Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Interview with Yours Truly

A friend from across the globe has elected to do some interviews with atheists for his blog and decided to include yours truly. As an exercise in self-indulgence (and because I state things reasonably clearly here), here is the interview (warts and all) in its entirety as he presents it on his blog:
Cosmic Stories

OK. I did add some paragraph breaks. ;)

Without Further Ado...

Q: What is your name?

Dglas: Gregory Douglas Teed. Hence the name I use online, “Dglas.”

Q: So, you are a philosopher and an atheist? Why don’t you believe in God?

Dglas: I don’t have any reason to believe in God. There is no evidence for such an entity. Indeed it is specifically defined such that evidence simply does not apply. Recognizing the nature of that definition makes one realize that we can define any host of things that way. If we believed things based on such definitions, there’d be a whole lot of things we’d be believing – like that malicious gremlins (who can only be appeased by sacrificing bowlfuls of Lucky Charms) cause car engine knocks. For me to believe something, there has to be a reason to believe it.

And then, my “belief” is contingent and subject to change if the evidence warrants a change. My beliefs do not exist outside of reality. My beliefs are about reality and are thus governed by reality.

Q. Some people would say that you don’t want to see the evidence of God.

Dglas: Yes, some do say that.

What I do or do not want is irrelevant. More importantly, however, is that I am no sole arbiter of what is or is not the case. I have bad eyesight, but I do not imagine that looking over the rims of my glasses actually changes reality just because it looks different to me. My perceptions are flawed, just like anyone else’s. We need a better standard of evaluation that just “seeing the signs.” We need something that tempers human fallibility, including my own – or that at least tries. Mere confirmation bias is not a good basis for understanding reality.

Q. I have heard to William Craig, the famous christian preacher. Why is there anything instead of nothing?

Dglas: Many questions expect certain kinds of answers – they are leading questions. “Why are we here?” often expects a certain kind of answer – usually a purpose-oriented one. If you can accept an evolutionary explanation for why we are here, then that answer will be satisfactory. If not, then that answer will not seem satisfactory. Craig’s question is such a leading question, although it requires much more work than our scope here permits. Why would anyone ever assume that there can be nothing to contrast with something?

Q. You don’t believe that there is any evidence of God. But God has always been associated with ethics and morality. Where do the Atheists get their morality from?

Dglas: Unicorns have always been associated with virginity and purity too.

Technically atheism is only about the existence or non-existence of god(s). Questions of ethics are separate and apart from that, but at least atheism opens the door for a model of ethics that isn’t just a tyrant holding us down. To answer the question though, most atheists I have encountered get their morality from their society and the people around them. Many understand morality to be a negotiated social construct rather than a top-down assignment of forbiddings. Personally, I think this is a better model for morality than what gods offer us, since it involves some negotiation and agreement. I think that one important thing to realize about the state of modern atheism right now is that it is in transition, developing it’s own path.

Q. But, weren’t Hitler and Stalin atheists?

Dglas: Hitler professed to be a Christian, and often used appeals to Christianity to push his totalitairianism. Personally, I find the “What was Hitler?” disputes (I won’t even dignify them by calling them debates) childish. In my view he was a ruthless opportunist using anything he could get his paws on to promote his own personal power. The masses could be swayed with Christian noises, so he made Christian noises. As for Stalin, the matter is more complicated, by very similar. Stalin sought to replace Christianity with a state loyalty – effectively another religion. What his motives are are a matter of opinion, but I would say this: atheism itself is less than accommodating of religions – including state-based religions. Again, of course, questions of existence of god(s) and questions of ethics are separate subject matters.

What is more interesting is how these noises could be used to sway the masses. Being a believer seems to make one susceptible to suggestion…

Q. You are a philosopher. How does it helps you to resolve the everyday problems of life?

Dglas: Technically, I am not a philosopher. I am philosophically-minded. However, that said, philosophy, as inquiry, allows one a broader perspective that allows for more possibilities in one’s thinking. I suspect I adapt to new information better than your average believer, because I’m not busy seeking to deny new information on the basis of this or that unsubstantiated faith. Faith does not interfere with my acuity or ability to learn. I can approach problems from a wide variety of different angles, rather than just trying to brute-force my way with the established doctrines.

Q. So, Greg, are you married?

Dglas: No.

Q. I have heard that many atheists do not believe in marriage. Are you one of them?

Dglas: Here’s my take. Marriage is merely a symbolic ritual. What matters is the relationship between the people involved. If that’s not enough to sustain you, then you are living a lie. Unfortunately, the symbolic rituals usually involve introducing doctrinal nonsense into the relationship – poisoning the relationship. My story of becoming an anti-theist has to do with just such a poisoning. The religious may not claim my personal life – it is not theirs for the redefining into their hobbled little framework. That said, I really have no issue whatsoever with marriage. My reasons for not getting married are really my own and involve a lot of factors that others may not be familiar with.

I cannot speak for others on this.

Q. So you believe in only those thinsg that can be proved. What about Love?

Dglas: I am not entirely convinced love is anything but a homeostatic imbalance.

More seriously, love seems to be a social construct as well, subject to negotiated public and private understandings. There are physiological and bio-chemical underpinnings to love, it seems, but the general understanding of these seems subject to interpretation.

Q. Many people think that atheists are cold and distant, that they do not understand things like poetry and beatuty. What is your take on that?
Dglas: I think that’s nonsense. Why has understanding of art been associated with supernatural conceptions. I am a fan of music, despite that the dance of notes can be depicted mathematically. I think this misconception has to do with the idea that without mystery there is no wonder, but in my experience, and seemingly the experience of many atheists, wonder is a vital part of our existence. Our most popular speakers, past and present, like Dr. Sagan for example, speak of the joy of exploration, discovery, and inquiry. For my own part I am proud of humanity when it pushes the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding. Every new discovery, every new advancement exhilarates me. There is a reason why we are typically systematic in our understandings – it helps us grow. Of course, many atheists are also humanists, which is not exactly a cold and analytical perspective. One of my reasons for being an anti-theist is that “I prefer Hobbits happy and free, to Hobbits in chains.” For many of us, it seems, the future is a wonderland of possibilities, open and limitless. Compared to that, the “end of times” visions of the religious seem desperately poor in their poverty.

Q. If there is no god then who created the universe?

Dglas: What makes you think there is a someone who created the universe? For that matter what makes you think the universe ever did not exist, much less was “created?” That is a leading question that expects a certain kind of answer and I think I covered that already.  One does not answer leading questions. One points at their leading nature and laughs at them for trying to control the discourse.

Q. Still there are billions of religious people in the world. Do you take these people as partners or enemies in your endeavor to make a greater change in the world.

Dglas: We are all engaged in a grand enterprise, a planet-wide negotiation of who and what we are and of who and what we might be. We need variety of perspective in order to have a wide diversity of ideas and material to work with. Some, I think, approach the negotiating table dishonestly with no interest in compromise or possibilities. I do not see the people as “enemies.” I see dogma as an affliction that hobbles could-be allies in that grand exploration. I see orthodoxy requirements as a means of halting discussion, of silencing critical inquiry, of limiting possibilities. I see them as potential allies who could be friends if only they didn’t have this intellectual/emotional disease, this dogma, telling them to hate me and to hate humanity. Dogma, including religious dogma, is antithetical to change. It is a cage of the mind. Our understandings of self are a negotiated social construct as well. I add my voice to the negotiation advocating that we be more than just a caged animal.

Q. Thank you Greg for your support and honest answers. I wish you luck in your life.

Dglas: Thank you. I hope I have been helpful in some way.

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