Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The atheist thirteen

I normally don't do memes. Apologies to anyone who's sent me one before and I've ignored it - it's just that I usually don't know the answers to the questions. This, however, is not the case with this one from Norm. Why thirteen? We don't know because this one's ten questions. My answers are as follows:

Q1. How would you define "atheism"?

In a more elastic sense than most people, I think.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

No, my parents were both atheists and socialists so apart from the milk and water stuff you get in a non-denominational comprehensive, my upbringing involved no religious input.

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


Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

I don't get turned on that easily.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?

I don't think there's any such thing as the "atheist community". I think this refers to the celeb atheists like the ones listed below, along with those who identify with them? I'll cover this under question 9.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said "I’m joining the clergy", what would be your first response?

I'd think, "Someone's fucked up big time here - and the chances are it's me."

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

Favourite? As in the one you most enjoy busting up whilst debating with 'theists'? I don't do that shit. I only usually argue with religious people if they fail to understand that while their revelation may serve as a basis on which to form their conduct, this cannot be so for those of us who do not share it. I sometimes argue that any suggestion that this can be otherwise, or still less should be reinforced by the state, is at variance with their own solutions to the theodicy problem. But I don't do this too often because a) it doesn't apply to predestinarian monotheisms, b) no-one likes a smart-arse.

Q8. What’s your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I find the way these questions have been framed interesting. There's a shadow of the idea that atheists in some way form, or should form, an ecclesia, I think. But they don't and therefore have no 'general attitudes'. With regards to the vocal campaigning atheists, I take the view that their basic analysis of religion is too intellectual in the sense that they give the impression that they imagine cleaving to a religion is simply a matter of accepting intellectual propositions about the cosmos that there is no evidence for. But religious behaviour cannot be reduced to this. Certain kinds of blogosphere atheists who claim to be Marxists don't seem to like this view. This I don't quite get because I think my understanding is more materialistic than theirs.

Q9. Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Bit of a "which Spice Girl would you like to shag?" vibe coming off this question, methinks. I don't feel like that - they're all too protestant for me. Hitchens is the hands-down best writer - everyone understands this. Over and above that, he's a more subtle thinker on this subject than he is given credit for. Having said that, I didn't really like his God is not Great. I wasn't at all impressed with his excursion into Biblical theology and his central argument falls apart simply because it set itself an impossible goal: in order to argue, with actual historical examples, that religion poisons everything, he stretches the concept of religion to breaking point. I haven't read anything from the others except their journalism and in the case of Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. I think life's too short to read, for example, The God Delusion. I already know what Richard Dawkins thinks. I once heard him say that he thought theology departments in universities should be closed because since God doesn't exist, theology isn't really a subject as it studies nothing. I thought then and still think that this was an unbelievably stupid thing to say. If someone with Richard Dawkins' intelligence and learning can't be bothered to acquaint himself with what goes on in other departments in his own university then there's scarcely any point in reading him on any other subject apart from pure science.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

Nobody particular in mind. Someone for whom belief causes more harm than good; someone who means harm because of their belief.

Update: Forgot to 'tag'. I'd be interested to know what Paul, Chris and Peter thought - although maybe they've done so already and I haven't been paying attention.

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