Up and running!

Welcome to Convert the Atheist, my blog. I am an atheist, and, as the title of the blog suggests, I want you to try to convert me. This is not a rhetorical trick, it is a genuine request. You see, I am deeply interested in improving myself and my positions. The only way I can improve my positions is by finding the holes in my reasoning. And who could possibly be better at finding the holes in my reasoning than the people that disagree with me? So yes, I sincerely want you to try to convert me to your beliefs. If, during this process, we identify holes in my reasoning, then I have two choices… I can modify my arguments to eliminate the holes, or I can abandon them in favor of alternate arguments that work better. I will be very public about this process.

So how do I expect you to engage in this dialog with me? The initial plan is for me to post two kinds of items here: blog entries and documents. A document will be my attempt to formulate my “definitive argument” on a particular topic. In order to try to “convert” me from my current position to yours, you’ll need to understand my current position. For example, since I don’t find it plausible that the bible is historically accurate, any arguments you make based only on scripture would have to first address why I should take those references to be reliable. In essence, these documents are my starting point for discussions. You should feel free to comment on them, and the ensuing dialog will hopefully serve both our purposes. If your arguments change my mind, then I will revise the original document to reflect my new understanding. I will always include a revisions history so that any changes in my positions can be documented, and so that commenters can be credited with their influence.

Blog entries will introduce new (or significantly revised) documents, comment on relevant current events, or anything else that I feel like posting. These will also be open for comments.

Comments are moderated. But my moderation is very loose. The only things that I currently foresee disallowing from comments would be:

  • Threats
  • Illegal material
  • Way-off-topic content (e.g., don’t advertise your dating site)
  • My name

 

This last item is probably the only one that needs some explanation, particularly since many of you came here based on my announcement on forums where I am not anonymous. I can’t give specifics here, but in about 3-4 years the need for anonymity here will be gone, and so I will discuss it at that point. Until then, just call me CtA (for Convert the Atheist).

In short, if you avoid the issues above, I will let your comment be posted.

Do not feel restricted in topic to the ones I have already posted about. I need to have some way to know what topics are most in demand for future posts, and bringing up other topics in the comments will help me make that decision. I will start out aiming at one new document or major revision per week… Time will tell if that is a reasonable schedule.

So, first topic. Starting an endeavor like this one is always daunting, since there are so many topics I would like to tackle. How should I identify which one to start with? My biggest problem was that while I do want to talk about any and all topics related to atheism and counter positions to atheism, many of those topics have been covered very well by other people. I do want to cover those from my own perspective, but I don’t want to start this blog with a topic that has been hacked to death.

Recently I have started listening to audio recording of atheist/Christian debates, and have found many good arguments already made in those. Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, and Richard Dawkins in particular have covered a lot of ground very well (yes, I have some disagreements with them, which we will get to in time). But I noticed one particular topic that none of the atheists in the debates I listened to handled particularly well: reductionism. This issue can be stated many ways, but perhaps the most pithy was along the lines of, “If all we are is molecules in motion, where does ethics come from? Which molecule tells us that murder is wrong?” Now I suspect that most atheists don’t answer this question because they view it as a silly question, one not really needing a response. The thing is, though, that there is a very good response to this question. Emergent phenomena obviate this simple-minded view of reductionism. So, since this topic seems to be one where I have something useful to contribute to the larger discussion about atheism vs. religion, it seemed to be a good place to start, and thus this is the topic of my first document. I’ll try to pick something a little lighter for my second document next week.

9 Comments

  1. “If all we are is molecules in motion, where does ethics come from? Which molecule tells us that murder is wrong?” Now I suspect that most atheists don’t answer this question because they view it as a silly question, one not really needing a response.

    Absolutely it needs a response. We get our ethics from living. When we, albeit any beings, live in a communal society,certain truths come to bear. In order to survive one must exist within those parameters which promote success. Not just personal success but that of the the society in which one exists. We don’t need a set of written rules or bylaws to succeed because it is innate in our being to survive. Survival depends on cooperation and ‘ethical’ behavior.

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  2. Help me understand how a conversation about a faith-based belief system is related to logic, please. While I am not atheist, it is to the benefit of me and mine – it gives me acts to perform, something to do with my lymbic system, in situations of great emotion.

    I’m not trolling, and I guess I’m atypical, as I believe (that word again!) it’s the actions of the people believing and the consequences of those actions, that are the most important. If I beg everyone I know to pray for the life of a loved one, does it matter whether they truly pray or just send a note of comfort? Maybe – if there is a deity, but what I will see and respond to is the evidence I am not alone in trying to resolve my emotion.

    So, I guess I’m asking is it your hypothesis that reason rules emotion?

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    • I’m planning a later post specifically on “faith,” but I’ll give you a bit of a preview.

      There are lots of things people believe. Many of those things have evidence for them, many of them don’t. But even if there is evidence for one such thing, it is possible to believe in that thing without regards to that evidence. I find that mode of belief to be particularly problematic, because there’s no good way to correct an error in that belief, if it exists. Because this particular mode of belief is important to distinguish, I want a word to describe it. And the closest word in the English language that I have found is, “faith.” Therefore, when I use that word, I am specifically talking about the way of believing which specifically doesn’t involve reliance on evidence. This may or may not correspond to your usage of the word, “faith,” but I will try to argue in my future post that what most people mean when they use the word includes my definition, even though they often add other components to it as well.

      So, with that definition, let me see about tackling your first sentence. I believe that a faith-based belief system is unsupportable by logic, because I think logic dictates that evidence should be taken into account in all cases. However, that’s not what you asked. You asked about how a conversation about a faith-based belief system is related to logic. I think that since much of society not only participates in faith-based belief systems, but explicitly holds faith up as a virtue, it is incredibly important to have such conversations. Logical or not, it is important, because we have to deal with people that approach belief illogically.

      Now, your last sentence… no, I am not making the claim that reason rules emotion. I think they are different things. Yes, they can sometimes come into conflict, and reason often wins those battles, but emotion is ignored at one’s peril.

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  3. I think we agree, when I read you say that a faith-based belief system is unsupportable by logic. I read the purpose of your blog as asking people to use logic to convince you to buy into a faith-based belief system. Those two statements seem to be contradictory, no?

    Maybe I need to restructure your request as a cognitive therapy exercise, where people try to use logic to change emotional reactions to things. Or a rhetorical exercise, an exercise in structured argument.

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