Thursday, June 12, 2014

Atheists Are Delusional Too

I can still remember my grandmother saying, "when you point a finger at someone, remember that three fingers are pointing at you."  How wise, indeed. A large percentage of atheists I interact with on a regular basis are very skilled at pointing out flaws and weaknesses in other people's reasoning. They are very good at demonstrating how and why religious people often engage in tribalism or groupthink. And they often fail at recognizing these same problems in their own groups and circles.

What inspired this blog was a pretty reckless, irresponsible, and most importantly, unfounded claim by atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian on Twitter. Boghossian asserts that religious belief is often the symptom of a mental health problem. More fervent and tenacious believers have more dramatic health issues.

Ok, false.

First I'd like to address the claim itself, and then offer a bit of a verbal spanking for that kind of baseless assertion from a man in his position.

The National Institute of Health indicates that people who suffer from depression are more likely to turn to religion for assistance, and also more likely to break out of depression because of religious beliefs. The NIH indicates that the correlation between mental health deficiencies and religiosity are inconclusive due to a lack of data. (Link to the NIH Study)

The Psychiatric Times, which is a professional journal for psychiatrists, indicates that as of 2000, more than 724 studies have been done on the correlation between religiosity and mental health disorders. The journal is quoted thusly:

"The evidence suggests that, on balance, religious involvement is generally conducive to better mental health." - Psychiatric Times, January 2010

The Psychiatric Bulletin indicates that religious beliefs and practices may help patients cope better with mental illnesses, and that this claim is backed by research.

"Religious beliefs and practices of patients have long been thought to have a pathological basis and psychiatrists for over a century have understood them in this light. Recent research, however, has uncovered findings which suggest that to some patients religion may also be a resource that helps them to cope with the stress of their illness or with dismal life circumstances." - The Psychiatric Bulletin, June 2008

Both the Psychiatric Times and the Psychiatric Bulletin indicate that the idea that religiosity and mental health problems are correlated is a century-old and that is no longer believed in the psychiatric community.  For Dr. Boghossian, who is a well-respected author and philosopher, to use speak with the same level of authority that he has earned in philosophy on a subject like mental health, for which he is not an expert, is unconscionable.

Not only was the assertion patently false, but it violates a skeptical method of inquiry that Dr. Boghossian lives and breathes.  In his book, "A Manual for Creating Atheists", Boghossian repeatedly insists that philosophical skepticism is the only real  player in the game of determining truth claims. I actually agree. The problem is that philosophical skepticism requires its adherents to follow evidence and adopt conclusions, even when those conclusions are in conflict with their personal feelings and preferences.  Boghossian repeatedly says that he is not an antitheist in his book, but I disagree. It's clear to me that Boghossian doesn't like religion or religious belief. So much so that he's willing to make claims like "religious belief and poor mental health are correlated" when they are clearly not. Even a 15 minute search on Google will put that idea to rest.

I'm not necessarily trying to pick on Boghossian here. The point I am making is that he is clearly a very well-educated man who has made skepticism his life's passion. But he is human. Just like you and me. If a man who eats, breathes, and lives skepticism is willing to make such a baseless assertion, are we capable of doing the same? Yes. Of course. It's a condition of being human.  So please be careful, oh atheist. And remember the next time you point a finger at someone for being delusional, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Monday, June 2, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain: A Review of "God's Not Dead"

A "Strawman argument" is a popular tool in debate, politics, and propaganda. A strawman argument happens when one side intentionally misrepresents their opponent's argument, then destroys the misrepresentation instead of their actual position.

"My opponent claims X, but that's ridiculous because A,B,C".

No. Your opponent does not claim X. You are asserting that your opponent claims X when in fact they do not.  This misrepresentation is a very effective tool. It's propping up a false position of your opponent (strawman), then making them and their position seem ridiculous by tearing up the false assertion instead of addressing their actual position. It's very disingenuous.

Speaking of disingenuous, that's the single word I would use to describe the recent film, "God's Not Dead". Disingenuous on multiple fronts. The film itself is basically a 2-hour long strawman argument of atheism. The protagonist of the story is a college freshman named Josh Wheaton. Wheaton bravely takes Philosophy 150: Introduction to Philosophical Thought taught by the sinister and evil super atheist, professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame.)

Every single non-Christian in this film is a terrible person, including Radisson. I have seen numerous (false) Internet memes about mean, bullying, atheist professors who were taken to school by steadfast paradigms of faith Christian students. The most famous one, of course, was an account of Einstein intellectually whipping an atheist professor during his freshman year.  A false story, indeed, as Einstein found the idea of a personal, loving, intervening God preposterous. Nonetheless, this film played right into that class of glurge. Radisson's character was an intellectual bully.

In the first three minutes of his first class he proposes to the class that they bypass the portion of the syllabus which discusses God and just all agree that God is a myth. Therefore, simply write "God is Dead" on a piece of paper, sign it, turn it in and you get an automatic credit for 1/3 of the class.

Ok, no.

"There is a god in my class, it's me. And I'm a jealous God."
As a student of philosophy, this is abhorrent and something no philosophy professor would ever do. The class is supposed to be an introduction to philosophical thought and the class begins with the professor bypassing all critical thought and discussion on perhaps the most important question we can answer and gives his students what their conclusion should be... or else.  Any, especially philosophy, professor doing this should be fired on the spot.  Secondly, the only person who took an issue with this was brave, brave Josh Wheaton. In an American public university, where the overwhelming majority of students are Christian, only one person raises an objection to this ridiculous demand? I think not.

On issues like God, morality, ethics, epistemology, the divine, the supernatural, etc. a great deal about how one should properly think can be demonstrated by tackling these subjects regardless of where one falls on the conclusion. In general, philosophers care less about conclusions (God does or doesn't exist), and more about how one properly supports said conclusion. In other words, philosophers care less about what you think and more about why. The why is how we can examine and properly assess philosophical thought.

When Wheaton refuses to sign a statement of non-belief, Radisson tells him he must defend his refusal in front of the class or fail the class. I found the statement of belief upon threat of failure to be particularly dishonest and  hypocritical, and every other Christian should feel the same way.

The only universities that require students to sign statements of belief upon threat of failure or expulsion are Christian universities.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

The very practice that the movie adamantly portrays as unfair and bullyish is a common practice among Christian universities. Instead of giving students the tools to arrive at their own answers, they hold a student's good standing with the university hostage. This is a very affront to education.

Aside from this glaring hypocrisy-bomb, the movie featured numerous other story lines. I won't go into all them but they can all be summarized thusly: a really terrible and mean non-Christian picks on Christians and through the resolute faith of the Christian, comes to be saved, or gets cancer, or hit by a car, or both.

I am thoroughly well-versed in the arguments for atheism, and none of them appeared in the movie. Well, not correctly anyway. Every argument for atheism was a pretty bad bastardization for a good argument that was thoroughly deconstructed by a college freshman in ten minutes which culminated in mean, old Professor Radisson running out of his classroom crying. Yes, seriously.

Give me a break.

In short, this movie was disingenuous, dishonest, highly insulting, hypocritical, and was a two-hour long strawman. But hey, at least it had Duck Dynasty in it. Summary: I was embarrassed for this movie. I was embarrassed for everyone who participated in it.