Why many professors are atheists: Academe as a secular religious community

Atheists. Agnostics. Freethinkers. Nonbelievers. Nontheists. Humanists.Whatever you want to call them and whatever they

Famous atheists, including several career academics.

Famous atheists, including many career academics.

want to call themselves. People who do not believe in God. I describe myself as an agnostic atheist and a secular humanist. For the sake of this article, I will use the term “atheist” (i.e., one who lacks a belief in God(s) or definitely rejects the existence of God(s)) to refer to the collective non-believing community.

It is no secret that atheists enjoy greater numbers in university communities than in the population at large. Their/our numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought, but the proportion of nonbelievers among professional academics is nevertheless several multiples of their proportion in the general population. They are particularly well represented in the sciences and among more elite research universities.

Why? Continue reading

What does it mean to be openminded?

saganbrainmindA few weeks ago I was considering going to a dinner party called “Conscious Collective Gatherings: Non-Denominational Conversation”. It sounded pretty new age hippie-esque, which is totally not me, but I figured “hey, I might meet a few people there that are intellectually curious and not necessarily the left-wing equivalents of young earth creationists”.

Since the organizers didn’t know me – I knew one of the people they knew – one of the organizers wanted to chat with me first before formally inviting me. Perfectly sensible as it is at their house. So, in our Facebook chat conversation, she asked me why I was interested in attending. I responded something to the effect that I am very interested in philosophy, values, and mindfulness and such and I’d be interested in meeting others who may be similarly interested. What happened next was somewhat interesting. She told me that the people who would be attending would mostly be a bunch of “young namaste hippies”, and that as long as I can “keep an open mind” everything is good. I assume that she must have been tipped off to my strong orientation toward scientific rationalism by cues peppered throughout my Facebook profile, because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say anything that would suggest that I’m a member of the Richard Dawkins fan club (I am, by the way).

I am quite confident that the person who wanted to make sure that I could keep an open mind wasn’t actually concerned about my openmindedness. Rather, she was concerned that I may stir the pot. Rock the boat. Challenge cherished beliefs of other attendees who just want to “go with the flow”, “connect with their spirit-soul”, and other such laid back ethereal activities. Continue reading

Is belief in God a choice?

The following satirical video, “Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene”, pokes fun at the concept of a “gay gene” and religious opposition to homosexuality.

The proportion of people who believe that homosexuality is chosen is decreasing. That’s not to imply that homosexuality is the phenotype expressed by a “gay gene”. Just that whatever makes one gay – e.g., some range of interactions between genetic, hormonal, neurological and/or social/environmental factors – it’s not the sort of conscious deliberations a teenager makes when choosing which college to attend.

Part of what makes the video above funny is that it suggests that being Christian is not a choice. To me, this invites the question (ignoring the particular religion)

Is belief in God a choice?

Can you simply choose to believe or not believe? Continue reading

This New Year’s, Resolve to Stop Chasing Happiness

Happiness makes for a poor goal.

It’s not particularly well-defined. What is happiness? How much happiness is enough to be happy with – to not eventually be let down by?

The steps to achieving it are not particularly well understood. Common paths attempted to achieve happiness include religiosity, conventional success, and family living.

Religiosity and piety offer no assurance of happiness. While religious people en masse tend to present as being happier than nonreligious people, there are plenty of religious people who are not particularly happy, and plenty of nonreligious people who are.The same can be said of marriage and having children. As teenagers and twenty-somethings, how many times have each of us been admonished NOT to get married? Even by people in long-lasting, apparently relatively happy marriages. If marriage, children and a career were such sure bets at lasting happiness, the Mid-Life Crisis would not be a well-known experience.

Conventional success also offers no guarantees. Those who have risen to wealth, fame, admiration, and excellence are sometimes – frequently? – disappointed when they are not met with lasting happiness at the top of the hill. Some will be disillusioned as they struggle with questions as “This is it?”, “Was it worth it?”, “What now?”, and “If all of this hasn’t brought me happiness, can anything?”. Continue reading

Buddhism for Skeptics of Religion

I’m not a Buddhist. I subscribe to no traditional religion (though as I argue here, like everyone else I am religious). I am an agnostic atheist who values secularism, science, reason, mindfulness, and the pursuit of individual and collective wisdom and wellness. As an expression of these values, I would like to highlight key aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice that I believe can be palatable, useful and positively enriching for even the most ardent skeptic.

Concepts to be addressed:

  • Monism
  • Atheism
  • Impermanence, Emptiness and Dependent Origination
  • No Self (or No Soul)
  • Attachment as source of Suffering; Letting Go as source of Freedom
  • Pursuing Wisdom, not Happiness
  • Mindfulness as a path to Wisdom and Wellness
  • Reincarnation and Rebirth
  • Karma

Continue reading

Atheists are Differently Religious – and No, Atheism is not the/a Religion

A main focus of this blog is to consider and compare different political and ethical philosophies so as to promote better understanding of one’s own worldview and those of others. I frequently focus on progressivism/liberalism and libertarian conservativism, arguing that these incompletely overlapping moral/political philosophies each have their own internal logic and validity, but that when viewed from the perspective of the other, each is libel to look stupid and/or even evil.

Close to a year ago, I posted Atheists are Religious. Here I re-post it with modifications. In this article, I argue that while lack of a belief in this or that God is not itself a religion, any value system that an atheist may hold is ultimately ungrounded in any sort of empiricism. Rather, these and all value systems rely on circular self-validation and assumptions and assertions that are themselves unscientific. As I will argue below, this doesn’t make them wrong or deserving of dismissal; it just means that subscribers cannot claim that their values are rooted in nothing but reason and logic. Reason and logic, in these value systems, are applied based on unempirical values, which can be conceived of as faith claims about an implied moral/existential reality. Continue reading

Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals, Theologically Speaking?

Bill Maher pointed out the irony of American Right Wing Christianity when he said that if Jesus were a Presidential candidate, the Christian Right would NEVER elect him because he’s a long-haired, sandal-wearing liberal hippie Jew. Uncomfortable with the conflicting tasks of reconciling their Christianity with charges to cut social safety net funding to the barest of bones, the honesty-impaired crew over at Conservapedia have taken it upon themselves to literally begin re-writing the Bible, claiming that previous translations have packed it full of liberal spin. Of course, the Conservapedia answer to this alleged problem is not to create a balanced Bible, but to create a Conservative Bible – hence the name of the project, the Conservative Bible Project.

Daniel Florien, ex-Christian turned atheist, recently posted some of the more liberal, socialist New Testament passages on his blog, Unreasonable Faith. Here are a few of them:

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things in common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Acts 2: 44, 45

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.
14 You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Luke 14:13, 14

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Matthew 19:21

24 You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 6:24.

In addition to these quotes are Jesus’ famous endorsements of forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, rather than grudge-holding, retribution-seeking and judging (e.g., Let he who is without sin cast the first stone; judge not lest ye be judged; turn the other cheek).

When you look at these sorts of quotes, it is perplexing to fathom how Conservative Christians could see themselves in Christ and how they could appreciate let alone revere him. How do they square their widespread antipathy for government assistance programs and homosexuality with these iconic passages? Now, it’s true that the Bible may well be the most cherry-picked, quote-mined text of all time. Given this,

Are there New Testament passages that Conservative Christians can interpret as endorsing their political values?

We’ve all seen Conservative Christians site verses from the Old Testament, perhaps none more so than Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man lies with another man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.”). Indeed, the more grim, authoritarian theme of the Old Testament appears – to me, at least – to jive far better with modern day American Conservative values of respect for authority, tradition, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and thoroughly retributive justice. The New Testament, judging by mainstream cultural folklore, sounds to be far more liberal, socialist, egalitarian, compassionate, and forgiving. Am I wrong? I’ll admit that I’ve only read parts of the Old Testament and none of the New, so my question is not rhetorical. What exactly is the Right taking from the New Testament?

What About Jewish Moral Theology?

The Old Testament is often viewed as hellishly harsh and unforgiving. If a country today were to use it as a strict policy guide, said country would rightly be considered to be a stunningly cruel, vicious, totalitarian state. Many Christians today, in my limited experience, seem to downplay the moral significance of the Old Testament, pointing to the New Testament as the relevant Christian moral framework. Accepting this, I can’t help but ask:

Where is the warmer, more humane side of Jewish Theology?

For Christianity, it’s the New Testament. The New Testament gives license to Christians to move past authoritarian barbarism toward less judgmental forgiveness and acceptance. Where does that come in within Judaism? Where is the feel good part of Jewish Moral Theology? It’s got to be in there somewhere. Is it burried within the OT, or in a sister scripture? I don’t for a minute buy that people get their morals from scripture. But there are plenty of people who do. So from this perspective,

Where do observant Jews get their morals?

Share your views and knowledge in the Comment section!

The world ended yesterday

Or not. Nothing happened. What a shock. No quakes, no Rapture, no nothing. The closest we came were some day-early Victoria Day fireworks in Canada and some American atheist jokesters laying full clothing outfits out on the street and sending off helium-filled inflatable plastic bodies into the sky.

On this site, a non-scientific poll was run last week soliciting people’s predictions on how Harold Camping, the now twice-failed Doomsday Prophet, and his believers would respond when nothing happened. Out of a very modest total of 47 votes, 49% of voters predicted that believers would claim that due to the strong display of faith put up by their small group, God in his infinite mercy decided to spare the world of sinners – for now  (this was the response of a 1950s Doomsday Cult, studied by Psychologist Leon Festinger et al; Festinger is most well-known for developing the concept of Cognitive Dissonance); 34% of respondents predicted that believers would frantically avoid talking about the issue; 8.5% believed that Camping would, as he did in 1994, claim that he had made a mathematical error (“Oops, forgot to carry the zero. Was off by 1000 years. Come back next millenium.”); 6% of respondents predicted that believers would simply admit to having been wrong and state that they’ll have to re-think some things about what they believe; and 2% (or 1 voter) predicted that believers would take their own lives.

Some believers have already spoken on how they felt after the time of reckoning came and went. One indicated that while he had had his doubts during the big lead-up to nothing, he suppressed his skepticism because he believed in God; he also simply wanted it to be true. Rationality and intellectual honesty fail.

It’ll be interesting to see how other believers respond to being shown that they were unequivocally wrong and that the rest of the world that scoffed at them were unequivocally right. Hopefully none of them have done anything drastic – e.g., self-Rapturing. There’s no question that many of them are feeling pretty down right now. Hopefully they get the emotional support they’ll need, and that not too many people that are close to them will rub their noses in this (though, for the broader community, they clearly brought the coverage on themselves – they begged for the attention, making themselves and their claims more than fair game).

As of the time of this posting, Harold Camping and his follower’s banner website WeCanKnow.Com remains up, without any updates, and it’s Judgment Day ticker has been at 0 days, 0 hours for over a day now. Tacoma, Washington atheist association spoof site, WeCantKnow.Com‘s “Countdown to Backpedaling” ticker is now over one day into the predicted backpedaling period.

In Defense of Abortion

In this month’s Canadian federal election, abortion was not an issue. However, whenever election time roles around in North America, the issue of abortion tends to garner at least a little bit more conversation than normal, even if it is not a specific policy issue. Social conservatives will want to elect politicians who may one day make it a policy issue again, if and when they get enough people in office to be able to make an effective policy run. Pro-choice citizens, on the other hand, are made nervous by the prospect of that happening, and thus are libel to remain slightly weary even when the leader of the conservative party clearly states that he has no interest in bringing abortion back to the table, as Canadian Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper has done. Given that the Harper’s new term will see the appointment of multiple new Canadian Supreme Court justices, some may be wondering if abortion could be the subject of further political discussion some time down the road.

In this post I will argue on behalf of the legality of abortion. I will consider the issues from the stance of the unborn fetus, the parents, and society. In addition to considering the issue from a qualitative experiential perspective, I will also reflect on the notion of the fundamental right to life and freedom from unprovoked harm from others. Lastly, I will consider the issue of abortion in the case of rape. I will not, however, consider abortion from the perspective of religion. While I am perfectly willing to consider moral arguments from religious texts, I will not give the arguments any special priority simply because they came from the Bible, the Qur’an, or some other religious text. Continue reading

Less than a week until nothing out of the ordinary happens. Poll: How will Rapturites react?

It is no longer news that a small group of devout American Christians are eagerly awaiting this coming Saturday, May 21st, which they believe will see the Rapture of all spiritually and morally upstanding Christians into Heaven, leaving the rest of us behind. As described on their website, WeCanKnow.Com, this group also believes that on October 21st, their omnibenevolent God will destroy the World.

In other news, to my friends back in Ajax, Ontario: I’ll be home this weekend. Let me know if you want to do something, as I’ve got no real plans, aside from touching up my resume as I work to kick-start my fledgling career, which I don’t expect to be thwarted by any major cosmic events.