The newsletter of the Atheist Society (Australia)
Vol 1 No. 1, Oct, 1992
Welcome to the first atheist newsletter. My aim is to make it clear what atheism is and how genuine atheism improves humanity.
Atheism however is a very simple subject which can be more than adequately dealt with in just a few lines, so the scope of this newsletter will necessarily extend beyond atheism. Hopefully it will make you think about all the important things you have always avoided.
Two kinds of people claim to be atheists. The first kind are those who have not thought about the existence of a God and therefore cannot be expected to believe in such a thing, or who having thought about it see no sufficient reason to believe. The second kind of atheist are those who know with certainty that the existence of a God is impossible. These latter few I call the true atheists. The former kind take no position on the matter, not even that of agnosticism - they deserve a name of their own so I call them "floaters".
Probably the strongest argument for God is a functional one. That is, we need to believe in God, even if he is not there, because such a belief creates social order and generally makes us happy. In other words, the only excuse for God is that He doesn't exist. But as Phillip Adams (honourary member of the Atheist Society) says in his book "Adams vs God":
"Marx was wrong. Religion is not the opiate of the people. Opium suggests something soporific, numbing, dulling. Too often religion has been an aphrodisiac for horror, a Benzedrine for bestiality. At its best it has lifted spirits and raised spires. At its worst it has turned entire civilizations into cemeteries."
I rest my case.
The greatest act of faith is when a man decides that he is not God.All religions die of but one disease, that of being found out.
One religion is as true as another.
There is not enough religion in the world even to destroy the world's religions.
The Importance of Being Atheist
It is unfashionable to be an atheist in an agnostic world. It is unfashionable to think at all for that matter, in this our New Age of freedom and enlightenment. But some of us are doomed to think for no other reason than we have been led to believe that truth is valuable. That is, we few poor wretches have been led to believe that all truth is valuable, and not only some truths. Why then should we not share our ghastly burden with others?
What is an atheist? An atheist is the mortal enemy of theists, agnostics, and "floaters". Theists believe in a traditional God, an agnostic maintains that it is impossible to know for sure whether a God exists or not, and a floater takes no position at all. Atheists alone are certain that it is impossible for a God to exist, and because they put more value on truth than do others they necessarily see all other views as destructive. To see the importance of being atheist we should first establish the truth of atheism and then establish the importance of being truthful. The importance of truth is one thing very few people have ever considered. To understand why it is impossible for a God to exist we need to understand what we mean by existence. The only sensible definition for existence is that a thing is said to exist if it relates in some way to some other thing. That is, things exist in relation to each other. A thing must exist relative to an observer at the very least. Now, God is defined to be infinite, in which case it is not possible for there to be anything other than God because "infinite" is all-inclusive. But if there is nothing other than God then God cannot be said to exist for the reason just explained. God is simply another word for Nature, and Nature certainly does not "exist" - it just is.
It may then be argued in defense of the traditional God that there could be some manner of existence which is beyond our awareness. But no other manner of existence is possible, for the simple reason that we define what existence is, and it is logically impossible to have any other (sensible) definition than the one we have.
Having established the truth of atheism - and the impossibility of a God, it must then be asked "So what?" Indeed, what value is truth if it does not make life enjoyable? Well it does! I often find truth enjoyable. It is just a matter of approaching it with courage and humility, or with the courage of humility.
Everyone wants strength, freedom from fear, clarity, and permanence - only truth and reason can provide these things in any real way. That is, only atheism can provide one with a solid basis upon which concepts of what it is to be human can begin to form. And indeed it will be found that only the truly practicing atheist, free of God and of all Gods, living openly and with infinite understanding, can be called the truly human.
Atheism: the vice of a few intelligent people.
Of Men and Machines
- A dialogue -
Q: It is impossible for a machine to possess life.
A: You are a machine that possesses life.
Q: But a machine cannot experience self-consciousness.
A: A machine can believe it is experiencing self consciousness, as you do.
Q: Are you saying that I only believe I have self consciousness?
Q: How can you know self consciousness is not real?
A: Because it is impossible for a self, or anything else for that matter, to exist inherently.
Q: Machines are wholly material, so how can they possess life?
A: You are wholly material and yet we say you possess life.
Q: I am not wholly material! I have a soul or a spirit, which purely material things do not.
A: What is this soul of yours? Show it to me!
Q: We cannot adequately describe much of our behaviour and experience in words; this is evidence of a spirit, or a soul that dwells within the body. Our scientific categories are not sufficient to deal with such spiritual truths, so I cannot show it to you as such.
A: We cannot adequately describe much of a computer's behaviour and experience in words. There are an infinite number of variables operating whenever we use a machine, so there is always unpredictability, and therefore "spirit" as you say.
Q: How can you say that? It is my experience that machines are totally predictable: it is this predictability that makes them different from us.
A: Can you predict with certainty whether your car will start in the morning?
Q: No, but machines always have definite causes for what they do. If a car fails to start in the morning, the engine may need new spark plugs.
A: All things have definite causes, though we may not be able to determine precisely what those causes are. Can you be certain that the problem with the car is worn spark plugs? If you replace the spark plugs and the car starts, can you be sure you have fixed the problem? You see, all things are the same, whether human or machine, in their inherent unpredictability.
Q: The difference between machines and humans is that in the case of machines there are only a limited number of possible reasons for failure. The problem with the car will be found in either the electrical system, or the fuel system.
A: Things have infinite causes because of the inter- connectedness of all things. There are however a finite number of categories of causes, though each contain an infinite number of causes. The electrical and fuel systems are two such categories. A further category might be called "extraordinary causes," which would cover the possibilty that aliens are directing a disabling beam at your car from outer space. Similarly, if a human being is faulty, the cause must lie within a limited number of categories of causes. For example, a cause must be either physical, mental or spiritual.
Q: But machines are man-made, and man-made things cannot possess life.
A: Are machines really man-made? I think you will find it is Nature that makes all machines, just as Nature has made us. Nature works through us and as us to do all that we do, including the making of machines.
Q: You have yet to convince me. If an exact robot copy was made of me, would I feel self-conscious in that robot?
A: If it was an exact copy of you, then it would sincerely believe it was you. What is more, it would question whether it was possible for you to possess life, as you are merely a machine, whilst it possesses spirit.
Q: Would such an intelligent machine experience emotions?
A: Just as you do.
Q: But my emotions are based on a whole lifetime of experiences, whereas the machine would have no past.
A: It is conceivable to program a machine to think it has had the same experiences as you. It is also conceivable, with suitable technology, to make an exact copy of your brain, with all its thoughts and memories intact. You seem to forget that you are a machine, and changing from moment to moment. You are therefore not the same machine for two consecutive moments. Each new "you" inherits memories and experiences from the old you. At any point in time you have no age at all, yet possess a lifetime of experience. As you see, age is no barrier to experience.
Q: This is serious! If we build machines that are as much alive as we are, then who are the real humans? These machines, whose brains are based on superior technology to our own brains, may even be able to think faster than us! They could be installed with enhanced senses, like eyes capable of telescopic or infra-red vision! And what about reproduction? Will there be interbreeding between humans and robots? What is to stop these machines from out-competing the human race for food and resources and driving us to extinction?
A: Don't be so upset - change happens. Sometimes this change goes by the name of "evolution". If these "new humans" are truly superior to us, then why should we deny them? Anyway, this is not a new thing. Our very own human reproduction involves the production of new machines, who may well be superior to the parents, and who will eventually replace the parents. Do we not wish our children to be an improvement on ourselves?
Q: This is quite disappointing to me. I have always thought there was something sacred about the creation of a new life through the love of a man and a woman.
A: To create even the simplest of mechanical machines is a higher act than biological reproduction, for it is at least the result of a thought process, rather than blind chance and lust.
For many, faith is a suitable substitute for knowledge,
to be less of an insult than religion.
To the philosophic eye, the vices of the clergy
A theologian is like a blind person in a dark room searching
Bishop Hollingworth Refuses Debate
Bishop Hollingworth, the politician of the Churches, has repeatedly refused to meet the Atheist Society in a public debate about the existence of God. He obviously thinks that politics is more important than truth. Public humiliation may be the only way to force him to lay his ignorance on the table for all to see, by meeting us in public debate.
Madness in Religion
Studies in the US suggest that Jehovah's Witnesses are more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals than the general population. According to an article in the "British Journal of Psychiatry", they are three times more likely to be diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia and four times more likely to be paranoid shizophrenics. As a writer in the American journal "Free Inquiry" puts it: "Either the Jehovah's Witness sect tends to attract an excess of pre-psychotic individuals who may then break down, or else being a Jehova's Witness is itself a stress that may precipitate psychosis. Possibly both of these factors operate together."
Bits of Adams
"God is a word that describes emptiness. It is the word given to an absence . . . of information, of comprehension, of answers. The idea of God grows in the way a balloon grows, a membrane inflated by ignorance."
"Marx called religion the opiate of the people, suggesting that it dulled the sensibilities. I don't agree with Karl. If religion is an opiate, it's in the sense that it's addictive, that people become religious junkies, needing more and more of a fix and suffering more tragically from withdrawal. You can never have enough of it and it never really satisfies."
"Overseas studies of meditation techniques, including Siddha, suggest that it's nothing more or less than a pretentious form of relaxation."
Spiders of the Cross
(Be warned that what follows is motivated by an atheistic interpretation of the Bible.)
Christians are like spiders, who spin their sticky and tangled webs upon the cross, using it as a convenient support. Within a few years, the webs build up, until the cross is no longer visible - a dark and dirty shadow. Here the spiders lay in wait - to trap unsuspecting passers-by.
"Woe to you, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52)
Just as a spider has no chance of ever fathoming the profound philosophic meaning of the cross, nor does a Christian have the slightest hope. Such creatures are not even fit to be taught about spirituality, let alone practice it! They take every priceless gem of religious teaching and totally distort it to suit their own egos.
Christians claim to worship an infinite God, but they instead worship a finite one, and of their own making (either Jesus himself as God, or a grandfather figure, or some other necessarily limited conceptual form). To worship the finite in the name of the infinite is the worst kind of idolatry, and is truly using God's name in vain.
Are not Christians also like cannibals? - for they live by eating the man who died for them.
Christians not only use the teachings of Jesus as a crutch (or a stretcher) for their egos - they actually live off it. They make cunning and protracted plans to make the teachings their primary source of sustenance for the rest of their lives. At least ordinary cannibals get the job over with quickly!
By masticating and macerating the valuable teachings of Jesus with their egos, they are in fact eating the body of Christ. Little did Jesus realize he was going to be cannibalized when he said to his apostles "this is my body given for you."
Jesus also said: "Where there is a corpse, there the vultures will gather."
Christianity, which came into the world as the truth men die for, has become the truth upon which they live.
- No sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of superstition
of accounting for the descent of the Pope from Judas Iscariot.