venerdì 20 gennaio 2012

The atheist congregation

A fanatic atheist is no better than a fanatic believer

When in disagreement on some topic with a believer,

  1. mock him, betting he'll soon leave the discussion
  2. accuse him of saying things he never said, but that you suppose he might think
  3. bring all remotely related topics into the discussion — with more front opens, you have more chances of finding him at fault
  4. if other fellow atheists join the discussion and say something you disagree with, don't point out their mistake; after all you just want to win, no matter what
  5. mock him for believing in X
  6. ask him to prove the things he believes in
  7. if you can't find any arguments, leave the discussion with some excuse
  8. blame him for some horrible things he didn't do, but that other people of his same faith did
  9. provide unsolicited definitions from wikipedia for some random words which he used: it makes you look smarter
  10. quote other fellow atheists who seemingly support your point
  11. quote other believers who seemingly support your point
  12. say that his arguments are confuted by any basic logic book, but don't provide any reference to your claims
  13. if his arguments seem to corner you, pretend that you don't understand them or, better, ignore them
  14. whatever he says, contradict him — especially when irrelevant to the topic
  15. make a claim, and leave to your opponent the proof of its fallacy

If you are an atheist and have some experience in discussing with believers, you'll probably recognize in some of these points the same behaviours that some believers have shown when discussing with you, just in reverse form. And I bet you hate them. Therefore, you'll be glad to know that the pain you suffered in having to debate with this nonsensical people has also been experienced by a believer (me) who has burnt out quite a few neurons trying to have a logical discussion with members of the atheist congregation. That is, you have been avenged! ;-)

A necessary premise: I firmly do not believe that all atheists belong to what I'm now calling the atheist congregation; though at the moment I cannot find in my circle of acquaintances a single atheist whom I know for sure would not behave like that, I believe that there are atheist who can reason without being heated by hatred or fanaticism — and one of the main reasons for me to write this blog post is exactly to prove that to myself.

I mentioned that I took part on a discussion with atheists; I'll soon provide you the links for you to read it, as I bet you won't just take my word for true, but instead you'll want to check if those behaviours I listed above are actually coming from atheist, or if I'm just defaming or even, on the contrary, I happened to exhibit them myself. And since it's a public discussion in Google+, you'll also have a change to take part on the fun. Before that, however, let me say a couple of words to introduce the topic.
The topic of the discussion only marginally involves religion; actually, I would say that the main point is logic, and reason why I took it at heart is not that people were offending my religion, but the fact that they were offending my (and everybody's) logic. What really struck me was realising how these people I was talking to were just interested in demolishing me as the expression of religion, and even those who are actually my friends in real life accused and insulted me for writing things which they would easily agree with, had they been written by an atheist. Some or my discussion partners were just not reading what I was writing, and they took me as the symbol of all believers and religions, and blindly attack on whatever argument they could think of; some others tried to focus on a logical debate, unfortunately forgetting to apply the logic reasoning itself and, either in good or bad faith (this I honestly don't know) go on claiming they were right.

Hoping to have aroused your arguing interest a bit, here's finally the link to the discussion, as I saved it on October 14th, 2011 (it has now been quiet for more than 2 months): saved discussion. If instead you plan to take part in it, jump to the live Google+ thread here.

Believing in religion is (not) illogic

The main points of the discussion were “religion is illogic” and “believing in religion is illogic”. Initially, since the discussion started on a different topic and I didn't want to broaden the discussion (as instead the other participants were obviously aiming to) I agreed with those statements, thinking that my conversation partners used the word “illogical” meaning “extraneous to, not involving logic”, and not really “not logical”; but alas, it was not so, and they all actually meant that either “religion is against logic” or “believing in religion is against logic”.

Again, since I thought that we had just a disagreement on the meaning of the term “logical”, along the discussion I tried to replace “religion” with some other unprovable statement, to see if my partners would also say that, for instance, also “believing that tomorrow will rain is illogical”; but they didn't, and all my attempts to get them to explain what the difference between the two things is were vain. I also tried to see if we could settle the discussion by relaxing the terms, by replacing the word “illogic” with whatever other word they wanted, but to no avail.

The members of the atheist congregation

On one side, I think it's bad taste to post the names of the people involved in the discussion, since one would normally name the sin but not the sinner, but in this case I'll make an exception, for a couple of reasons: the first is that the discussion is already public (and my blog is not likely to attract that many readers more), and the second is that I'm not at all convinced that they will feel any shame, given that they are most likely still convinced to be on the side of the reason. So, they might need a small lesson — unless I'm either wrong myself (which should be proven logically) or every atheist reading this post is a member of the congregation as well. So, I'll quickly go through the behaviours and arguments that I find most wrong.

Salvatore, after a few messages filled with mockings, insults, and misunderstandings on pretty much all things which I never wrote, conveniently fled from the discussion refusing to write more until I would provide solid evidence for God's existence (which I never claimed as a fact). Ironically, not before quoting “Arguing with a creationist is like playing chess with a pigeon. It'll knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and fly back to its flock to claim victory.”.

Felipe C. was quite active in the discussion, and he's the guy of a thousand definitions; he would argue over any tiny detail, no matter how irrelevant to the discussion, quote definitions from wikipedia and generally nitpick on everything, while at the same time misunderstanding (or pretending to misunderstand) my arguments. But let's get to the main point. He was the one initially claiming that “believing in religion is illogic” and “it's illogical (as in wrong logic) to believe in something without evidence.”; however, when I finally (after many attempts) got him to admit that he could believe a fact (a tale) even without evidence, he argued that believing in religion was illogical because of the risks (of living your life for something which might not be there) and low likelihood. As if logic ultimately depended on the risks or likelihood of something. Wow, I definitely need to pick up some books and get back to logic again!

Felipe B. wrote just a post, but it was so great to read it in the context of a logical discussion that I'd recommend it to everyone.

Zeeshan joined the discussion only later on, and provided support for his fellow atheists' points by saying that one of the principle of logic is that “in the absence of sufficient evidence to back-up an assertion, it is logical to assume the negation of that assertion even if there is no evidence to support the negation of the assertion either”, but unfortunately he couldn't provide any back-up for his assertion either. :-)

It's also worth noticing that in this discussion, people making statements “religion is illogic” all insisted (except from Felipe C.) that the burden of the proof was on me, despite the fact that I never said that “religion is logic”. If you claim that something is illogical, you should be able to find the logical fault in it.

Why this post?

As I wrote above, I'm totally confident that most atheists are capable of discussing using just their logic, without being biased by the fact that the discussion partner is a believer; that they don't need to defend other atheists' arguments at all cost, and that they can recognize logic faults independently from where the arguments come from. So, if you came to read till this point, I'd invite you to tell me what you think of the discussion I had with these atheists, and whether or not you agree that what I wrote in this post applies to them (taken as a group — obviously not all I wrote applies to each of them individually). Please leave your comments to this post. However, if you don't agree with me as far as the “religion is illogical” discussion is concerned, please write your arguments in the Google plus thread itself. I reserve the right to delete off topic comments from this post. I will count insults and irrelevant comments as points for me, but please don't exaggerate with them. :-)
And indeed, if you were to prove me wrong in that infamous thread, please do it logically: that is, take “religion” or “believing in religion” and prove that they are illogic, finding the logic contradiction in them. If you cannot prove that they are illogic but you just believe that “believing in religion doesn't make sense”, feel free to write that as well: that's a legitimate opinion of yours.

Religion or atheism never caused any harm: it's fanaticism that did.

Peace and love,
a mathematician and a believer

Etichette: , ,

14 Commenti:

Blogger Dmitry Rozhkov ha detto...

I'm not religious, but I don't understand how religion can be illogic. The belief in God is no worse (but definitely better) than the belief in little green men living somewhere around Alpha Centauri. How on Earth can anybody be sure that the green men don't exist?

I see a lot of efforts have been spent on the topic. This topic touches people somehow and probably logic itself is not the actual reason why people are so passionate about religion.

There is no conflict between science and God unless someone creates an idol of science and starts to believe in it. Religion can be a dangerous thing as well. Especially if it insists that the nature is sacred and can't be separated from God hence not knowable and not cognizable. As far as I know the abrahamic religions don't suggest it thus enable development of science. I guess the point of your opponents is that as science develops less and less space is left for God. This can lead to Nietzsche's conclusion that "God is dead". But I'd rather trust Dostoevsky who persuaded me with "The Brothers Karamazov" that if God is dead then Humanity is in great danger: we can argue fruitlessly about who created the world, but without a moral absolute humanity is impossible. As an atheist I don't think that God is the only source of moral authority, but I doubt that logic and science can help me a lot to answer the "simple" questions what is good, what is bad, why to live and so on.

a rocket engineer and a non-believer.

21 gennaio 2012 16:43  
Blogger FelipeC ha detto...

The list is just ridiculous, I'm just going to make a few comments, but in general none of those points are particular to atheists, just typical issues while engaging in discussions, and many of them are way more often associated to religious people.

If I discuss against somebody that believes in unicors, yeah, I will mock him, and hope he will soon leave the discussion. Why is that so wrong? Clearly, such a person doesn't think that evidence is important for him, so how can I use the lack of evidence to convince him?

X being unicorns, a flat earth, young earth, Noah's ark, the talking bush, or a space daddy.

If you don't care about evidence, you will end up believing in things that don't exist.

And then you say:

> but they didn't, and all my attempts to get them to explain what the difference between the two things is were vain.

Please, I explained to you *exactly* what is the difference. But that's irrelevant.

The only relevant fact is that you confuse logic with *mathematical logic* which are not the same. And you ignored every piece of evidence I provided to you that showed that logic is tied with reason.

If you want to keep hearing why you are wrong, there's even shows dedicated for discussion. Feel free to send them your questions:

22 gennaio 2012 22:21  
Blogger Alberto Mardegan ha detto...

Felipe, what you call "logic" is something else. Mathematical logic is just logic, but formalised.

And yes, as a mathematician I claim my right to believe in unicorns and any other things I might want to believe in, as long as they are not proved false, without being called illogical.
If believing such things makes me feel better and smile more often, I even find believing in them completely reasonable.

22 gennaio 2012 23:14  
Blogger Dmitry Rozhkov ha detto...

I wouldn't say that there is logic and there is logic. I would say that there is logic and there is common sense which may suggest that "God doesn't exists". But isn't it an indication of the "intuitive style of thinking"?

23 gennaio 2012 10:27  
Blogger FelipeC ha detto...

> Felipe, what you call "logic" is something else. Mathematical logic is just logic, but formalised.

Sure, believe whatever you want, but that's not true. I provided plenty of evidence that shows otherwise, but clearly you don't value evidence.

> If believing such things makes me feel better and smile more often, I even find believing in them completely reasonable.

What you find completely reasonable is irrelevant. The rest of the world has spent many many years trying to define what is logical, what is reasonable, and just can't just redefine words.

That is called wishful thinking.

> Religion or atheism never caused any harm: it's fanaticism that did.

Of course not. The problem with Islam, and Christian fundamentalism is the fundamentals of them. Killing witches, gays? Read the bible, Christian fundamentalists can find parts of the bible that say that's what they should do.

There's no such thing as atheism fundamentalism, because atheism is not a religion, there is no bible, and there are no fundamentals. There are no rules, there are no guidelines, and no rituals. There's no excomulgation if we don't follow those non-existing rules. There are no churches, and there's no congregation.

There is no atheist fundamentalism.

23 gennaio 2012 15:45  
Blogger Alberto Mardegan ha detto...

Felipe, I cannot reply your points because I already showed you the evidence of your fault, but you are the kind of guy who would never admit it. Everything I write, you'll debate it (often without following the reasoning), just confirming my point, so I'll stop answering you here.

Note, however, that my post is not only about you.

23 gennaio 2012 15:58  
Blogger FelipeC ha detto...


Multiple definitions of logic, most of them have nothing to do with "mathematical logic":

If Wikipedia is not good enough for you, here's an module of an open course on critical thinking, logic, and creativity

Briefly speaking, we might define logic as the study of the principles of correct reasoning.

It should be pointed out that logic is not just concerned with the validity of arguments. Logic also studies consistency, and logical truths, and properties of logical systems such as completeness and soundness.

Do you need more evidence? I can certainly provide more, but I am sure you will dismiss all evidence.

23 gennaio 2012 17:09  
Blogger Dmitry Rozhkov ha detto...

:) Hm... the scholastic method seems to be still relevant today.
And I guess the topic "Was William Ockham an atheist?" would be very intriguing.

23 gennaio 2012 17:41  
Blogger Alberto Mardegan ha detto...

Dmitry: no please, we've already fought over poor Occam's body :-)

Occam's razor provides a great tool, but the problem with it is that you have to agree on how to weight the facts first. Did Jesus exist? Even if he did, how faithful are the sermons in the accounting of his life? Which of the "miracles", if any, have actually happened? And how many of those which happened are really inexplicable by modern science?
And we could continue with such questions forever.
So, for some people, Occam's razor might even confirm God's existence, because it's the simplest theory which explains all the historical and religious accounts; for sceptics of these accounts, it does the opposite.

23 gennaio 2012 19:00  
Blogger Dmitry Rozhkov ha detto...

Alberto, I totally support your point which looks to me very consistent and systematic. I'm aware that the infamous razor is just a scientific method.I was referring to Occam and other scholastics because your opponent in order to prove his point exploits methods widely used by very religious people (particularly I'm talking about philological analysis of words that may have multiple meanings).

Isn't it an ironic twist that nowadays one may fight against religion using the tool (logic) which was actually advanced by people believing in God.

23 gennaio 2012 20:42  
Blogger Unknown ha detto...

Hi all,
I apologize in advance because I really don't have time to systematically engage in this topic again, but I would like to offer Alberto my explanation about what the difference is about the following propositions: "I believe in the afterlife" and "I believe it will rain tomorrow".

I the second case, we have decades of data coming from weather stations, weather satellites, weather balloons and so on. We can make predictions for the next day every day, and see how good we are at it; we can see how good our data is, and how good our model is.

After a while, we realize that we guess tomorrow's weather correctly most of the time; therefore, I have a logical reason to believe that the next prediction will be true too, although there is a chance it might be wrong.

Guessing tomorrow's weather correctly, is not only plausible: it's probable.

I don't think you can use a similar argument for the proposition "I believe in the afterlife".

24 gennaio 2012 09:26  
Anonymous Salvatore Iovene ha detto...

Uh, I don't know why my last comment came as "Unknown". This is Salvatore.

24 gennaio 2012 09:27  
Anonymous Zoltan Kis ha detto...

Salvatore, to be fair, I am pondering whether can't your point be applied to the first case too? Like the following:

There are millions of people who would testify that before they didn't believe in afterlife (or they were sinners), now they do, and found liberation by being forgiven by a superpower perceived as a person (never seen by others) whom they still accept as their ultimate creator (methods not fully known, though). What have they been doing for this? Some will say reading ancient texts for a time (maybe months or years), then in smaller proportion others would tell about visions, hearing voices, experiencing miracles etc.
Sounds like TV-shop marketing, but it keeps happening (yeah, not unlike TV-shop marketing). However, the change is often so radical and desirable (joy, better life, etc) that it poses the question that isn't perhaps there a some reality behind all this, and beyond psychology and brain functions? (very much the question also TV-shop marketing would like to achieve: it works).

The scientific method is: make a hypothesis, then check/measure it, and/or make prognoses that if become true, would increase plausibility of the theory. Or then find counter-measurements that diminish or kill it.

Now would you be ready to go and try out (scientifically and methodically) the claims of those now believing in afterlife? There are many who tried, e.g. started reading the Bible by giving chance to something eventually happening, and actually many succeeded, but I also guess not all of them succeeded. Does this alone prove or deny the point? I don't think it does for either. The Bible itself says believing in God seems foolishness (for those who perish), and also says the text alone is worth nothing without a living power or spirit of God which somehow explains it for the given life situation. This leaves objectivity out (since what we call objectivity postulates it without any presence of any supernatural entity, the only allowed notions are non-conscious energy or matter).

Ultimately, finding faith can't be methodically achieved, leaving the faithful in the shame of being unable to scientifically prove their point (besides, the scientific method postulates you are not allowed to use God in arguments). So no wonder they have always lost the argument and will always do so, but... they are still winning people, and sometimes in the most surprising ways (e.g. and there are thousands of similar cases in our time). Which matters more?

25 gennaio 2012 11:28  
Anonymous Zoltan Kis ha detto...

For the same reason, whenever the christian church institutionalized or rationalized faith, or reached for power and used an argument from the position of power, actually left its own credo and ended up committing historical sins. Also, when they want to prove their point with foreign arguments (like scientific proof of creation, etc), IMO they again somehow seek the position of power and "get left by their God". This happened not only for the catholic church.

I think that either as believers, or non-believers we need to admit that we don't fully control what happens here, and we can't even explain it (yet?). This creates frustration, ending up with suggestions for solution (e.g. banning religions, putting believers into prisons, or even mandatory medication, used in former communist/materialist countries which perfected atheism). I have direct trusted account of such cases from my wife's family (her grandfather was a pastor who physically suffered quite a lot from atheists). This IMO makes the victory of atheism a bit less, because it leaves a glimpse (also based on historical data, like with inquisition) of the future we'd have for the case when atheism was let free-run along human nature and desires. We have also seen that with religion(s). Both fail when they run for CONTROL. This was the main problem with Christianity (at least from the communist power point of view) that it is not well controllable and there were always people popping up who did not fear to say the truth. I guess that's the problem with all religions, and even with high morale (usually having religious roots).

Now the question, the only question that matters IMO: is it possible to live a desirable/good life as atheist, or christian (or other religion)? All claim so. So then what is our damn problem here? Let them prove it!! And punish the exceptions without generalizing too much. The world is still round and hopefully continues being round.

25 gennaio 2012 11:29  

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