Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Agnosticism and the dangers of stepping-stones

Thursday, February 25th, 2016 | Humanism


The February lecture for West Yorkshire Humanists was presented by Robin Le Poidevin. He spoke on “Agnosticism and the dangers of stepping-stones”, discussing whether agnosticism could be a stable position on its own, or merely a stepping-stone between theism and atheism (or the other way).

The talk was really interesting. One of the big questions is how you live as an agnostic. Where do you take your morality from? Either religion or Humanism, suggesting that you are actually learning one way or the other.

The Q&A got a little off topic. Attendance at the pub social after was good.

Why do some atheists become pagans?

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Humanism, Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, I saw one of my friends post on Facebook about attending Pagan Pride. I found this interesting because they used to run an atheist society. When I think about it, I can name quite a few people who have flirted with paganism, either before they came to atheist society, or having left the society and then drifted over to paganism.

It seems to me that there seems to be a stronger link between atheism and paganism than between atheism and other religious beliefs. I wonder why this is.

The simplest explanation, could be the size of my dataset. While having reviewed my personal experience revealed this connection, it could simply be that this by chance, and if I looked at a wider variety of evidence I would see something different. In particular, cultural setting probably plays a large part, though if that was the case you would expect the dominant religion to feature to be Christianity. Still, that seems a good explanation. However, in the interest of discourse, I want to discuss the possibilities assuming that that is not the case.

My first instinct was that Paganism is easier to swallow than more dogmatic religions. It seems fair to say that in order to become religious, you probably have to swallow its bullshit to some degree. With the Abrahamic religions, that is quite well defined bullshit. it is hard to wriggle out of because their god helpfully wrote it all down in a series of contradicting books that explained exactly what it was, then created a series of prolific institutions to further expand its claims.

Paganism does not have this. Nobody really knows what it is about. Thus from an intellectual point of view, it is easier to swallow their nonsense because you have more freedom to accept or reject specific claims and can water it down to taste.

However, I am not convinced by this explanation. Religion is not an intellectual argument. It is an emotional one. I am not sure who said “[the problem with convincing believers is that] you can’t reason yourself out of a n argument you did not reason yourself in to”. People do not make these choices using logical. If they did, nobody would be religious. It is a willing suspension of your disbelief in order to gain the emotional reward gained from religious adherence.

That is not to say that religious people cannot defend their ideology. They do, and come up with plenty of arguments for their belief. However, as Michael Shermer’s research shows, people form beliefs first and then come up with reasons why they believe if afterwards.

Therefore, if we accept that religion is an emotional choice, the watering down of theology offers no benefit. Indeed, for me personally, it would be less appealing. If I was to ignore my rationality and choose on an emotional level, I would much rather have the loving, protective (if a little jealous and vengeful) Christian god watching over my life and occasionally listening to my prayers (I am rich and white, and would generally pray fur curable things after all) than the vague concept of a Mother Goddess which may nor may not split down into a polytheist set. I want the certainty that our human brains naturally crave. Otherwise what is the point?

Another explanation could be the similar, but importantly different, idea that we inherently have believing brains (referencing Michael Shermer once again). In a straight forward clash between emotion trying to override logic, it makes more sense to go to one extreme or the other. But suppose that rather than craving the certainly of religion, we simply allow our rationality to slide to the point where we tolerate our inherent trait of building narratives and purposes were not exist.

If we were to subconsciously form this belief, which we are all somewhat predisposed to do, we would then go looking for a way to explain why we held this belief. Again, belief first, reasons second. But the key point with this is that we are still essentially acting on a rational, intellectual level, but from a base point that we are formed a faulty premise that there is something greater out there. Retroactively fitting an explanation to this, would lead us to fitting on the belief system that causes the least conflicts with that world view. Here, with its lack of doctrine and defined beliefs, Paganism probably has the edge.

Religion for Atheists

Monday, July 15th, 2013 | Books

Quite a few people have suggested Alain de Botton’s book “Religion for Atheists” to me, and I also read Jack’s review with interests a few months ago. Given the brevity of the book, I decided it was certainly worth a quick read to see what it was all about.

The book begins by saying suggesting that the least interesting question we can ask of any religion is whether it is true. This has been a point of some criticism from reviews but I wonder if many have actually missed the central point of the assertion.

What Botton actually means, and perhaps a better way to phrase it would have been, “given we know religion is completely untrue – there clearly isn’t a god and we all know it – what interesting discussions can we have about it?”

From this perspective, his comment makes make more sense and also perhaps explains why he paints religion in such a positive light. It isn’t that he is wearing rose tint glasses, but merely starts from a point where we acknowledge religion is both untrue and destructive, but there are some good features that have allowed it to flourish. Of course I don’t know if this is the case, Botton does not state it, so perhaps he is guilty of the rose tint after all.

The book consists of a series of chapters looking at various aspects of religions and how they could be implemented in a secular way. Laying out restaurants to encourage discussion with strangers, creating mile stones and celebrations, and delivering academic lectures with the passion of evangelical preachers are just some of the suggestions that spring forth.

I read them with mixed reactions, some I like, some not so much. A stronger focus on interesting delivery of academic content for example would certainly have improved my university days. I often struggled to stay awake in lectures and remembered nothing, in which cases a smaller amount of repetitive information would have actually increased learning.

Milestones also play an important part in our lives – this is clear from the half a million people that attended a Humanist ceremony this year. As Jack points out, the historical tradition and grandeur of gradation helps to provide such an occasion in the secular world already though.

In summary, I think Botton is generally on the right track, but then I would, holding the same position. Religion has endured throughout our history, and even onto the days when we know it is patently false, because it provides for our “spiritual” (for lack of a better term) needs. Extracting these into a secular context is essential to removing superstition from our society. Whether Botton’s suggestions are the way to do it remains unclear though.


When you’re an atheist…

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 | Photos

…every day is pancake day!


On humanism, and being positive

Monday, September 10th, 2012 | Humanism

One of the criticisms that has been put forward about humanism is that it always has to be positive. Many aspects of that humanism is there for are simply not positive – it’s an alternative to religion, and religion is a thought controlling, people oppressing, unscientific load of nonsense.

However, as someone who labels myself as a humanist, I think both these statements can be true, and work together well.

Yes, religion is an evil that the world would be better off without. But saying that you can’t tackle this issue with a positive attitude is not only incorrect, but it is also naively counter-productive, even though it may seem intuitive.

The reason is, is that we know by now that, most of the time, arguing with someone’s beliefs only entrenches them further.

I mean, how many people do the believer and atheist camps actually win over to the other side? Almost none. In fact, it’s so rare that when we do, we feel the need to put a spotlight on them and get them to give talks about their conversion, because it almost never happens.

One of the reasons for this, is that arguing your case, even if you’re case is incorrect, actually reinforces your own belief that you must be right. In fact, even for us skeptics, who are aware this is a problem and try to counter against our own biases, it is difficult to avoid.

This has been general knowledge for a long time, but a great example is given in Richard Wiseman’s recent book about captured American soldiers in the Korean War.

During their time in the prison camps, they were often bribed to say or write about how positive communism was, and were encouraged to take part in mock debates in which they argued for communism.

The result – because they undertook the actions of promoting communism, an idea that not only doesn’t work and isn’t fair (in my humble opinion) but was specifically what they were fighting against in said war, they actually started believing what they were saying.

Similarly, when you get someone in a confrontational argument about their beliefs, where it be religion or any other form of ill-founded prejudice, bigotry or simply factually untrue belief, getting them to argue the point is only going to reinforce their belief most of the time, not weaken it.

So what can we take from this?

Firstly, I think it is a mistake for those in the freethought movement who suggest humanism’s approach of being nice and positive with people, is a sign of weakness or that we not as firmant in stopping the evils of blind faith from damaging our society. It isn’t – they’re just going about it in a more rational, scientific way.

Secondly, when considering your attitude, especially when running groups, it is important for it to be informed by this research.

For example, at A-Soc we discussed, on several occasions, the idea of having a debate with the religious societies where we would take the opposite position. IE, we would argue there was a god, while they would argue there wasn’t. Unfortunately, we never followed through with the idea. It is also worth considering what interfaith (sorry, can’t think of a better term) activities can be done between atheist and believer groups that promote an understanding of each others principles, rather than a confrontational nature – which in the end, actually have a reverse effect from what they are intended to have.

This House has No Faith in Atheism

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | Events

On Friday, I was invited up to Durham Union Society to speak against the motion “this house has no faith in atheism.”

Durham is always a pleasure to visit as it’s a beautiful place and provides some odd quirks – for example after spending 18 months living in Leeds city centre it’s a novelty to go to sleep in a room with is dark, and quiet. Plus the company of DUHSS is always welcome (though my memory somewhat failed to live up to the occasion – I got half way through introducing myself to Ed before realising we had met just a month before when I spoke to DUHSS in October).

My fellow speakers were Paul Woolley, head of the Christian think-tank Theos, Malcolm Guite, a priest and chaplain based in Cambridge, and Professor Richard Norman, vice president of the British Humanist Association.

I met Richard in the bar beforehand so we could exchange notes. It was great to meet Richard as he is clearly deeply engaged in humanist philosophy while still sharing my passion for the get out there and make a difference approach.

The hospitality on DUS’s part was excellent as well. Not only did they put me up for the night but also provided a three-course meal beforehand where I got the chance to chat with the other speakers and Anna, the current president of the DUS. Anna is one of those people who I find somewhat irritating because they are clearly taking more than their fair share of both intelligence and looks.

I was somewhat worried about the speech itself – having run through it in my room beforehand, I can’t help feeling that everything I had written was nonsense though the feedback I received at the reception after the debate was very positive so it was either a reasonable speech or people being very polite (I suspect it was a cross between the two to be honest!).

Giving the wording of the motion, myself and Richard has concluded that such a debate may be somewhat of a lost cause (though fun all the same!). It was a very pleasant surprise then when we won the vote – apparently, this house does have faith in atheism. The question is, did we actually want that result? 😀

Answers returns for 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 | Events, Foundation

Last Friday saw the the Answers course start once again at the University of Leeds, hosted by Leeds Atheist Society. Answers is a course for those who have decided they are atheists but are not really sure where to go from there – how do you express your beliefs and make sense of your thoughts? Luckily, Answers has answers!

Everybody loves Dawkins

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | Humanism

On Tuesday we held our annual debate at Atheist Society as to whether Professor Dawkins had been a positive or negative influence on the whole atheism discussion.

To my surprise almost everyone came out in a huge sea of support for Dawkins and rightfully so too!

Limits of Atheism

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 | Events, Friends

Tuesday saw Michael deliver his talk on Limits of Atheism. Suprisingly it was actually a fairly interesting talk, I’m not sure I learnt anything about what the limits of atheism are (presumably we can assume from that, that there are in fact none) and the philosophers in the room were looking very dubious, but it kept us reasonably entertained for an hour or so, so well done Money Bags!

Leeds Atheist Society George and Chris Nicola and Michael

I aint driving no atheist bus

Friday, January 16th, 2009 | Religion & Politics

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news today you may have seen the story that a bus driver refused to do his shift because he was given a bus with the new atheist advert on it.

I mean seriously, what the hell?

This is a clear case of discrimination against atheists. If an atheist tried this stunt with one of the many, many Alpha adverts that can be found on buses he would be ridiculed, told to stop being stupid and ordered back to work. But when the tables are turned it’s suddenly acceptable to walk off shift?

But it gets even more offensive…

“I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror.” “I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.”

Horror? What horror is caused by this? An advert which has gone out of it’s way to accommodate religious people (it could have read there is definitely no god, now shut your cake hole). An advert with has already been approved by the Advertising Standards Agency.

What this really shows is the massive intolerance bread by religion. Who ever heard of someone refusing to drive a bus with a political party advert on which always push the boat out and get personal and yet as soon as something goes on that isn’t even offensive, the atheist community is suddenly under attack. Disgraceful.