What do you believe about nonbelief?
Yoo Chung of Yoo's Ramblings has tapped me on the shoulder and suggested I take a crack at the Atheist Q&A meme, recently seen hanging around at ERV. Nullifidian calls it the Atheist Thirteen, most likely because it consists of ten questions followed by “Tag, you're it!” to three other atheist blogs. Yoo included Halfway There on his list of three nonbelieving blogs, so here I am taking a look at the ten questions and mulling my answers.
1. How would you define “atheism”?
Let's keep it simple. To me, atheism means that you don't believe in God. There are more elaborate definitions, such as the version that applied to the late geometer Edwin Moise, who was asked why he believed there was no God. Moise is reputed to have replied, “You have to have faith!” That's a more robust form of atheism: actually believing that God does not exist, instead of merely lacking faith in his existence. I guess that's why I don't kick too much when people describe me as agnostic. They're trying to be “nice” by soft-pedaling my disbelief, as if that makes me more palatable to the general public. Frankly, though, folks like that make me increasingly inclined to get more militant. God? Hell, no!
2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
God, yes! My family to this day remains devotedly Catholic and I was raised in that tradition. It's a smug sort of Christianity when you belong to the oldest sect of Jesus followers. I attended mass every Sunday (even serving as an altar boy for a time), spent a couple of years in Catholic school, and was cajoled throughout my adolescence by a grandmother who hoped I would become a priest. (When you sacrifice a son to Rome, you get lots of indulgence points up in heaven.) Despite total immersion in Catholicism, it didn't take. Praise the Lord.
3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design,” using only one word?
Cant. As in “empty, hypocritical talk.” Intelligent design is very thinly veiled creationism and represents merely the latest evolution of the campaign by religionists to annex some scientific territory to their god-ridden realm. But they can't.
4. What scientific endeavor really excites you?
It's difficult to keep this down to one answer. I follow developments in medicine because one day they may add some years to my life or those of family members or friends. I've had young, vibrant friends pass away at ridiculously young ages and I yearn for solutions. I am also fascinated with astronomy, astrophysics, and astronautics and am frequently aggravated that telescopes and satellites and space probes and spacecraft have to fight over the measly handful of dollars we allocate to such efforts. If NASA got as much money as the Pentagon loses in Iraq in sloppy accounting practices every year, we'd be able to fund all the robotic and manned space travel anyone could ever want.
5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community,” what would it be and why?
Community? What community? Although not being religious really makes one stand out in our knee-bending society, it doesn't ensure having much else in common. If I were to try to be less dismissive and more constructive, I'd suggest that atheists would probably help themselves and the country by being more forthright. The unwillingness of the “new atheists” to mutter consoling platitudes about the value of religion is a step in the right direction.
6. If your child came up to you and said “I'm joining the clergy,” what would be your first response?
I don't have any children, but a plethora of nieces and nephews (and their offspring) have sprung up in the family. If one of the younger family members told Uncle Zeno that they were planning to go off to the seminary or convent, I'd wish them good luck. And then I'd ask, “What persuaded you that this is a good idea? How sure are you about committing yourself to this for life?”
7. What's your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
The Bible quote from Psalms 14:1: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Christians have cited this to me a few times. I like to point out it's in the Old Testament, which Christians consider to be superseded by the New Testament. Funny thing: Instead of reaching for God-affirming quotes from the New Testament, they invariably defend the Old Testament by declaring that Christians believe in the whole Bible. When I ask them about the Mosaic dietary laws (like not drinking milk while eating veal), they quickly say those laws have been superseded. This typically leads into a frustrating attempt (on their part) to explain how they know what parts of the Bible to believe and what parts to dismiss. The discussion peters out inconclusively.
8. What's your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes among other atheists goes) viewpoint?
Not sure. It may be that I don't balk at the implication that same-sex weddings will clear the way to polygamy. I have no problem with that. It's not a deal breaker. Bring on the n-partner unions.
9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris) who is your favorite, and why?
Dawkins has the qualities I most value in a role model or spokesman: articulate, magisterial, erudite, and serene. Hitchens, on the other hand, is often uncouth. That leaves room in the middle for Dennett and Harris.
10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
Think big. I'd choose Benedict XVI. If the pope were to abjure his faith in God, it would be delightfully cataclysmic. I'd pick the Dalai Lama as my second choice. It seems that having people address you as “Your Holiness” is a sure-fire way to get on my list.
The last time I tagged other bloggers with a meme, my buddy Zrk (of Live from Zi) replied, “that reminded me that I need to shut it down.” And a moment later it was gone. Zap!
I will spare others the stress of my regard.