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Superstition, Rationality, and the Merits of Religion: A Facebook Debate

Last month, I was engaged in yet another Facebook debate — this time with an old work colleague of mine, who’s non-LDS. It turned out to be a great example of the kind of debate in which I wish I could engage my family and close friends, since I found it to be both intellectually challenging and amicable. Unfortunately these days, my family and friends rarely engage me in anything other than idle chit-chat, fearing that I’ll bring something up that will make them “uncomfortable”; but I digress.

The debate started off discussing whether irrationality and/or superstition is a requirement to do others harm; branched into a debate on whether Hitler was a theist or not; then came to a comparison of definitions of religion & other philosophies.

With permission from the other parties, I have decided to include the entire debate below; I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

[Note: due to Facebook’s limited abilities, I’ve taken the liberty of re-formatting the text of the debate for my blog. I’ve modified paragraph & line breaks, fixed typos, added emphasis, etc. Other than this, the debate remains unedited in terms of content. I’ve also colour-coded each speaker to make it easier to follow the conversation: I (Tom) am red, Travis is blue, and Jason is green.]

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Understanding Atheism

AtheismI’ve decided to expand on my previous post entitled, “Atheism vs Agnosticism” where I explored the different ways of thinking about atheism. The reason for this is because since writing that post, I’ve further explored what atheism means to others and have done a lot of reading on the subject. Some of the books I’ve read are: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Letter to a Christian Nation, and An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris – all of which I highly recommend. In addition to these books, I’ve come across a wealth of information on various websites and especially YouTube.

As my original post talked about, there are a number of ways to define the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’. My exploration of these terms were on a more passive level, that is to say I didn’t apply an active component to the definitions; the words were simply defined as what they mean separate from how they’re used. I’d say that most atheists, like myself, use a strict definition where ‘a-theist’ means, “not theist” (just as ‘atypical’ means “not typical”), and opposed to “a disbelief in a god” (since this would indicate a type of belief itself). I tend to like this definition for its simplicity. However, I’ve noticed that most theists (meaning ‘religious believers’) tend to view the term as having much more intent behind the term, such as “against religion”, “god hater”, or “anarchist” (the last two making absolutely no relevant sense). There are many atheists out there who either don’t subscribe to the label (though fit my definition) or don’t actively oppose religion at all, while others are in active opposition to specific theistic beliefs or all of theism. It’s important to remember that atheism is not an ideology, nor is it a religion unto itself as some people like to think.

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Review: The God Delusion

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, is aptly named. It illustrates how the concept of a personal god (specifically the Abrahamic god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is one of complete fiction, and yet has so many convinced of His existence, despite the mounting evidence that the world is not as described in ancient scripture.

Dawkins’s approach to his arguments against theistic belief in the supernatural is an obvious extension from his career in evolutionary biology. Dawkins is very careful to take the time to define each term that he uses, sorting out the different meanings, so that his specific use of the term is clearly understood. This goes a long way to avoid confusion, especially when talking about the polytheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic uses of the word ‘god’. Dawkins is also very good at presenting a much more complete picture of commonly misrepresented & quote mined historical figures such as Einstein, the American founding fathers, Hitler, etc., and shows how their uses of the word ‘god’ rarely meets today’s Christian definition.

Dawkins’s ‘The God Delusion’ is a scientific approach, in methodology if not evidentiality, to the arguments against the beliefs in gods, and is much more reserved and soft-spoken than Christopher Hitchen’s rather abrasive book, ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’. These two books have a stark contrast in their delivery, but share the same sound reasoning and logic. I highly recommend both of them.

View all my reviews

BYU Honor Code Debate

Last week, I came across a news article entitled, Gay Students vs. BYU Honor Code (archived here), which was an editorial showcasing three cases of how gay students were being discriminated against by LDS-owned Brigham Young University’s honor code. I found this article to be interesting since it touched on a few of the same issues that I have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Church”).

After reading the article, I made the decision to share it on Twitter and Facebook (something I do regularly with articles I read). After clicking the “share” button, it asked me to add my own comments to the link, so I wrote the following:

Post-secondary education should be about challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries, innovation, exploring the world with new eyes, and free-thinking. Yet BYU’s Honor Code represses all of that, and is simply “about controlling the production of the next generation of Mormons”

(Note the last line being a quotation from the article itself.)

I knew that what I wrote would be provocative – especially for my LDS family and friends who would be certain to see it on Facebook – but this was kind of the point. I wanted the article to get people’s attention, because I feel that such discrimination happens all too frequently and shouldn’t be tolerated, let alone institutionalized, by a prestigious post-secondary institution. At the time, I didn’t expect to get much of a response from posting it on my Facebook wall, seeing as I post numerous other articles on a daily basis, with only a few comments here and there. This one, however, gained a lot more attention than I could have imagined, and turned into a large 4 day debate.

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Atheism vs Agnosticism

Does God exist?  Can we know God? — These are the questions that philosophers have been debating for millennia, but I have only recently started to truly ask myself.

Since I disclosed my disbelief in the LDS Church, I’ve had many friends ask me what my current belief is regarding God in general. My friends are curious if my disbelief is isolated to the LDS Church as an organization, or if it extends to include Christianity or God in its entirety. Because I can’t see how the fallacies of the LDS Church are much different than those of other religious organizations, I’ve made the determination that God (as I have been raised to define Him) is a man-made concept. This has lead me to answer their question by saying I’m an atheist. However, my use of the term atheist, is only based on a simplistic definition. As I continue to read and learn more about philosophy, I find that my friends’ question is more complicated than I originally thought.

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