Saturday, February 21, 2015

no true atheist

Part of the appeal of new atheism is that it pumps meaning into otherwise deflated post-God-religious 21st century heads. Life seems meaningless? Here's a narrative to fill the semantic vacuum: The problem with humans is that they have all these silly God-beliefs. The wars, anti-vaxxism, and every other form of illiberal irrationality are relics of the past, when humans were not so far along on this progressive journey as we are today. The problem with the world, in other words, is them, and the answer is you, should you choose to join us. Boom, the meaning's back and you've got a new ingroup. Now you want to insulate your tribe from accusations of being just like them; after all, the God religions are mirror images of each other, all thinking that God is on their side even though God can't possibly be on all their sides; that's illogical! They say they're different but they're the same. You, on the other hand, really are different because you don't believe God is on your side. Atheism is non-God-belief, by definition. One other thing the God-religions have that atheists don't is an official holy book. This is very very important, because some people see words and reflexively do things suggested by them. Free of those God and God-text delusions, now you can go forth and be a good guy in the war against irrationality. You matter! Meaning is back. The struggle against evil is back. What a deal.

The God-religious thesis: Wrong belief and wrong texts and wrong God ==> people doing wrong things
The proof: other God-religionists believe X, Y, Z, which is wrong. We believe not-X, not-Y, and not-Z, which are right. They wear purple, we wear red.

The new atheist thesis: God-belief and irrational tribalist texts ==> violence, irrationality, etc.
The proof: They believe in God and follow violence-encouraging texts. We don't believe in God and don't follow God-texts. When they do violent things they talk about Allah. When we do violent things, we say Team America! well...we don't do violent things because atheism is non-violent and good, by definition.

If this seems too easy, too strawmanny, allow me to mention that there is no reasonable, empirically-based argument that Islam correlates with higher levels of violence than atheism. Meanwhile, any new atheist who voted for Obama voted for a Christian/atheist (does it matter? of course not!) who has a fucking kill list. The reason new atheists emphasize God-belief and religious texts is that these are what distinguish their tribe from God-religionists. Thousands of humans committing acts of violence around the globe, a tiny fraction of whom are Muslims, the main perpetrators of which are acting for governments new atheists support and what the new atheist wants to talk about, time and again, is: "were they saying something about God when they did it?," which, as far as geopolitical analysis is concerned, is like asking what color underpants they were wearing.

Here's reliably easy target Sam Harris:
there are teachings within Islam that explicitly recommend, in fact demand, violence under certain circumstances, circumstances which we in the 21st century, if we are decent human beings, will recognize as being morally insane.” 
But, he said, “there is no such link between atheism or secularism, and violence of any kind.
To paraphrase: there are no teachings within atheism that recommend violence under certain circumstances. Therefore, atheism doesn't cause violence in the way that Islam causes violence. By implication, Islam causes violence by way of texts (and possibly other ways).

He's trying to explain why Islam causes relatively high levels of violence by virtue of some conveniently unexplained semantic mechanism and he never bothers to show that Islam is even correlated with relatively high levels of violence! Because for the goddamn Nth time, there's no such case!

Monkeys swim better than dolphins because...

No, stop! Don't tell me the reason. You've gotta show the first thing first.
It could be that when Hicks starts talking, he’ll tell us how much he hates Muslims and he just wanted to kill a few; and he might even say he read The God Delusion, and The End of Faith, and God is Not Great, and took from these books some kind of rationale to victimize Muslims at random. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that that’s the case. I will be flabbergasted if Hicks says that his atheism drove him to commit these murders.
If we're going by what Islamic terrorists report as their motivations, what they tend to say is that they're responding to U.S. and Israeli F-16s, drones, etc., that is, violence carried out by Christians, atheists, and Jews.

But on Harris logic, when Russell Wilson thanks God after a TD, his Christianity causes his football playing. When a Christian American prays before his mission and blows up a wedding, his Christianity is responsible. When an atheist does the same actions but without praying to the atheist gods, literally anything that's not atheism is responsible. That's how you insulate your religion from criticism.

Now what if the data shows that atheists are relatively more violent than Muslims? To Harris, it doesn't matter at all. Atheism doesn't cause violence, by definition. That's the no true scotsman defense.

I don't mean to make the Quran or God-belief acausal though. It does something, and I imagine the thing it does is something I wouldn't like. There's a weak claim that, in a vacuum, I don't have a problem with that goes like this: angry person with some violence-encouraging external influence is likely more dangerous than same person without that. The U.S. spends millions on propaganda for a reason. That's the correct comparison. Environmental factors that impact violence. The only reason you'd make the comparison hinge on specific God-related verbiage is if you have a tribalist angle to work.

Harris, Dawkins and friends don't make the weak claim. They want to say Islam is relatively violent, that there's something intrinsically violent about it. That's a strong claim and there's simply no empirical basis for it. The U.S. has been far and away the most violent organization in the world in the past century. Half the world's military spending, world's #1 arms dealer, only country to have intentionally used nukes on humans, world's aggressive invasion leader by a mile, etc. Again, it doesn't matter if Obama is really a Christian or if he's faking it. It doesn't matter if the drone operator said a prayer or not. And when some Stalin or whoever kills millions, atheists can just say "we don't have a holy book so that's not on us." The new atheist Islam hater, on the other hand, can pick and choose when to pin it on religion.

Given the discrepancy in actual violence between Muslim countries and Christian/atheist ones, shouldn't we be asking why the west is so violent? I'd never think to answer that question with the kind of unfalsifiable equivocating stories Harris spins. The answer goes like this. The U.S. (and its allies, including atheist Scandinavia and atheist Japan) behaves the way an empire behaves. Geopolitics tells the whole story. ISIS would not exist without U.S. involvement. Islamic bad guys rise and fall (covary) with U.S. foreign policy. The U.S., as a matter of long-standing policy, works to oust uncooperative regimes and replace them with cooperative ones. The latter tend to be dictators, for reasons not hard to understand. It's a classic screw-the-third-party triangle along the lines of European slave trader/African bosses/enslaved Africans. The U.S. is violent as a means of arranging and distributing resources. Humans were killing each other long before the U.S. and ISIS. The names change, the rationalizations can be pretty similar (along ingroup/outgroup lines), the violence is mostly the same.

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