We begin with the (carnival) Creator himself, Brent Rasmussen of Unscrewing the Inscrutable:
I deconstruct new age author Philip Yancey's new book entitled "Rumors" and the vague, gosh-wow-isn't-life-so-great feel-good non-argument for the existence of a god and a spiritual plane.
Much like God, the post from Smijer & Buck on Ethics, Prejudice, and Theology does not (yet) exist. Unlike God, however, it will exist tomorrow. [Update: it's up!] So let me quote Smijer's preview:
It will suggest that all religions allow ethics, conscience, and sometimes prejudice to dictate doctrine despite their ostensible viewpoint that doctrine is "received" through scripture and serves as the sole source of ethical thinking.
An interesting post from Thinking Nurse contrasts Theistic and Humanistic Nursing:
For humanists, nursing at it's best is an activity conducted by one human being, in a human way, with another human being. The nurse is attempting to open dialogue with the person in front of them, find a way to connect, as one subjective human being with another. This is all. There is no ‘hidden agenda’ of seeking to find the divine in another human being, or to serve God through that human being – the agenda is simply to find, and be with that person, for who they are. This makes humanistic nursing achievable, realistic, rooted in the material rather than seeking to ask nurses or their clients/patients to rise above or reject their humanity.
Over at the UTI Annex, Peter Fredson offers a politico-religious satire entitled Don't Want To Intrude My Beliefs:
President Jet Fratboy was speechifying to an executive session of Christian Conservatives the other day and we were lucky enough to record some of his speech before we were handcuffed, flogged and thrown out bleeding on the street...
Peter has also been spotted over on Stupid Evil Bastard, guest-posting on the topic of What's a Judge to do? Elsewhere he explains his opposition to Aggressive Fundamentalists:
Fundamentalist Christians are nice, honest decent folks. I know this, because they tell me constantly that they are nice, honest and decent. And they are so nice that they want me to be exactly like them. They want me to pray their prayers, worship their god, and obey all their taboos. [...] Their agenda is total control. Total control of wealth, of influence, of speech, of behavior, of opinion. Nothing less will do.
James at Lab6 offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the intersection of Einstein vs. Islam vs. Toilets, which he describes as:
A short treatise on the fiendishly complicated procedures Muslims must go through in order not to offend Allah while on the bog. Intention: humorous. Probable interpretation: mind-bogglingly blasphemous.
A familiar problem for religious ethics is the Euthyphro Dilemma - is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good? The first option renders morality arbitrary; the second, independent from God. Well, it turns out that many religious conservatives overcome the dilemma by embracing the first horn and putting themselves in the place of divinity. Such is the lesson of Goddamn Liberal's post, Fundamentally Retarded:
The berserk, drooling morons of the unreality-based community have a simple tenet, so simple even their vestigial lizard brains can grasp it: we are the good guys, so we can do anything we want and it's good by definition. The sane people are the bad guys, so everything they do is infinitely evil.
Morality isn't the only thing religion tends to screw up - it's also rather notorious for getting in the way of science and logic. The Two Percent Company offer a diagnosis in New Year, Same Old Creationists:
After reading a typical exchange on the Evangelical Outpost in which evolution is challenged using assumptions that have no basis in fact, we followed the pattern of behavior by the religious believers as responses were posted in reply. It was remarkably similar to numerous straw man arguments and almost reflex responses on the part of the religious believers that we'd seen time and time again in attempts to debunk evolution. So, we wrote up this Rant as a sort of field guide to creationist behavior in arguments such as these, along with our speculation about why they react the way they do.
Our final entry is from Peter Thurley, a Christian willing to brave these Godless waters. His post at Dinner Table Donts discusses 'meta-atheism' - the topic to which I now turn...
That ends the list of submitted entries. Before you begin your idolatry, let me raise a question. Is it possible that you don't really believe the above posts are divine? Might your worship be mere pretense? Now, I don't doubt your sincerity when you express faith in the One True Blog, but perhaps you are unaware of your actual beliefs; self-deception is not so uncommon a trait, after all.
This theory of meta-atheism is advocated by Prof. Georges Rey: "Despite appearances, not many people -- particularly, not many adults who've been exposed to standard Western science -- seriously believe in God; most of those who sincerely claim to do so are self-deceived."
Rey lists eight 'peculiarities' about religious belief which he thinks point towards this conclusion. Many of these at best imply that religious belief is merely unjustified (rather than, um, unbelieved), so are irrelevant to his thesis. But I think his points (1 & 2) and (6) warrant consideration.
Points (1 & 2) suggest that our "detail resistance" in response to religious stories is comparable to how we treat fiction. It strikes us as silly to ask which shoe Harry Potter puts on first; we recognise that there is no corresponding fact about this detail of the story. Rey argues that we treat religious details similarly:
Just how did God's saying, "Let there be light," actually bring about light? How did He "say" anything at all? (does He have a tongue?)... Leave Biblical literalism aside. Just answer: how does He do what believers say He does? Does anyone really believe that such questions have answers?This may support the idea that religious 'beliefs' are not genuine beliefs after all, but merely belief-like imaginings.
Point (6) is that people's actions belie a belief in heaven. For example, the intense grief most people feel when a loved one dies is inconsistent with the belief that they live on, blissfully, elsewhere.
Will Wilkinson elaborates on this point, suggesting that genuine theists "ought to have higher rates of death by accident", since "[i]f I believe that heaven is infinite bliss, then I should be quite eager to join my maker." Fear of death is then further evidence that one does not really believe in the afterlife.
Tyler Cowen disputes this reasoning, suggesting that the theist would want to live in order to fulfill his role in "God's plan". This strikes me as a feeble response, for the theist cannot know whether God's plan is for him to live or die. Caution is thus uncalled for. He should instead live freely, take chances, and trust fate to see things right. Surely if God's plan is for him to live to a ripe old age, then he will survive any risky behaviour. If not, then he won't. Either way, God's will is done. (Tyler also argues that paradise "will come sooner or later in any case". But we are motivated to prefer bliss sooner rather than later!)
Brandon at Siris responds to all eight of Rey's points. To the sixth, he begins by pointing out that we can still be sad when a friend leaves us to go to a better place (e.g. overseas). But this response is insufficient because our response to death is so much stronger than a mere temporary separation could possibly warrant. More promising is his general suggestion that we don't always act as if our beliefs are true. Sometimes we're just irrational; perhaps the theist's grief and fear of death are such examples. Still, one would expect a genuine belief in the afterlife should have some behavioural consequences (beyond mere verbal assertions). But does it?
In the end, I disagree with meta-atheism. I get annoyed when theists claim that atheists are really believers ("deep down"), and it's no less uncharitable of our side to reverse the claim. Religious beliefs certainly have their 'peculiarities', but that doesn't make them any less genuine beliefs. (Though they may well be inconsistent, unjustified, and so forth.) But the issue is an entertaining and controversial one, so I encourage readers to chime in with their thoughts in the comments below. Do you agree with meta-atheism, or not? What are your reasons?
That concludes this week's Carnival of the Godless - I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. The next one will be held at Smijer & Buck on Feb 27. (I note the tenth Philosophers' Carnival will be the day after that, for those who are interested.)
Submissions can be sent here, as per the instructions on the COTG homepage.