Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Atheist Thirteen

Via nullifidian, one of those internet 'meme' things to "find out at least a little bit more about each other in the atheist blogging community...If you’d like to take part, copy these questions, and answer them in your own words on your own blog."

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?
The belief that the balance of evidence suggests that the existence of God, gods, or similar supernatural beings is improbable.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
Marginally. I was brought up in the Anglican tradition (non-evangelical low church), my mother and grandmother are low key believers as are other members of my extended family, and I went to a Catholic school for a few years, but religion was never a big part of my life, although I was more religious than my peers. I continued to be affiliated with the church, getting confirmed in my mid-teens. I increasingly adopted more heterodox positions (partly informed by an interest in church history and comparative religion), rejecting trinitarianism early on, so that I was probably more of a deist by the time I attended university. There I was confronted by the essentially contradictory nature of my continued belief in God (which was by now practically a metaphor for my conscience anyway) yet rejection of the other aspects of Christian belief on the basis of the paucity of evidence. I've self-identified as an atheist ever since.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?

Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?
Neuroscience is my field of research, and the interface of neuroscience and medicine, particularly psychiatry, is where my interests lie. Fingers crossed we might actually find out something that is of some use to people soon.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?
I'd like there to be less smug sneering by certain aspects of the atheist 'community', who can combine a sense of superiority over those unsophisticated atheists who explicitly and unequivocally reject religion, with a patronising defence of the 'opium of the people'. There's a certain strand of studenty contrarianism that likes to say things like 'aah, but isn't science becoming the new religion', to which the answer is 'no, not aah!':

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?
"Shit, when the fuck did I have a child?" Actually, I'd like to think I'd already noticed that my child was religious so I wouldn't be inordinately surprised. I don't think I'd be too worried about my child becoming a protestant priest, in some ways it is a logical and worthy consequence of their beliefs, and many do good work in the community, but I'd be more concerned about them becoming a Catholic priest, because they are rejecting significant and rewarding parts of life. I like to think that if my child were to become religious they would have grown up in an environment where they were able to think about it for themselves, and were not directed one way or the other.

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
I'm quite fond of the ontological argument, and the argument from personal experience is always a good way to close down a conversation - but for raw rhetorical chutzpah the bait and switch of changing between a minimally specified deistic god to the God of orthodox Christianity is my favourite. The refutation is obvious.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?
I think islamophobia and the demonisation of Muslims is a real problem in the world today.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?
I dislike Hitchens because his strand of offensive and arrogant contrarianism really winds me up (see Q5). I don't know much about Harris except that he is supposed to have said something rather Martin Amis-like about torture in the 'War on Terror TM'. I like Dennett as a philosopher, particularly regarding 'qualia', but I find his stuff about religion a bit dry. So Dawkins it is, populariser of evolutionary science, strident and often amusing, if not particularly original, and I think he shot himself in the foot a bit with that line about religion being child abuse.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
Hmm, not sure. Let's say Antony Flew for the moment, not because it would be a great intellectual struggle, but because his late conversion has been a rather sad spectacle.

Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet:
Jean Kazez


LemmusLemmus said...

"The belief that the balance of evidence does not support the existence of God, gods, or similar supernatural beings."

I hold that belief and call myself an agnostic. In my book, atheism means you're absolutely certain there's no god, and I'm not.

pj said...

Thought of you but knew you'd called yourself an agnostic rather than atheist somewhere.

Might change it slightly.

Political Scientist said...

The Sam Harris/terror remarks can be found at the Huffington Post.

pj said...

"I will now present an argument for the use of torture in rare circumstances. While many people have objected, on emotional grounds, to my defense of torture, no one has pointed out a flaw in my argument.
Most readers will undoubtedly feel at this point that torture is evil and that we are wise not to practice it. Even if we can’t quite muster a retort to the ticking bomb case, most of us take refuge in the fact that the paradigmatic case will almost never arise. It seems, however, that this position is impossible to square with our willingness to wage modern war in the first place.
What is the difference between pursuing a course of action where we run the risk of inadvertently subjecting some innocent men to torture, and pursuing one in which we will inadvertently kill far greater numbers of innocent men, women, and children?"

Well I can see a flaw in the argument right there. If a ticking bomb scenario is extremely unlikely then we have no consequentialist justification for torturing said terrorists. Presumably the worthy goals of our hypothetical bombing campaign are rather more likely - and thus available to enter into the utilitarian balance.

Political Scientist said...

"Well I can see a flaw in the argument right there. If a ticking bomb scenario is extremely unlikely then we have no consequentialist justification for torturing said terrorists."

Bang on.

Have you noticed how torture appologists always (a) introduce the never-happened-and-never-going-to-happen "ticking time bomb" senario, and then (b) accuse you of being "unrealistic"?

Anonymous said...

"In my book, atheism means you're absolutely certain there's no god, and I'm not."
I think that Q1 was one of the most interesting. I went for the catch-all 'a lack of belief in Gods', only to find that nullfidian had used the same definition. I look like a plagiarist now.

pj said...

At least you didn't pick the pope for Q10!