An Unkillable Myth About Atheists

Jan 23, 2016

Photo credit: Mark Poprocki/iStockphoto

By Barbara J. King

In his new book, The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith and God, Alister McGrath argues that “we need more than science to satisfy our deep yearnings and intuitions.” That something more for McGrath is God, specifically, the Christian God.

As he develops this argument, again and again McGrath characterizes atheists who embrace science but not God as stuck in a place devoid of full understanding or meaning. There’s a “richness” in the Christian engagement with nature that atheists miss, for example.

McGrath understands the foundational atheist perspective to be this: “Since science discloses no meaning to the universe, the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no meaning to find.”

Here, yet again, is the unkillable myth, the persistent blind spot about atheism that apparently no amount of explaining can make go away. No matter how lucidly atheists explain in books, essays and blog posts that, yes, life can and does for us have meaning without God, the tsunami of claims about atheists’ arid existence rolls on and on.

Where does this persistent (is it also willful?) misunderstanding come from?


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79 comments on “An Unkillable Myth About Atheists

  • How much does that distinction matter? When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?

    From her article on Dawkins. The answer is, of course, no. One’s ideology ( ideas ) are always open to criticism and if faith heads don’t like that they can lump it as far as I am concerned. One can and needs to separate the person from the ideology and not let these people claim an intrinsic link with their ideas.
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  • @OP – As he develops this argument, again and again McGrath characterizes atheists who embrace science but not God, as stuck in a place devoid of full understanding or meaning.

    This is straightforward psychological projection, which spuriously claims than anyone who does not accept the spoon-fed dogmatic delusional versions of meanings Xtians have blindly accepted, cannot have any alternatives.

    Where does this persistent (is it also willful?) misunderstanding come from?

    All it demonstrates, is that those who are totally dependent on being spoon-fed, cannot think issues through for themselves, and indeed may have no concept of thinking for themselves!

    There’s a “richness” in the Christian engagement with nature that atheists miss, for example.

    Or – translated into rational understanding:-

    A “richness” is asserted regarding the Xtian delusion, by those who have never looked outside of their delusions, and have no idea about the richness of knowledge which is to be found outside of their delusional bubble!
    The ability to answer all of nature’s big questions with: “God-did-it-by-magic, so I can delude myself that I have a wealth of knowledge and understanding of nature”, may lead to a smug self-satisfaction, but it contains no information which is useful in dealing with the practicalities of life!

    atheists who embrace science but not God, as stuck in a place devoid of full understanding or meaning.

    Perhaps that should read:-

    atheists who embrace science but not God(delusions), are stuck in a place devoid of fools’ understandings of meanings.
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  • When I look through my telescope, I see a universe vastly more inviting and inspiring than anything written by any religion. When I watched a poison dart frog in the leaf litter of the Amazon forest, the inspiration for life far outstrips a prayer, a wafer and a sip of appalling wine.

    The use of the word “Meaning” annoys me to. As Alan4D alluded above, when you attribute “Meaning” to objects you’ve just successfully replicated the experiment that created religion in the first place. The collateral damage of an evolving a brain that could ask the question Why was that you answer yourself, often, with the response “Someone else must have made it, only they were are bigger.” You attribute meaning to objects and events, where no meaning is present or required.

    And that’s when the God’s were created.
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  • @OP. Now, how to make this unkillable myth about atheism into a
    moribund myth

    Do as we normally do and ask for proof. It is all fair and well to utter these statements but what about proof? Ask them what we do that is so different from how they live their lives minus the woo crap of course.
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  • @OP – Here, yet again, is the unkillable myth, the persistent blind spot about atheism that apparently no amount of explaining can make go away. No matter how lucidly atheists explain in books, essays and blog posts that, yes, life can and does for us have meaning without God, the tsunami of claims about atheists’ arid existence rolls on and on.

    Quite simply, brains ruled by god-delusions – particularly the more fundamentalist kind, have no concept of a scientific rational outlook, recycle their notions within their delusion bubble, repeat their myths to each other to reinforce them, and when presented with rational explanations, shrug them off in non-comprehension, press the “faith reset button”, learn nothing, and carry on as before!
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  • I would suggest that religion takes away any meaning you might find and forces you to make an artificial fit with your beliefs and the real world. Like David R Allen I personally find meaning in understanding the universe around me and engaging in those I share it with from the microbes to the other animals.

    Religion isolates us to simple puppets of a deity who’s gives us no free will (none worth having anyway – freedom to choose to burn forever is not what I would call freedom). All other organisms are considered to be inferior as are all the other humans who don’t share you exact beliefs. Alister may gain some sense of personal significance by being infinitely flexible and hypocritical but for me I find more meaning in reading the Richards (Dawkins and Feynman) books or looking at the skies. Last night walking to a local restaurant for a meal with my wife and son and his best friend we all looked up at a massive approaching thunderstorm, here in Australia after a really hot day like yesterday they can be spectacular, I’ll take that over the bible for inspiration any-day. Understanding something of the forces involved is not reductionist, in fact it connects me to the storm as with everything else.
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  • anyone who would rather see the awesomeness of the universe through a heavy mental filter is not only missing out on, well, everything but also is intrinsically breaking the second commandment – creating an icon (god) to worship instead of basking in the glory of the humungousness of it all (and thus breaking also the first commandment)

    it’s hard enough to see without adding such mental limitations

    dogma seems to be a magnet for mendacity and mediocrity

    though perhaps it wasn’t always so

    p
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  • 13
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    Why must we separate the ideology from the person? Only a person can hold an ideology. The ideology of a person is an integral component of what that person is.

    If a person holds a particularly deplorable ideology, say, racial supremacism, am I obligated to think just as highly of that person?

    If a person holds a demonstrably irrational ideology I consider that person to have a relatively underdeveloped brain. Where else but the brain would our capacity for rational analysis reside?

    “When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?”
    Yes, I think it does, and for good reason. Adherence to religion is an indication of defective, or at best underdeveloped, brain structure. Dawkins sports a tee shirt, “Religion, together we can find the cure”. I realize that is meant to be a bit of a joke, but in my view, upon sober reflection, it is based on fact.
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  • Why must we separate the ideology from the person? Only a person can hold an ideology. The ideology of a person is an integral component of what that person is.

    No and no.

    I am convinced that evolution takes place, but that is not an idea or ideology it is a fact independent of the mind of the person, me, convinced of it. The same for an ideology. It is independent of the person in it’s grip, regardless of what the ideology is.

    If a person holds a particularly deplorable ideology, say, racial supremacism, am I obligated to think just as highly of that person?

    You can think as lowly of this person as you want, but respecting this person allows one to separate the ideology from the person. The only way one could try and change the person’s mind. By your reasoning this person and his ideology are one and the same thing and nothing could be changed here.

    “When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?”
    Yes, I think it does, and for good reason. Adherence to religion is an indication of defective, or at best underdeveloped, brain structure.

    So, a person that becomes an atheist from a religion loses this defective/underdeveloped brain structure? Dawkins is referring to religion as a virus ( a mind virus ) so the cure does not involve rectifying faulty brain structure.

    One can become fairly free of ideologies by application of the scientific method and healthy skepticism, so it is possible to separate the ideology from the person.
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  • let me ask this question

    if someone was raised in a quite observant environment (whatever religion) and then as an adult, deciding that his/her religion was silly, gave it up and “became” an atheist (or even swapped religions, say from very frum Othodox Judaism to say Zen Buddhism) and continued like this for some years, do you think that in moments of, for example, stress or tiredness or whatever, he or she might automatically do things that would have been done whilst observant? Using Judaism as an example, very frum Jews will do the 100 blessing a day thing – to the point where it becomes totally automatic for them to, for example, look up and see a beautiful sunset and give the appropriate blessing.

    Being free of ideologies is not the same as being free of your upbringing is it?

    And, i know people who were raised to absolutely hate particular others. Do you think that all of these people can successfully shed the effect of this upbringing?

    pop

    ps, i do recognize the problem of word definition – it all gets so very fuzzy if we don’t nail down definitions but then it can become cumbersome and long and difficult to navigate. I guess AI will do a better job of deconstructing human thought.

    p
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  • And, i know people who were raised to absolutely hate particular others. Do you think that all of these people can successfully shed the effect of this upbringing?

    Skipping the first part of your comment ( 100 blessings a day is indoctrination ), yes, to a greater or lesser degree, people do change firm aspects of their upbringing. Just look to the South (US) and see that people brought up to hate other people did change enough to be able to elect these other people to office ( for one example ). Did everyone change? No, but what is perfect.
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  • @Stardusty,

    The ideology of a person is an integral component of what that person is.

    I think you are absolutely correct. And because of this, one cannot demean a person’s beliefs without demeaning the person (whether one intends to or not). However, one can demonstrate the flaws in a person’s beliefs and lead them to change their beliefs (and the person thereby) without demeaning the person.
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  • Understanding the “why” doesn’t make the universe any less spectacular.

    It’s like knowing how a magician does a trick; if it’s done well and looks good, it’s impressive.
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  • The ideology of a person is an integral component of what that person is.

    So babies are born Republicans.?

    One could say a person has certain ideological predispositions, but integral?

    A constituent part?!? I think not.
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  • would you agree or not that, for example, your first language(s) was an integral part of you?

    what makes something integral? Is it a physiological state?

    feels kindof like the nature vs nurture thing

    i have a friend who appears to be suffering from a neuro-degenerative disorder – his father died of Alzheimers – his behaviour is interesting because he appears to be exhibiting the old hatreds of his upbringing – and these had not appeared to be part of his make up since i knew him as a young teenager. It’s like they are ingrained

    how much of who i am – my character and personality is flexible?

    i wonder

    pop
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  • 21
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    “So babies are born Republicans.?”

    Babies are born partially developed.

    To become a Republican, or to hold any particular set of ideas is to have one’s brain physically altered to store those ideas and to reinforce those data processing pathways. Some portion of our thinking is also hard wired, very roughly analogous to silicon ROM, sometimes called instinct or intrinsic human brain physiology.

    Or do you suppose ideas, thoughts, and sets known as ideologies are somehow stored in a non-physical soul or spirit or ethereal construct of some sort?

    If a memory or a concept or an opinion is not a constituent part of one’s self then where do you suppose it resides?

    We need not be born with all constituents we presently possess, rather, by sheer numbers of cells alone, we quite apparently have acquired most of what we are in a continual process of cell division and brain structure construction.
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  • 22
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    “I am convinced that evolution takes place, but that is not an idea or ideology it is a fact independent of the mind of the person, me, convinced of it. The same for an ideology. It is independent of the person in it’s grip, regardless of what the ideology is.”

    Evolution is a fact whether you or I or any human being is or is not aware of that fact. Evolution has been a fact for as long as life has been evolving on Earth, and perhaps longer if life on Earth is predated by life elsewhere.

    The same is not true of ideologies. An ideology does not exist independent of a being capable of conceiving it, so, I assert your analogy between evolution and ideology is misplaced.

    “By your reasoning this person and his ideology are one and the same thing ”
    I assert A is a subset of B. From that you declare I mean A equals B.

    No, A is a subset of B means just that. A is fully contained within B, but B has elements outside of A. A does not equal B.

    “So, a person that becomes an atheist from a religion loses this defective/underdeveloped brain structure?”
    Yes.

    “Dawkins is referring to religion as a virus ( a mind virus ) so the cure does not involve rectifying faulty brain structure.”
    Where do you suppose the mind resides if not in brain structure?

    “One can become fairly free of ideologies by application of the scientific method and healthy skepticism, so it is possible to separate the ideology from the person.”
    No, it is possible to change ideology, and thus change the brain and change the person. At any particular time in this process of change the present state of ideology is stored in the brain and is an integral part of the individual.
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  • double quotes here

    ‘“So, a person that becomes an atheist from a religion loses this defective/underdeveloped brain structure?”
    Yes.’

    Not Yes. Maybe. If so then only gradually. And i imagine it would take some work. And i also expect that some of the more deeply ingrained training might never be shed – particularly if it is strongly linked to emotional memory.

    I think it’s a terrible promise to make to anyone who has deeply implanted beliefs that by simply switching to being an atheist all their problems will go away.

    They wont and neither will their overall beliefs. But it’s a start and if they have enough support or have a strong enough resolve or both then they will in time come to be much like people who have lived without religion from birth.

    But they will probably never be the same – it’s like an accent – they will have a religious accent that will take a very long time and a lot of work to shed and would always be at risk under stress or intoxication of that accent becoming more pronounced.

    It will vary with individuals, age, depth of indoctrination etc

    I suspect also that if some of their indoctrination is Pavlovian in nature that for some of them this might be eradicated by sufficient trauma but then life is full of trauma and if it didn’t work before it probably wont work now.

    pop
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  • Not a moron, Indygirl. Watched a long discussion between McGrath and Dawkins. Check it out on YouTube.
    He is a devout Christian and not a man of reason and science. A waste of a good mind.— Clearly he is deluded and rather dull. But a moron? No. I’m afraid not; he is quite intelligent. That’s Anne Coulter talk, vitriol, gets us nowhere – although I’ve said worse things and will continue to, I am sure.
    (I suggested that your idea of an anthropologist from the future would make a nice story. I wonder if you saw that comment. Others agreed.)
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  • The prefix “A” means not, or without.

    Therefore, I’m atheist in the true sense of the word, in that I have no religious belief; and that’s the top and the bottom of that.

    If anyone feels disposed to insult me because of it then they’re welcome to do so; I shall simply “Turn the other cheek.”.
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  • “Where does this persistent (is it also willful?) misunderstanding come from?”

    My question is, why do we even care? It’s not a misunderstanding, it’s a congenital religious notion. We live in a more modern society, non-violent coexistence has become the norm (sort of), but religions are by their own definition extremist and unaccepting. All religions are unique, one cannot believe that his/her religion is valid and tolerate different viewpoints, as these would invalidate all they believe in. So am I surprised religious people think atheists have no life purpose, no moral compass, etc.? Of course not. Do I care about what these people think? Of course not. We can’t convince them, they have faith, not reason, and you cannot reason with faith.
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  • So babies are born Republicans.

    No. (Some) Babies become Republicans. Just as their bodies develop (change over time), so do their person-alities, which includes which ideologies they might subscribe to. All of this is affected by external and internal forces.
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  • Meaning does not imply intention.

    mean·ing
    ˈmēniNG/
    noun
    noun: meaning; plural noun: meanings

    1.
    what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.
    "the meaning of the word “supermarket”"
    synonyms: definition, sense, explanation, denotation, connotation, interpretation, nuance
    "the word has several different meanings"

    An individual finds some meaning for his or her life (a purpose, an explanation, whatever).
    No god is necessary and belief in a god doesn’t add any more meaning to life than lack of belief does.

    What belief DOES is provide people with a delusion of how the universe actually works.
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  • 29
    Stardusty Psyche says:

    “Not Yes. Maybe.”

    Indeed, I am guilty of the hasty use of an absolute when I should have explored the process of curing religious irrationality as a step in the direction of developing rationality.

    Or I should have said yes to losing the specific fraction of irrationality that is cured in this process.

    TYVM
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  • This is the central arrogance of faith. The faithful are sure that if they can’t do without faith, then neither can anyone else. In fact they think that others should do life like they do. It’s the classical bigotry of low emotional and social intelligence.
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  • …but religions are by their own definition extremist and unaccepting.

    Okay. (Sometimes, maybe more often than not, but certainly not always.)

    Do I care about what these people think? Of course not. We can’t convince them, they have faith, not reason, and you cannot reason with faith.

    This strikes me as somewhat “extremist and unaccepting” (not to mention defeatist). Look around here a bit more and you will find evidence to the contrary.
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  • If we look at precepts contained in the guiding books, mainstream religions are inherently violent. Now, since we have outlawed certain behaviors, we do not see the extremist side on a daily basis, but it is an indivisible component: their books are holy and perfect and contain violent precepts. Just because people of faith do not act upon these precepts, it does not change the content of these books that religious people believe their infallible God has written.

    The fact that I do not care is not extreme. I simply do not care about engaging in a conversation with somebody who is not open to discussing, because their position is biased by religion, and I especially do not care about engaging in a conversation with the goal of changing others’ biased perception of my beliefs. It’s a non-belligerent position, the opposite of extreme, and definitely the opposite of unaccepting, since we are talking about others accepting my atheist positions (reverse acceptance).

    Also, definitely not defeatist. Feeling inferior and looking for approval or acknowledgement qualifies as defeatist, like the fact that we need to justify our beliefs (or lack thereof). I don’t. Paraphrasing Hitchens, if a person of faith is free to believe in something for which there is no evidence, and feels that being judged for it would be offensive, then for the same reason I definitely do not have anything to prove to anybody, and I do not care about their biased perception of atheism.
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  • Meaning does not imply intention…

    Meaning = what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.

    a tautological definition. You may need a better dictionary.

    Purposive denotation of use, understanding, designed purpose or significance.
    All these must be meant by a sentient signifier or inferred by assuming sentient intention. This is the assumption behind Paley’s timepiece parable, for instance. He was being forced to assume sentient intention because, before Darwin, he could conceive of no other explanation. Conversely one could ask ‘what is the Meaning of this rock?’. In this case it’s not even a question, considered semantically and all answers will be trivial and relate to meanings we give it (deductions about and from it, uses for it…)

    “What is the Meaning of Life?” is such an instance. This question leads the witness. To answer it s/he must accept the assumption that significance exists where that could come only from a sentient operant; the one who means it.

    With a capital M the apologists of organised superstition try to subvert any ordinary use of ‘meaning’ with a hint of the numinous but with no added useful content whatever. This has been going on since the 19thC charlatan Hegel used the method to justify war. Metaphysical disingenuity.
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  • As an atheist, I don’t often find myself in religious discussions with theists I don’t know. That is an important distinction. Any religious conversations I have are with friends and family, and consideration for their beliefs is always a factor in my choice of wording. I determined a long time ago that I would be happy to discuss the subject as long as proselytizing (from either side) is not involved. Yes, it’s easy to be dismissive of preposterous beliefs; what I find harder is to be courteous when it’s clear my words are falling on deaf ears. Ah well, it gets easier as I get older.
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  • My opinion:
    Sometimes being courteous is an unwise choice, as it benefits no one. Tell your friends that they are deluding themselves. They may not like you for it, but at least they’ll remember the remark. If they really are your friends (and really are Christians) they will forgive you. If they are not really Christians (and I’d argue that no one is) than they have nothing to forgive.
    Q: are you the Iceman Cometh Vicki?
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  • Yes, I’m the Iceman Cometh Vicki.

    When I engage friends and/or family in a religious discussion, my only goal is for them to get an inkling of my side. For example, I might ask them to picture constantly receiving requests, from multiple sources such as social media, mail, TV, and books, for me to pray to Zeus, then ask them if they would find the pointlessness of it exasperating. If my goal was to cut the conversation short, I would probably be less diplomatic.
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  • Religion gives people certainty, and it is easy for the religious to dismiss the notion that religion is based on delusions.

    Science however (the logical alternative to religion) gives no certainty. All theories in science are subject to question. All theories and hypotheses are only TENTATIVE answers, not “absolute” answers. In addition, in science we assume that no one has the final answer and that is unsettling to those gullible to the “absolute” answers found in religion. I suppose one can say that the only absolute in sciences is the there are no “absolutes”

    Religion gives comfort to the afflicted. Science afflicts the comfortable. How is it that some of us never need to be comfortable?.
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  • Peak Oil Poet
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:06 am

    ‘“So, a person that becomes an atheist from a religion loses this defective/underdeveloped brain structure?”

    Yes.’

    Not Yes. Maybe. If so then only gradually. And i imagine it would take some work. And i also expect that some of the more deeply ingrained training might never be shed – particularly if it is strongly linked to emotional memory.

    I think in the case of many fundamentalist religions the mental development from childhood, has been retarded by indoctrination to avoid the development of reasoning abilities which would refute religious claims.

    I think it’s a terrible promise to make to anyone who has deeply implanted beliefs that by simply switching to being an atheist all their problems will go away.

    I think this is seeing it backwards! By developing a capability of evidence based rational thinking, a person is likely to move towards being an atheist, and discarding the religious confusion which is causing their problems.

    http://psychology.about.com/od/piagetstheory/p/formaloperation.htm
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  • “By developing a capability of evidence based rational thinking, a person is likely to move towards being an atheist, and discarding the religious confusion which is causing their problems”

    only if they are young enough or have a personality that supports growth even in adulthood

    frankly, i find it hard to believe in these times that an emotionally robust, mentally alert and sound minded person wouldn’t have already figured it out for themselves – unless maybe where they are literally trapped

    i read a lot about $cientology – it specifically targets people who are easy to condition but hard to decondition – something Pavlof suggested (according to Seargent) was the case for as much as 25% of the population.

    not everyone is the same – there is quite a variety

    rescuing sound people might be a first priority but they are the easy ones to save and are just as likely to save themselves

    rescuing hopeless cases from religion – i gave that up years ago

    p
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  • What is the definition of “meaning?” What are they saying when some people tell us that religion gives us “meaning” to life??? This message sounds like the beginning of a scam.

    It is more interesting and more engaging to search for scientific explanations than to lean on some delusionary god as that universal explanation for everything. (eg: the god of the gaps) Scientific explanations are often complex and difficult to understand. It is easier for the ignorant and stupid to understand a facile explanation. So religious leaders detest education and preach to the stupid.
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  • cbrown

    definition of “meaning

    For the religiously afflicted:

    Meaning = I am extremely important and very, very special. God knows me personally. He watches over me. He helps me when I beg him to do so. He punishes the bad people who scare me. He reads my mind and never leaves my side. I am extremely important and very special. This is the meaning of life.
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  • phil

    save me from death.

    Yes! Very important one that I forgot.

    By that definition of “meaning” I can get some faint idea of why they can’t fathom how atheists can live their lives without this “meaning”. Existence in a vacuum is what’s left when this type of meaning is deleted from someone’s mind. Just aimless pointless wandering is what’s left. Is this how they see it? Sad and disturbing to me but if their worldview is based on this meaning then I can see how scary it must be for them to imagine going it alone (without God) like atheists do. In fact, fear is usually the expression I see flash on their faces when I say, “I’m an atheist”. Some friends said that they are afraid for me because when the going gets rough, who will I lean on? I said, “You. I’ll lean on you because you’re real.”
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  • Let’s not forget His love. What is life without His love? Meaningless.

    Most people know this bit, but in case someone doesn’t here’s a classic from a guy who was one of the first to speak out. This was before the four horsemen. I give you Mr. George Carlin.

    When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

    But He loves you.
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  • when I say, “I’m an atheist”. Some friends said that they are afraid for me because when the going gets rough, who will I lean on? I said, “You. I’ll lean on you because you’re real.”

    Yes!

    I have always claimed that a concern for personal salvation does more to destroy our need of and ability for mutuality.
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  • LaurieB
    Jan 30, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    By that definition of “meaning” I can get some faint idea of why they can’t fathom how atheists can live their lives without this “meaning”.

    To a god-delusion, “meaning” is keeping their hosts understanding/believing, that the god-delusion is the mightiest force in the universe, and that its hosts are its special pets!

    Existence in a vacuum is what’s left when this type of meaning is deleted from someone’s mind.

    The most persistent god-delusion memes by their very nature, are programmed to be resistant to deletion from their hosts’ minds, so various anti-uninstall mechanisms are incorporated to trigger fear, confusion, feelings of loss, paralysis, etc.

    I can see how scary it must be for them to imagine going it alone (without God) like atheists do.

    Can you imagine the fear the god-delusion has, when it’s hosts start filling the gaps with real knowledge in place of dependency, providing the possibility of its deletion and extermination!

    In minds where such a possibility has never been contemplated, the very existence of atheists must be a shock to both the host and the god-delusion – probably causing panic!

    We see this in theists who deny that atheism exists, and pretend that atheists deny (their default) god, hate god, worship the devil etc.
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  • Are all religious movements everywhere outbursts of insanity? Context is everything. Deluded, religious, despairing people have found a way to make what is going on around him makes sense with them and their aspirations.

    Try growing up in dire poverty in “Nairobi, in a Church-and-mosque-going society”, then imagine that there are churches where even poor people can directly experience “revelation”: imagine that as a vehicle for the suffering, to “band together as second-to-none in God’s eyes, and feel exalted. And assist one another. And perhaps to contest powers around them and make more of a space for their own autonomy.”

    Carlin (quoted above) was was right and so is Dawkins et al, and so are we. But being right, as I have said, is not enough. The trick is to understand why religion can be so “true” for so many people. That requires empathy and an ability to suspend our own judgments (based on reasonable objections and criticisms, as well as a certain egocentricity) for a moment or two.
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  • Corrected sentence:

    Deluded, religious, despairing people have found a way to make what is going on in their churches and mosques makes sense with them and their aspirations.

    Not a great sentence either.
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  • One of the best (worst?) depictions of religion is in the film Agora. From that film I got the idea that all religions started with a SCAM by some charismatic older male with an impressive beard. Science as depicted was “ungodly.”
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  • By the way, it is interesting to note the denunciation of the film Agora as silliness by the most reverend Bishop Robert Barron. His criticism amounts to a defense of Christianity, that Christians would never do such a thing. He completely overlooks the burning of “witches” a few centuries ago or the banning of contraceptives by the oh so godly Catholics of today.

    See “The Dangerous Silliness of the New Movie Agora” at www. catholic education.org/.
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  • Agora is a brilliant film, if not strictly accurate historically. Its most pungent point is to have Hypatia (the mathematician, astronomer, teacher and translator of and commentator on Apollonius’s conics) reasonably propose that planets move in ellipses 1200 years before it was known to be true.

    In destroying the library at Alexandria we have no idea what great knowledge may have existed to spring us forward in time from where we are now.

    “The Closing of the Western Mind” is a persuasive thesis, though I think there are many areas that could have been further developed.
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  • For those who don’t know, Alister (I used to be an atheist) McGrath, was one of those “fleas” who jumped upon the tail of Richard Dawkins, (quoting Yeates), after the publication of The God Delusion. He was full of waffle then, just as he is now. Incidentally there was an excellent article written by Paula Kirby called Fleabytes on the old site which took apart the various “flea” books written in response to TGD. I’m not sure how to find that article now.

    The only bloody “meaning” the Christians can offer me is either to join them in their exclusive country club in the sky, or be boiled in the lake of fire, after I die. Pure fantasy. Life has plenty of meaning without their silly fantasies.
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  • Mr DArcy
    Jan 31, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    He was full of waffle then, just as he is now. Incidentally there was an excellent article written by Paula Kirby called Fleabytes on the old site which took apart the various “flea” books written in response to TGD. I’m not sure how to find that article now.

    All attempts fetch “error – page not found”, so I think it must have been deleted or taken offline.
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  • Ok, this is coming from a high school science teacher in bible country, USA. I get questions of this nature quite often and I answer it just about the same way with varying degrees of subtly, depending on the audience. Our meaning in the universe was realized once cosmologists predicted the entropic death of said universe. So, if you are an optimist, your purpose is to slow this heat death down a tad. In other words, all organisms get to enjoy this unique opportunity of keeping the universe alive a little longer, no matter how infinitesimally small our impact is. We also, as reasonable organisms, get the pleasure of leaving our blue speck for future organisms to enjoy the same experience. The more organisms, the longer the universe “lives”. Of course, if you’re a pessimist, you might view your existence as parasitic and you might think the universe just wants it over as soon as possible as you do. Either way, enjoy the ride and take what you need but leave a little for others.
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  • After watching the movie Agora again, it occurred to me that the “silliness” Bishop Robert Barron was referring to is of course a reflection of the entire Roman Catholic Church. Not many things are as “silly” as the rituals practiced in the great cathedrals of the RCC. The ritualistic parades, pointed hats, the waving of their hands, the fondling of their beads, and listening to confessions. Then there is the kneeling to one knee and genuflection is bowing to the “moral authority” of the church! How ridiculous! It seems so absurd that people actually believe that this silly ritual is a “supreme act of reverence.” What could be more silly? That is what Bishop Robert Barron had in the back of his mind, but no doubt he is too arrogant to admit it.
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  • Not many things are as “silly” as the rituals practiced in the great cathedrals of the RCC.

    It’s always bothered me that if god is impressed by this sort of shallow display, I’m not sure I’d want him in charge of the universe, or even a side show merry go round.
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  • McGath’s own logic is in question when I hear, “Since science discloses no meaning to the universe, the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no meaning to find.” No: That is indeed not the “only reasonable conclusion”. It is an illogical conclusion. McGrath is unaware that one key purpose of science is to explore, just explore for the sake of science, for the sake of mans curiosity….not to “disclose some meaning.”
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  • I think Jonathan Haidt has it that naturally anxious folk are the ones that become conservative, not wishing to risk change of things that work well enough, indeed fehtishising the functional. Hence they embrace “purity”, the inviolability of of institutions, “loyalty” to all in group come what may, and a subjection to authority.

    What people become within their culture appears, however, to be culturally constrained in its range. The same balance of anxious and adventurous folk probably exist in the US as in northern Europe, the left leaning Americans still appearing to the right of the European centre ground.

    The US cultural bias is its particular celebration of individualism, selfishness, at the expense of mutuality. At is hugely open to parasitising by the psychopathic to great quasi-religious effect. Religions are great coherers and constrainers of thought and the society is well versed in it, happy to be distracted by the baubles of personal wealth and salvation.

    Believing your achievements are entirely personal rather than mostly the result of living within an historically deep and enriching culture of thinking tools and pre-solved problems, you will hug your achievements the more to yourself and fight the sharing. The wide perfusion of the Randian-religious/selfish will fight agents of change (those democratically tax powered) tooth and nail offering a further right bias.
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  • Personal wealth and salvation. That says a lot right there, Phil. Norman Mailer often pointed out that America is a schizophrenic nation, a very hypocritical nation. Christ (in the Bible) never tired of reminding his followers of the “spiritual” dangers inherent in being wealthy. He said it over and over. You’re not supposed to be all that rich. And yet the American Dream is all about getting ahead, accumulating wealth.
    That inconsistency, that dichotomy, creates enormous tension. That is why, or one reason why, according to Mailer – and I suspect that he was right – Americans have had such an exorbitant hostility towards communism. Yes, Soviet communism was tyrannical; we all know that; but communism is, in theory at least, more Christian than fee-market capitalism.
    American Christians – and we are still a predominantly Christian nation – are greedy, and they are deeply ashamed of their own greed.
    So they look for a scapegoat. They condemn in others what they themselves are unable to condemn or reject in themselves.
    That shame and that fundamental inconsistency engenders viciousness, bigotry. Anything that will help ease the tension and that will create an outlet is a welcomed relief. Terrorism is a good way to divert attention away from this double standard (and is a real threat as well which makes it all the more effective as a diversion away from self.)
    We need enemies.
    We are a nation of psychopaths, I’m afraid. Sad. We’re talking about a collective psychic illness on a very large scale.
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  • Dukeshire
    Jan 31, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Ok, this is coming from a high school science teacher in bible country, USA. I get questions of this nature quite often and I answer it just about the same way with varying degrees of subtly, depending on the audience. Our meaning in the universe was realized once cosmologists predicted the entropic death of said universe.

    I should not worry too much about the potential heat-death of the universe.

    The human race has first to survive climate change and the effects of its own stupidity on Earth!
    Then the mastery of space-flight before the Sun becomes a red-giant, followed by adaptation to the merger of the Milky-Way and the Andromeda galaxies in 4 to 6 billion years’ time!
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  • NM is a wise man. Nearly all the major national novelties of that outlier the United States of America flow from this selfish zeitgeist, including its great generative and sadly sustaining successes. I would offer that it is not a nation of psychopaths, rather it is a nation fit for psychopaths, many of whom are lauded as heroes. They brought home the bacon and none noticed they took most of the sandwiches and left too many with none.
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  • Phil, hi,
    “Nation of psychopaths.” Not the best phrase.
    Wish Mailer was still around.
    I am glad and not surprised that you appreciate Mailer.
    Most people know only the reputation, and not the man or his work.
    Yet they dislike him. Awful.
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  • Every time I try to swat some annoying blue bottle going at nearly the speed of light, it seems to appreciate the “meaning” of life. (Why don’t they just buzz around outside ? Then I would leave them alone ! )
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