Jan 232020

For those who are tuning in a bit late, Blaise Pascal came up with the believer’s so-called ‘rational’ argument for believing (or trying to believe) in a god. The argument goes something like :-

  • God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives
  • A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up
  • You must wager (it is not optional)
  • Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing
  • Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
  • But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Of course it does – Pascal has used logic here even though he is coming to an irrational conclusion; the key is logic.

However there is only one small area where Pascal’s wager makes any kind of sense – if believers burn atheists at the stake (which did happen during Pascal’s lifetime) then it makes perfect sense to pretend to believe to protect oneself.

However it does make two rather large assumptions :-

  1. That this god isn’t able to determine the difference between believing and pretending to believe. Which kind of invalidates the notion of an omniscient god.
  2. Which god? Given the childish jealousy that most gods exhibit, pick the wrong one and you’re in just a bad a position as someone who doesn’t pick at all.

And the very first statement – that reason cannot determine whether god exists or not, is completely wrong. Reason requires evidence for the existence of something, and the best evidence for the existence of god is the belief of the believers which isn’t evidence at all.

Light’s Shadow
Nov 262017

Just seen something daft on the idiot-box (also known as “television”) where a character claims to not be an atheist because she believes in good and evil.

Which is weird if you think about it. We atheists pride ourselves on paying attention to the evidence, and there is plenty of evidence for the existence of good and evil deeds. What there is not evidence for is the existence of some cartoonish personification of good and evil; those characters sometimes called “god” and “the devil”.

It isn’t necessary for good and evil deeds to require some mysterious actor who lives in the clouds; people are quite capable of both good and evil deeds without help.

Evil deeds are carried out by broken people, and personifying evil as a mysterious actor is a way of absolving us from finding the broken people and fixing them.

Light’s Shadow

Jun 052014

Apostasy can be loosely defined as renouncing a religion either to become an atheist or to convert to another religion. It has been in the news recently because of a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy.

Of course in her case it’s not apostasy, but following her childhood religion – her mother was a christian and her absent father was a muslim. But Sudan does not recognise the mother’s religion in such cases.

However you slice it, the concept of apostasy is ridiculous – it basically forces people who have “lost their way” to pretend to follow a religion. Forcing someone to go to a mosque (or a church, etc.) will just annoy and bore the victim. And yes listening to some holly roller prattle on about his imaginary friend is very boring.

It is noticeable that only islamic countries have a criminal sanction for apostasy, and probably only for deserting islam. In fact that is not quite true – other countries have had laws against apostasy … or herest which to an unbeliever is pretty much the same thing. After all apostasy is along the lines of “you don’t believe in what we believe” and heresy is merely a slightly different flavour of “you don’t believe what we believe”. The “best” example of a christian country executing someone for apostasy is probably Poland,

Although there are plenty of other examples.

But countries with a history of christianity have progressed on from a primitive medieval society that executes people for “crimes” as ridiculous as apostasy. Ignoring the rights and wrongs of it, apostasy is another group’s convert. And executing someone for being a protestant, a jew, a muslim or an atheist is nothing more than persecution of a minority group and will sooner or later (hopefully very much sooner) lead to all sorts of problems with such a society.

After all, a persecuted minority does not have much interest in protecting the status quo – they might well want to start a revolution and kick out the leaders.

Islamic law-makers need to look at implementing apostasy laws even handedly and prosecute christians, jews, and atheists who convert to islam – because they are apostates too. And of course babies are not born with a knowledge of islam, so they can be considered apostates as well. If you threaten to execute islamic apostates, then you need to threaten to execute all the other apostates too.

And then you might realise just how foolish laws against apostasy are.

Sep 172010

So the Pope on his visit to the UK is warning us of the dangers of “atheist extremism” and is comparing atheists to the Nazis.

I’m not sure what kind of thinking went on to associate Nazism with atheism. The Nazis repressed atheist groups in Germany with Hitler proclaiming in 1933 that he had “stamped [atheism] out”. It is just as ridiculous to claim that Catholicism lead to Nazism (as Hitler was brought up Catholic) as to associate atheism with the Nazis.

From his speech, it would seem that the pope is implying that atheists are less moral than those who believe that their imaginary friends will punish them severely if they behave badly. It is true that atheists do not have a single written code of morals to follow, but nothing stops us from following the sensible bits out of (for example) the bible. But what evidence is there that atheists behave less morally than those who believe in some religion ?

Of course we can all point out a list of historical atheists who haven’t exactly been good – Stalin, Lenin, and Hitler are usually top of the list, although it isn’t totally certain that Hitler was an atheist. The bigoted will point to that list as evidence that all atheists are evil, but of course you are not one of those fools.

The pope may have a point where he claims that morality in public life is in danger, but not when he claims that atheists are the root of the problem. A moral atheist is better than an immoral christian every single time, just as a moral christian is always preferred to an immoral atheist. We may not be able to agree on religious issues, but on most of the basics a moral atheist will be in full agreement with a moral christian – for example that all forms of murder and theft are wrong.

It is also a mistake to label everyone who doesn’t attend church or claim some sort of belief as an atheist. In a traditionally christian society, atheism is a choice to be made, and most people in Britain haven’t made that choice. Even those who put down “no religion” in the 2001 census (between 14% (England) and 19% (Wales) can’t be labelled as “atheist”, as “no religion” is a category that covers atheists, agnostics (the “don’t knows”), and the “don’t cares”.

And what examples of atheist extremism have we seen ? How many churches have been burnt to the ground ? How many bishops have been hung from lamp posts ? How many people attending churches or mosques have been spat at and reviled ? Well if all that has been going on, it mysteriously hasn’t shown up on the national news.

Perhaps us atheists aren’t that extreme at all.

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