Article

A Liberating Worldview

From the Arizona Daily Star, Guest opinion by Gilbert D. Shapiro:

Atheists are "seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," according to a national survey conducted by the University of Minnesota.

The research, reported in April’s American Sociological Review, sadly confirms to me that many of our citizens are uninformed and undereducated. The conclusions are an insult to an estimated 30 million Americans who are honest, rational, moral and unfortunately far too quiet.

It is therefore time for atheists to "come out of the closet" and shout out loud the famous line, "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any longer!"

I certainly do not speak for all atheists, but I think I can briefly clear up some misconceptions and clarify a few atheist positions.

Let’s first affirm that atheism is not a religion. It is quite simply a fundamental world view that asserts that to date there has been no evidence for the existence (reality) of gods. Logically, it is therefore incumbent on believers to support their claims rather than the reverse.

You can read the rest here.

Comments (20 comments)

David Mathews / April 24th, 2006, 5:23 pm / #1

“Atheism is the liberating view incorporated in the philosophy of secular humanism. Its central theme is that man alone is solely responsible for his destiny on earth.”

Yes. Humankind is solely responsible for its destiny on the Earth.

Well, then, what is the destiny of Homo sapiens on the Earth?

Extinction.

A day will come when humans cease to exist on the Earth and are gone altogether from the Universe. That day is not nearly so far away as the average atheist might imagine.

Atheists waste a lot of time denying God’s existence. This argument about God’s existence is altogether irrelevant.

What is extraordinarily relevant to atheism is the recognition that a day will come in which humans no longer exist, a day will come when erosion has removed all memories of humankind’s existence from the surface of the Earth, and a day will come when Homo sapiens exist only as a rare fossils in the sedimentary rocks of the Earth.

That day is not nearly so far away as the average atheist might imagine.

Once humankind ceases to exist, do you think that it makes a bit of difference whether or not God exist?

http://www.geocities.com/dmathew1

BlackSun / April 24th, 2006, 6:53 pm / #2

David, if we are, with certainty, headed for extinction, then nothing at all matters, does it? That’s the real nihilism that atheists often get accused of.

I’m concerned with making things better on earth, because this existence is the only one I have. So for this reason, I care about solutions that are practical, and I hold hope that humanity will decide to implement those solutions to its problems.

Religions of all stripes, including the doomer religion, take away any hope that people will begin to pay attention to the facts which govern their existence–including the facts of human nature, resource limitation, and many of the things you mentioned.

From personal experience, I have seen how doomthink can steal years of life away. If we act as if we have no future, then we will have no future. Others may or may not, based on some of the dire forecasts. But if we succumb to fear, we ensure that we personally will lose whatever future we might have had.

Taking the position that extinction is a fait accompli, is not the way to convince anyone to take effective action.

David Mathews / April 24th, 2006, 7:07 pm / #3

Yes, Blacksun, nothing at all matters.

There is no effectve action which would allow the Homo sapiens to avoid extinction.

There is no future whatsoever for humankind either on the Earth or in the Universe. The future of the Homo sapiens is identical to the fate of the trilobytes, the dinosaurs, and the dodo bird.

All promises of immortality (whether individual, cultural, racial, national or for the species) are lies and delusions; these lies and delusions differ very little from the promises which religions make to their adherents.

Not only will humans become extinct, but all of the works of humankind upon the Earth will succumb to the forces of erosion. Nature will remove all memories of humankind’s existence from the surface of the Earth. From the standpoint of the Universe it will be as if the Homo sapiens hever existed.

Humans are not vital to Nature, the Earth, nor the Universe. All of these have existed for billions of years prior to the origin of the Homo sapiens. All of these will continue to exist for billions of years after the Homo sapiens are extinct.

You can argue about God’s nonexistence, if you wish, but one thing is absolutely certain: A day will come when the Homo sapiens are nonexistent, forgotten and unmourned.

BlackSun / April 24th, 2006, 9:41 pm / #4

David, A lot hinges on the date at which this extinction happens. It’s fairly certain that in thousands or millions of years you will be correct.

But if you consider this extinction to have some bearing on the current era, you are hopeless, indeed. I’m wondering how you carry on? Or are you able to keep a cognitive dissonance between your hopelessness for humanity and some kind of purpose in your own life?

Seems like somewhere along the way, your genes that govern the self-preservation instinct got garbled.

Optimistic people live longer, healthier, happier lives, though it’s quite possible you might not care.

Jeffrey Monts / April 24th, 2006, 11:50 pm / #5

David, get a life.

David Mathews / April 25th, 2006, 5:35 am / #6

Hello Blacksun,

“But if you consider this extinction to have some bearing on the current era, you are hopeless, indeed.”

I am always pleasd to provoke an atheist to defend hope. Hope is a concept which is more often associated with religion than atheism.

Are you a hopeful atheist, Blacksun? Upon what do you base your hope?

“I’m wondering how you carry on?”

I love the Universe, the Earth, Nature, and Humankind. That’s what keeps me going in spite of the certain knowledge that the Homo sapiens are headed to extinction and all the works of humankind are futile.

What keeps you going?

“Or are you able to keep a cognitive dissonance between your hopelessness for humanity and some kind of purpose in your own life?”

Purpose in life — what sort of atheist defends this concept? What is your purpose in life?

I hope that your purpose in life does not depend upon humankind existing forever, nor for any of your accomplishments to endure forever. Neither shall happen.

My purpose in life is very simply to wake up every morning in order to appreciate the beauty of the Universe; to spend the day at peace with God, Nature and every human that I meet; and to fall asleep at night with the certain knowledge that this Universe is enough.

“Seems like somewhere along the way, your genes that govern the self-preservation instinct got garbled.”

My self-preservation genes are functioning quite well. I am alive.

Humankind’s self-preservation genes have failed altogether. Humans have destroyed the Earth is a reckless and suicidal fashion. We have broken the natural cycles which function to protect life on this planet. We have overburdened the Earth with an 6.5 billion humans and the population continues to climb. Humans have also developed all sort of weapons to kill each other, including the ultimate WMD … the nuclear bomb, courtesy of the U.S. of A. inventive genius.

There is something seriously wrong with the Homo sapiens. History and present events indicate as much. Have you noticed?

Humans are now seeking after their own individual greedy self-interest as the expense of the survival of the species.

How would you solve this rather significant problem with humankind?

“Optimistic people live longer, healthier, happier lives, though it’s quite possible you might not care.”

But optimistic people certainly do not life forever, nor do optimistic species endure forever in the Universe.

Optimisitc humans die just like everyone else. The Homo sapiens will become extinct just like every other species in the fossil record.

Now what were you saying about God’s existence? How is God’s existence or nonexistence relevant to your own life?

Aaron Kinney / April 25th, 2006, 8:31 am / #7

David, you seem to ignore the fact that we are the first species on earth to be able to travel outside of Earth itself.

We are the proverbial dandelion seeds, and we are already taking to the wind.

You have no evidence whatsoever to support your contention that humans will become extinct.

I say, no, we will not become extinct, but we will evolve. If homo sapiens ever dissapears from the universe, it will be because we became something better. IF homo sapiens eventually becomes homo superiore, can you really consider it an extinction even if all the sapiens are gone?

Its probably your silly God belief that makes you have such a pessimistic, doomsday, fatalist view of life. If youre so convinced that humans will go extinct and that God exists, whats keeping you from hurrying up and joining him yourself? Afraid to take the proverbial leap?

BlackSun / April 25th, 2006, 10:49 am / #8

“My purpose in life is very simply to wake up every morning in order to appreciate the beauty of the Universe; to spend the day at peace with God, Nature and every human that I meet; and to fall asleep at night with the certain knowledge that this Universe is enough.”

But you don’t. You don’t appreciate the universe, because you don’t appreciate humanity. You’re not at peace with humanity. How can you claim to know god if you so despise what you believe to be his creation?

David, through your arguments, you have exposed the hidden agenda of theism, which devalues human life and breeds hopelessness.

You seem to be surprised that an atheist would have more hope than you–but it’s true. If you want to put it in religious terms, I have faith as well–faith in humanity which is based on evidence. I also have charity, based on the concept of reciprocal altruism, which has its roots in self-interest.

I’m sorry to say, but the naivete of theism is apalling. Especially when you throw in nature worship on top of the whole mess. See, we are nature. Human nature is the highest expression of everything you admire about plants, animals, and geology.

That you don’t accept the result of the decisions made by evolution as expressed through humanity is a clear sign of your hypocrisy. Case in point: your beloved lion, which rips its prey to shreds with claws and sharp teeth. How is that so different from humans killing each other over resources and political power?

Instead of looking at humanity as some sort of ultimate evil (which makes you, as part of humanity, evil as well), why not look at the current problems as a developmental stage? We just came out of a time when nature was the enemy, and humans spent a large portion of their lives just surviving. Can’t we be forgiven for going a little bit overboard on the prosperity? Everything comes into balance, and humans will as well. But your apocalyptic doomthink is actually hateful and destructive. It solves nothing and helps no one.

Interestingly enough, visting your site, you seem to think you have some sort of privileged position spiritually. I just see a scared human who doesn’t understand who he is. Though you take really nice pictures, I’m sad you understand so little about the objects you photograph. We humans contain all of the nature you so adore. Every photograph is also the mirror of the photographer, and the technology used to take the picture. Remove either the human (yourself) or the technology (camera) from the equation, you have nothing.

Why not look within? It is in our very nature, genes, internal darkness (as well as beauty) that we find out who we really are.

David Mathews / April 25th, 2006, 4:02 pm / #9

Hello Blacksun,

“You seem to be surprised that an atheist would have more hope than you–but it’s true. If you want to put it in religious terms, I have faith as well–faith in humanity which is based on evidence.”

Faith in humankind does not coincide with the facts on the ground. Are you familiar with the horrors which are presently occurring in Africa and Iraq right now?

What of all these thousands of nuclear weapons which threaten to kill hundreds of millions of humans at the slightest provocation? Do you believe that humankind is immune from nuclear weapons and therefore a nuclear war has become impossible?

What of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, the melting of the ice caps, and compelling evidence that the climate is changing? Do you suppose that humans will not suffer any consequences from our errors of the past, or that technology will allow us to survive and proper no matter what happens to the natural world?

“I also have charity, based on the concept of reciprocal altruism, which has its roots in self-interest.”

A love which is based upon self-interest is a cheap substitute for the ideal of love which is taught (but seldom practiced) by religion.

But if you really do have faith, hope and love, that’s great. You are a rare atheist.

“See, we are nature. Human nature is the highest expression of everything you admire about plants, animals, and geology.”

A very anthropocentric viewpoint.

I feel so sad for people who imagine that humankind is the “highest expression” of anything. Charles Darwin never suggested that humans are the apex of evolution, evolutionary scientists do not make that claim. Exactly how did you reach this conclusion?

If humans really are the best, I’d really hate to see the worst. As they say, “With friends like these who needs enemies?”

Are you suggesting that the animal which is presently destroying the Earth’s biosphere is the very best animal which has ever existed or will ever exist on the Earth?

Are you suggesting that the animal which paves over forests with cement and asphalt leaving only a desolate dusty wasteland is the best animal in the Universe?

Are you suggesting that after four billion years of evolution the best animal that Nature could produce would spend its time addicted to consumerism, television, the cell phone and drugs of all shapes & sizes?

I shudder at the thought. Humans are by no means the best animal on the planet, nor are we the best of *anything*. We are just a miserable little primate which has taken advantage of nature’s vast wealth of resources to destroy and damage everything while at the same time kill each other with incredible efficiency.

“Case in point: your beloved lion, which rips its prey to shreds with claws and sharp teeth. How is that so different from humans killing each other over resources and political power?”

The difference is that the lion kills only what it eats while the Homo sapiens kill everything. Often when the Homo sapiens are done killing the environment is left a sterile desolate wasteland suitable only to accumulate the exhalation of cars.

“Instead of looking at humanity as some sort of ultimate evil (which makes you, as part of humanity, evil as well), why not look at the current problems as a developmental stage? We just came out of a time when nature was the enemy, and humans spent a large portion of their lives just surviving. Can’t we be forgiven for going a little bit overboard on the prosperity?”

The current problems have occurred over the entire recorded history of humankind and so are a little more serious than simply a development stage.

No, there is no forgiveness for the sins which humankind is committing today. The penalty for these sins is extinction. Nature will repair our damage and move on. The humans will leave a legacy only of fossils in sedimentary rocks.

“Remove either the human (yourself) or the technology (camera) from the equation, you have nothing.”

This is the second most absurd thing I have heard today (the most absurd was the President’s energy speech).

If the human and the camera are removed from the scene there still remains a natural environment filled with plants and animals. These plants and animals have all existed for millions of years, much longer than humans have existed. There’s a pretty good chance that most will continue to live for millions of years into the future, long after humankind and the camera have gone extinct.

I take pictures of what I see. These things that I see do not exist for the sake of either me (the human) or technology (the camera).

Brandon / April 25th, 2006, 4:27 pm / #10

hey, pokin my head in again.

I think that what David is getting at here, i might be wrong, is that the claim that atheists seem to not epistemically justify any of the consequences that atheism has.

If you are to be atheist, you have certain logical conclusions that must come together. Its called existentialism.

I think you should read Sartre, sean, he was the first atheist i think to actually try to accept the consequences. In his piece the ‘Humanism of Existentialism’, Sartre writes: “Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the the consequences of a coherent atheist position”.

To david, I think you are on to something with where you are going. But i challenge you to see if that really holds weight, in light of what Russel, kierkegaard, nietche and others use to try and defend themselves from your type of attack.

To sean, You have an extremally well, logically explained idealology here. But i challnge you try and really awnser his claims about hope and purpose, and to see why anyone should care about humanity, purpose, morals at all if there isn’t a God.

until next time, c-ya.

BlackSun / April 25th, 2006, 5:25 pm / #11

“A very anthropocentric viewpoint.”

Guilty. Since man is the only species capable of self-reflection and sophisticated tool use, I do consider humankind to be the pinnacle of evolution. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

“A love which is based upon self-interest is a cheap substitute for the ideal of love which is taught (but seldom practiced) by religion.”

No. Self-interest is the only rational attitude for individuals.

“Are you suggesting that the animal which paves over forests with cement and asphalt leaving only a desolate dusty wasteland is the best animal in the Universe?”

Only the best that we know of so far. I’m hoping we will transcend ourselves through technological and psycho-spiritual development into something much better.

“If the human and the camera are removed from the scene there still remains a natural environment filled with plants and animals.”

Yes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If there is no one to witness it, a sunset over the ocean is just a ball of glowing gas over water. How many other wonders and sights exist in the universe that will never be perceived or appreciated?

Without intelligent life, the universe is nothing.

David Mathews / April 25th, 2006, 5:35 pm / #12

“Without intelligent life, the universe is nothing.”

What sort of reasoning could affirm such a proposition?

The Universe is very large, astonishingly old, and a great deal more complicated than the human senses indicate. How is it that such an entity is rendered valuable simply because of the existence of an intelligent primate on a small planet orbiting a mediocre star?

The Universe existed for billions of years before humans came on the scene. Would you say that the Universe has existed for all these billions of years for the sake of a creature which will only exist for millions of years?

And if the Universe does exist for the sake of intelligent life, how is it possible that almost 99% of humankind lives and dies completely oblivious to the Universe’s existence. For example, compare the amount of time that an individual human devotes to watching television to that spent observing & appreciating the Universe.

BlackSun / April 25th, 2006, 5:57 pm / #13

David–

The universe is an incubator for life. What other purpose could it possibly have?

You have matter, and then you have consciousness. Consciousness seems to have arisen from matter, (though there are people who think it’s the other way around). Either way, what is matter without consciousness?

As far as people watching TV? Choice.

Me? I make TV so other people can watch.

David Mathews / April 25th, 2006, 7:04 pm / #14

“The universe is an incubator for life. What other purpose could it possibly have?”

If the main purpose of the Universe is to provide a habitat for life then isn’t it absurd that the only conscious animal in the Universe has devoted itself to the task of accumulating inanimate possessions at the cost of destroying the only planet hospitable to life in the sun’s neighborhood?

If the Universe’s purpose is to host life, isn’t it absurd to think that humans would replace the tigers & other species with inanimate machines which are cheap counterfeits of life?

There’s a problem with asserting that the Universe functions as an incubator of life and also that humankind has an evolutionary (?) license to destroy all life on this planet for the sake of science & technology.

I spent hours today outside. Saw ospreys gliding overhead, baby alligators in a lake, and a bug which previously I had never encountered. Aren’t all these things life?

Why then are the humans in my neighborhood at war with life? They have bulldozed nearly all of Florida’s native habitats for the sake of business, suburbs and industry. Where there was once a place filled with an abundant diversity of life all that exist today is the barren wasteland of lifeless asphalt.

What is the appropriate punishment for an animal which commits such a horrendous crime against the Universe?

As an atheist, what sort of punishment do you believe suits this crime against Nature?

BlackSun / April 25th, 2006, 9:21 pm / #15

“As an atheist, what sort of punishment do you believe suits this crime against Nature?”

Man is a part of nature, so man cannot commit “crimes” against nature.

Your argument basically boils down to the this: you think the most complex creature nature has ever produced is somehow morally inferior to the rest.

I don’t know how to respond to that illogic, so I’m not going to.

David Mathews / April 26th, 2006, 4:20 am / #16

“Your argument basically boils down to the this: you think the most complex creature nature has ever produced is somehow morally inferior to the rest.”

Religion has informed humankind of the above truth for thousands of years. There’s no illogic, just an observation of human behavior on a global scale:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
“The Lord was sorry that He made man on the Earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
“The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.'”
(Genesis 6:5-7)

Isn’t it remarkable how little has changed over the last three thousand years?

BlackSun / April 26th, 2006, 7:47 am / #17

Then you use a BIBLE quote to ‘prove’ your point. I rest my case.

Aaron Kinney / April 26th, 2006, 10:42 am / #18

Brandon,

Existentialism is not a necessity for atheism.

With atheism, our purpose is whatever we choose it to be.

I think the most appropriate response to your post, Brandon, is to reflect it back at you in the hopes of helping you see that morality, hope, and all those other things cannot be based on the dictates of a God. Therefore, I ask you this:

Brandon, I challenge you to explain why anyone should care about humanity, purpose, or morals at all if there is a God!

Brandon / April 26th, 2006, 8:52 pm / #19

Aaron,

For you to say “With atheism, our purpose is whatever we choose it to be” is saying that we create our own, subjective purpose. If that is the case, and we do create purpose without objectivity, that really is purposelessness (is that spelled right?). I can create purpose to anything i want, like going to the bathroom is the bane of my existence.

Existentialism doesn’t have to be attached to athiesm, but athiests seem to not take on the consequences of what they believe. There are no such things has hope, morals, or purpose. We really are here, waiting to die all alone. Athiets seem to just dodge this with no logic at all. Just like religion lacks grounds for justfied true belief theory, or reliability theory, atheism has created a magical way of there own to create a existence without it as well.

You have an excellent point with why a theist should care about a morals, or hope even with a God! I know many who think there is a God, but feel they do everthing wrong, just to try and thwart him.

I wasn’t trying to necessarily push a judeo-chritian God, but anything divine at all. I agree with you on your last paragraph, but you, and atheism, has also called in another logical fallacy like religion, so that nobody has to take on the conseqences of what they believe. Just really think about the consequences of what you beleive.

Without anything divine, we really don’t have a any purpose, and we are alone in this world, to die alone, trapped in subjectivity.

BlackSun / April 27th, 2006, 2:40 pm / #20

“Without anything divine, we really don’t have a any purpose, and we are alone in this world, to die alone, trapped in subjectivity.”

This sentence is true, but the divine part changes nothing. Whether you believe or not, you are still alone and must find your purpose.

I’m not a proponent of “strong atheism,” such as might be able to be ‘proven’ logically or intellectually. Rather, I agree with the original article, which says the burden of proof is on the theist.

Whatever the case may be, I have never seen evidence for a god. The fact that beliefs may provide a sense of purpose to some does not make the purpose valid or the beliefs true.

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