” in our governing documents, thus always reinforcing the connection of “right and wrong” with God.
The application of Humanist Values should offer practical functionality, regardless of theist beliefs and practices. A handy portable pocket reference and school curriculum would be a good start.

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:09pm by Write4U Comment #55

Do CFI people listen to these podcasts?  If so, do they ever comment on these boards, or should I consider contacting them directly?

I produce the show at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, so we’re definitely listening to it. I can only speak for myself, but I read the forums often, so this is a fine way to contact me. You can also email me directly at aisaak[at]centerforinquiry.net.

Feedback is always appreciated.


Thanks for the reply, Adam.

Do you think I’m off base with my comments about Chris Mooney’s attitude towards issues the CFI considers vital?  In particular, I remember an entire podcast (not sure if it was PoI or Center Stage) about how precarious the separation of church and state is in America, since four of the nine Supreme Court justices are liable to overturn precedent regarding the Establishment clause.  Chris seemed completely dismissive of such concerns.

There are other examples, but this seems like the most cut-and-dry.  (Also, I’m kind of hoping you remember what old podcast I’m thinking of.)  I’m not calling for ideological purity or anything, but this runs completely contrary to CFI’s views on the matter, so far as I can tell.  How do people feel about this?  Are people talking to Chris in-house about it?  Should there be a forum for counterpoints to be raised, or should it be pointed out that CFI doesn’t feel this way (beyond the lawyer-ese “views expressed don’t necessarily yadda yadda” outro)?  Not sure if you know the answers to these questions, or if you’re interested in giving your own views, but I figured I’d ask.

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 at 2:06pm by cheglabratjoe Comment #56

Do you think I’m off base with my comments about Chris Mooney’s attitude towards issues the CFI considers vital?  In particular, I remember an entire podcast (not sure if it was PoI or Center Stage) about how precarious the separation of church and state is in America, since four of the nine Supreme Court justices are liable to overturn precedent regarding the Establishment clause.  Chris seemed completely dismissive of such concerns.

I was gobsmacked by Mooney’s dismissal of the legal precariousness of church-state separation. Has he been reading the papers? This Supreme Court is not shy about issuing brash, sweeping rulings that reverse precedents. Citizens United, anyone?

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 at 4:15pm by danceswithanxiety Comment #57

Gee, such fireworks about what people choose to believe.

The question for myself is when are humans going to socially evolve enough to allow others to believe whatever they want without let or hindrence . Contained within that is the (seemingly) abstruse notion that keeping people (and all that is a part of this planet) physically healthy and safe does not require some input on whether those and that we should protect choose to believe in invisible beings or not . I’ve met people that believe their T.V.‘s or radio’s give them instructions - that shouldn’t alter my concern for their welfare. And I have no idea what other forms of sentience might think or feel and I am loth to make decisions for them in my ignorance.

I believe there will come a time when terms which indicate a person’s subjective personal ideas are not a necessary adjunct to building a healthy society. Just as gay people will only be truly equal when there is no longer a term for their orientation because it simply doesn’t matter, when the time comes that labels of belief are irrelevant will be the dawning of a better age. Should we make it that far which seems very uncertain at this point.

For myself the question is not ‘The future of Atheism’ but the future of this earth and everything that is a part of it. But then I live in a place where most people don’t give a fiddlers about religion or orientation and such so I guess I am naive to hope that day will come.


Pelagic

Posted on Dec 26, 2010 at 1:36am by pelagic Comment #58

The problem is religion affects politics.  It is a mind game just like politics.  It is really about people controlling other people on the basis of psychological bullshit.
psik

Is there a difference in “mind control” and “governance”?

There should be but probably isn’t most of the time.  I suppose it depends on the competence of the governed but I get the impression a lot of people who regard themselves as leaders want their followers to be stupid.

Do religious leaders want their followers to be even more stupid than political leaders do?  I sometimes get that impression too.

psik

Posted on Dec 26, 2010 at 3:35pm by psikeyhackr Comment #59