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What do all atheists have in common?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 24, 2009

One of the many fights we must engage on, as skeptics, atheist, freethinkers or whatever you like to call yourself, is the fight for our public image. The public perception of what it means to be an atheist diverges from what many atheists think of themselves. It is very appealing to use a straw man argument, and I am probably guilty of doing the same at times. Whenever we try to reach conclusions about a specific person based on how they classify themselves we run the risk of using this fallacy, regardless if we are talking about atheists or christians. The best way to proceed is to ask that person what is it that they actually think on any given issue, instead of trying to pigeonhole them in a position that they do not maintain, solely based on the label they identify by.

There are few things that are shared by all individuals of a given group, none more so than atheists. Generally when people hear the word atheist they think of a person who knows there is no God, or who believes God does not exist, or who rejects God, or whatever. Nevertheless the fact of the matter is that, in my opinion, the only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in any Gods. That’s it. That is our whole “doctrine”. From that point on, we’re on our own and we proceed to take that basic statement “I do not believe in any Gods” and build upon it, based on our personal experiences. Atheism has no central doctrine; we don’t have a book that tells us what we should be doing or thinking; we don’t have a book to interpret, or misinterpret depending how you look at it. All we have is this simple straight forward statement  “An atheist is a person who does not believe in the existence of any Gods“. Period! That’s all there is to it.

Some of us do indeed come to the conclusion that they know there is no God. Those of us are wrong and are putting themselves in a position that cannot be defended logically. Some of us come to the conclusion that they believe there is no God. They are no less wrong than the first group. Some of us are dogmatic and just as close-minded in their atheism as the religious people they want to criticize. But that is their personal choice, their views, their opinions. As there is no central doctrine for atheism, one fringe section’s views cannot be construed to apply to the whole group. And we must also be careful not to do the same to the religious. Not all Christians are the same, not all of them believe the same things. The point is that at the end of the day we are all individuals and have thoughts and opinions that are our own, so whenever we are talking about an individual we must be careful to address that individual’s views, not what we think his views should be based on his labeling.

Some of us stick with the simple statement mentioned above. I have seen all the evidence and heard all the arguments advanced for the God Hypothesis, and I am not convinced. I think that God as posited by the major, monotheistic religions, can exist, but I think the probability of such a God existing is very low. Based on this low probability I can maintain that “I do not believe in any Gods“. If and when better arguments and evidence are presented, the probability will start to increase and at some point I will have to review my position. I think that this is the only logical position one may take. It is rational and not hypocritical.

Some like to call this stance Agnostic Atheism. Whatever suits them, I’ve given up trying to fight based on semantics. I will not let others call me an agnostic atheist though, that’s an entirely different matter. They can call themselves what they want, but I also maintain the right to call myself what I want, and I call myself simply an atheist (in matters of religion) and a skeptic in general, and I consider my atheism to be a subset of my skepticism. I can’t see how I can be a skeptic and not be an atheist as defined here, but I can see how one cannot be both a skeptic and an atheist if atheist to that someone means something else.

At the end of the day labels don’t matter, what matters is what you think, but we live in a society where labels are thrown around as a magical one word summary of a person’s views and opinions, and unfortunately we must keep fighting the labels war, while at the same time being careful not to commit the same crimes against others that we are trying to protect ourselves from.

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‘Theory of mind’ could help explain belief in God

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 24, 2009

[Originally posted at: NewScientist]

Once we had evolved the necessary brain architecture, we could “do” religion, brain scans indicate.

The research shows that, to interpret a god’s intentions and feelings, we rely mainly on the same recently evolved brain regions that divine the feelings and intentions of other people.

“We’re interested to find where in the brain belief systems are represented, particularly those that appear uniquely human,” says lead researcher, Jordan Grafman of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.

The researchers found that such beliefs “light up” the areas of our brain which have evolved most recently, such as those involved in imagination, memory and “theory of mind” – the recognition that other people and living things can have their own thoughts and intentions.

“They don’t tell us about the existence of a higher order power like God,” says Grafman. “They only address how the mind and brain work in tandem to allow us to have belief systems that guide our everyday actions.”

[Read the rest of this post at: NewScientist]

A Quiet Revolution Grows in the Muslim World

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 24, 2009

[Originally posted at: Time]

Three decades after Iran’s upheaval established Islamic clerical rule for the first time in 14 centuries, a quieter and more profound revolution is transforming the Muslim world. Dalia Ziada is a part of it.

When Ziada was 8, her mother told her to don a white party dress for a surprise celebration. It turned out to be a painful circumcision. But Ziada decided to fight back. The young Egyptian spent years arguing with her father and uncles against the genital mutilation of her sister and cousins, a campaign she eventually developed into a wider movement. She now champions everything from freedom of speech to women’s rights and political prisoners. To promote civil disobedience, Ziada last year translated into Arabic a comic-book history about Martin Luther King Jr. and distributed 2,000 copies from Morocco to Yemen. (See pictures of Islam’s revolution.)

Now 26, Ziada organized Cairo’s first human-rights film festival in November. The censorship board did not approve the films, so Ziada doorstopped its chairman at the elevator and rode up with him to plead her case. When the theater was suspiciously closed at the last minute, she rented a tourist boat on the Nile for opening night–waiting until it was offshore and beyond the arm of the law to start the movie.

[Read the rest of this post at: Time]

Young Earth Creationist: Ignorance Of What You Dispute

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 24, 2009

[Originally posted at: Uniform Velocity]

Sickening at times, frustrating and maddening always. The claims of a Y.E.C. (Young Earth Creationist), who purports the earth is less than ten thousand years old, have nothing to base their claims upon other than a book deemed sacred by its creators. Instead, with little to substantiate any assertion they make, the YECs go on the offensive and attempt to attack evolutionary theory, a well supported scientific understanding in regards to the process of change in biological organisms over time and how this explains biodiversity on the planet.the_big_bang_by_vegvisir

  1. Evolution is not a theory that explains the origin of the universe, that field of study is referred to as Cosmology and it is a field of study not covered by Charles Darwin’s, The Origin Of Species.
  2. Evolution is not a theory that describes the first origination of life on this planet, that field of study is called Abiogenesis. While Darwin might have remarked his feelings about the theory in a letter to a colleague, it is not part of the scope of evolution, which by definition describes the change in species over time and natural selection.

[Read the rest of this post at: Uniform Velocity]

A Light Fantastic: Could Aliens Be Sending Us Laser Signals?

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 24, 2009

[Originally posted at: Discovery Space]

Over a decade ago SETI pioneer Jill Tarter and I had a dinner discussion about the protocol procedures for announcing to the world the first detection of a signal broadcast from an extraterrestrial civilization.

I expressed relief that I would never have to worry about publicizing such a discovery from Hubble Space Telescope. “Hold on Ray,” Jill said, “you never know, Hubble might conceivably pick up a signal that other telescopes can’t detect.”

Oh, my worst nightmare! Imagine keeping that information under a news release embargo!

Now, some readers will scratch their heads at this because SETI has been popularized in the 1997 movie Contact where actress Jodie Foster “listens” for radio signals from E.T. with the huge radio telescope array near Socorro, New Mexico.

But another communication strategy that aliens might use instead of radio signals is to send brief and intense bursts of laser light across the galaxy – sort of like a signal lamp between two ships. Some space telescopes would be ideally suited to pluck out such a signal from the sky background.

Why laser beams instead of radio transmitters? A directed beam across interstellar space would be unmistakable from the stellar background and could penetrate thousands of light-years. With each pulse of energy a signal from a big enough laser optics system could appear 1 million times brighter that the transmitting planet’s parent star. The thought is that an alien society would use an agile laser-transmitter to “paint” nearby target sunlike stars with a “searchlight beam.”

[Read the rest of this post at: Discovery Space]

Senior finds error in supercollider algorithm

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 24, 2009

[Originally posted at: The Daily Princetonian]

Xiaohang Quan ’09 was working on her senior thesis when she found a miscalculation in the hardware of the world’s largest particle accelerator.

Quan, a physics concentrator, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, last week with physics professors Christopher Tully GS ’98, Jim Olsen and Daniel Marlow for the annual meeting of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). This year, however, they also came to discuss Quan’s discovery with the designers of the hardware for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, which, as part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has the potential to revolutionize particle physics.

In the hardware used to record and capture events in the LHC, she discovered errors that were leading to the appearances of double images because of particle streams known as jets.

Quan’s thesis focuses on the various jet selection criteria for the LHC and finding which algorithms will be most efficient for analysis of the physics. She has worked with Tully over the past few years and said she was surprised when she discovered a discrepancy between her predictions and results when drawing her initial plots.

[Read the rest of this post at: The Daily Princetonian]