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Investigating Atheism - Comments

JemyM's Avatar Comment 2 by JemyM

Weird site.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:34:00 UTC | #158536

SamKiddoGordon's Avatar Comment 1 by SamKiddoGordon

So we are to expect cambridge university to be neutral on the subject? What is it they hope to really accomplish? Truth and reality is not up for debate, it just is what it is, like it or not.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:34:00 UTC | #158533

mintcheerios's Avatar Comment 3 by mintcheerios

Someone needs to put up a page called "Investigating Afairyism".

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:41:00 UTC | #158549

mikecbraun's Avatar Comment 5 by mikecbraun

"Oversimplifying the issues?" Asking for evidence to back up any truth claim may be fairly simple, but it is necessary in its simplicity. I would accuse all religious people of making everything too complicated by inventing supernatural, extrasensory beings and then trying to cling to their existence with nonarguments. That seems like horrid obfuscation to me. But what do I know? I'm just a simple atheist who tends to rely on Occam's razor or the popular K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:43:00 UTC | #158554

HourglassMemory's Avatar Comment 4 by HourglassMemory

Shouldn't we wait 200 years for this or something?

Anyhow, anything like this is helpful to people.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:43:00 UTC | #158553

Elles's Avatar Comment 6 by Elles

"Since the publication of Sam Harris' The End of Faith in 2005, the English speaking world has seen a spate of books on atheism, most notoriously perhaps Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (2006)."
Is there a... particular reason why The God Delusion is apparently the "most notorious" of them all? Why is The God Delusion so special?

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:48:00 UTC | #158561

jonwes's Avatar Comment 7 by jonwes

Hmmm... I think they mistake accessibility for oversimplification. I found The God Delusion extremely accessible and though it better for it. I've not read any of the other books (though I plan too- I'm new to this!) but in the case of The God Delusion, Dawkins clearly hopes that the reader will investigate further and in fact explicitly encourages the reader to read the texts he is quoting on occasion.

Are there all kinds of interesting debates to be had about the points raised? Sure! But I think the best thing is that the books are RAISING the questions to begin with.

Also, can I raise an annoyance with people trying to place things in a historical context when they are currently going on all around us? It reminds me of when people tried to put 9/11 in historical context on 9/12! What exactly is the point of that endeavor, other than to try to cement their version of events into the history books before they are written?

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:50:00 UTC | #158567

MrPickwick's Avatar Comment 8 by MrPickwick

I quote from that site:

"Jean Meslier was a Catholic priest who is often identified as one of the first intellectual atheists in Europe. Meslier was not an avowed atheist during his life, but on his death it was discovered that he had written a book-length Testament which promoted virulently anti-Christian views. Whether or not Meslier's views as expressed in the Testament strictly count as atheistic rather than deistic remains a matter of contention."

The last sentence is so patently false that I wonder who is really running that site...

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:51:00 UTC | #158569

brian thomson's Avatar Comment 9 by brian thomson

I saw this mentioned on another site earlier today, and took a look. The page on "definitions of atheism" looked reasonable, but it's followed by many assertions about atheism and violence - saying (without backing) that RD etc. are wrong about Hitler & Stalin.

It goes off the rails altogether when it comes to Nietszche. A lot of guff about how Hitler loved the "Superman", and nothing about Nietszche's Nazi sister and her anti-Semitic distortion of his ideas.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 11:57:00 UTC | #158577

Jin's Avatar Comment 10 by Jin

Interesting. This may serve as a good resource. I have to say that some of the criticism seems a bit unfair, such as:

Against the background of more cautious and historically informed judgements of the relationship between atheism and violence such as that of Martin and others, the more recent pronouncements of the New Atheists generally appear by contrast to recall the optimism of atheistic materialists of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, for whom atheism seemed to offer the promise of bringing about a more violence free world. However, both the history of atheism and the political history of the West suggests that the optimism of eighteenth century atheists as the Baron d'Holbach was misplaced, a point that authors like Martin seem ready to concede but which New Atheists like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens have generally preferred to underplay.

(Atheism & Violence)


The defenders of an autonomous naturalistic morality can claim on the basis of richer empirical evidence than ever before that humans are naturally altruistic and cooperative. On the other hand, the atheist amoralists can point out that the commitment of 'virtuous atheists' such as Richard Dawkins to biological reductionism makes it difficult for them to say why humans should not follow their aggressive and xenophobic instincts rather than their cooperative and altruistic ones. They appear to be able to offer only an evolutionary explanation of the altruistic moral instincts, not a reason why they should be followed.

Moreover, amoralists can argue that 'virtuous atheists' fail to provide any real justification for their moral stance. What can they say against De Sade's, Max Stirner's, or Nietzsche's decision to follow their darker instincts? It is striking that the trio of New Atheists - Dawkins, Dennett and Harris - have not so far addressed in any systematic way this 'other' tradition of atheism.

(Atheism & Morality)

Overall the site appears well-informed, though, but I've only had the time to browse at this point.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:00:00 UTC | #158585

the way's Avatar Comment 11 by the way

AKA The Politically Correct Guide To Atheism. Not only that but it also seems to me, to want to try to intellectualise the concept of Atheism, which is pretty simple really. I guess that's universities for you!


(About Us)The website has been put together by a group of academics and researchers at the faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, and at the University of Oxford. The team have no set view on the subject, and aim to give a fully independent, but informed statement about this important subject.

They seem to be theologians and religious psychologists in the main. One of them is being funded by the Templeton Foundation

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:06:00 UTC | #158594

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 12 by Lisa Bauer

Cambridge? Hey, wait a minute...don't Cambridge and Oxford have this bitter rivalry going, with Oxonians poking fun at "North Fens Polytechnic," while Cambrige students in turn laughing at "Cowley Polytechnic"? I mean, if this was put out by "that other school"... ;) *stifles a giggle*

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:07:00 UTC | #158596

Adam Morrison's Avatar Comment 13 by Adam Morrison

I can simplify the whole issue:

An individual who does not believe in a theistic concept of god.
From the English 'a' a prefix derived from Greek for negation, and 'theist' which is a word for an individual who believes in an intervening supernatural deity (a simpleton).

Everything else is unnecessary.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:19:00 UTC | #158610

Camsaint's Avatar Comment 14 by Camsaint

Marvellous. A project run by the faculty of Divinity. They're probably just trying to use the current popularity of atheist literature to raise their profile a bit. Essentially a bunch of well dressed fleas with html skills.

At the moment the faculty of Divinity is about as significant a part of Cambridge intellectual life as the Department of Land Economy. Let's keep it that way!

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:23:00 UTC | #158616

MelM's Avatar Comment 15 by MelM

Check the "About Us" link:

The website has been put together by a group of academics and researchers at the faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, and at the University of Oxford.

Many of the team are also members, or former members, of the Psychology and Religion Research Group (PRRG) , based at the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge.

Fraser N. Watts, Ph.D.
Director, Psychology and Religion Research Group
Fraser was ordained in the Church of England in 1990 and is now Vicar-Chaplain of St. Edward King and Martyr, Cambridge

My caution flag is up.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:24:00 UTC | #158620

carbonman's Avatar Comment 16 by carbonman

The thinly veiled knee-jerk defensiveness of the site suggests the Faculty of Divinity sees atheism as a threat. I guess the smallpox virus, had it possessed the power of reason, may have felt the same way about the vaccination program.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:35:00 UTC | #158641

Jefe's Avatar Comment 17 by Jefe

5 minutes on the site and I already see a couple of 'errors' with the assumptions on which it has been based.

""The New Atheists are typically concerned with defending (at least) the following theses:

* Belief in God and evolution are not compatible.""

I wouldn't categorize this statement (attributed to 'New Athiests') as strictly true.

"" * Atheism is not discredited by the 'atheist tyrannies' of Hitler and Stalin.""

There is misinformation rolled up in this little statement, that demonstrates a lack of understanding of Hitler and Stalin on the part of the Cambridge group.

Not really a promising start.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:38:00 UTC | #158647

MelM's Avatar Comment 18 by MelM

Why not an "Investigating Theism" site and a "Psychopathology of Religion Research Group"?

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:47:00 UTC | #158663

Camsaint's Avatar Comment 19 by Camsaint

carbonman - I agree absolutely. To continue the analogy, it's as if smallpox then tried to convince the world that instead of being threatened by Jenner, it actually had a full and useful role to play in framing the debate about poxes in the modern world.

Still, if they go belly up, the history faculty could use the extra space they've got in that snazzy building on the Sedgwick site. It's much nicer than the Seeley.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:54:00 UTC | #158672

discipline's Avatar Comment 20 by discipline

I've only slogged through parts of this site, but I'm unimpressed. I would expect better from an esteemed university than the familiar apologetics -- however nicely they are dressed up as "intellectual" theology.

Theology must be great for self-esteem: it gives people with pre-existing certainties the warm and fuzzy feeling that they are open-minded and educated.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 12:56:00 UTC | #158675

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 21 by Stafford Gordon

The use of inverted commas for 'new athiests' does at least nod towards the fact that these people are mostly life long atheists.

As regards evidence for and against the existence of a supernatural creator of the universe? Well, I would have thought that a slightly difficult balance to strike, even for a University such as Cambridge.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:02:00 UTC | #158682

BigJohn's Avatar Comment 22 by BigJohn

Comment #166872 by Adam Morrison

Correct, Adam. I have a problem with people who, apparently deliberately, misunderstand that atheism in NOT a belief but a lack thereof. This probably arises from their inability to realize that some people are able to live their lives without the fragile exoskeleton of faith in a supernatural being.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:03:00 UTC | #158683

MelM's Avatar Comment 23 by MelM

Google for "psychopathology of religion" got me this interesting site: Link-> Derbyshire Secular Humanists.

Psychology: the study of the mind.

Psychopathology: the study of the mentally ill.

No, we are not saying that all religious people are mentally ill (though we do think that religion can be cured) - please read on!

It is interesting that most of the books and papers on the psychology and psychopathology of religion have been written by the religious - enquiring into why they believe as they do. They simply cannot leave it alone - "I believe because I believe" - they have to find some reason for why they believe (other than impartial logical proof which, as we have seen elsewhere, is denied to them.)

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:03:00 UTC | #158684

Tosser's Avatar Comment 24 by Tosser

To see how little thought went into this site, look at the list of contemporary atheists. They name the "four horseman" and three others. How about putting people like Ricky Gervais on there? And how about investigating "ordinary" atheists working as plumbers, doctors, insurance agents, and so on?

The site appears bent on portraying atheism as a small, quirky cult. It's not a fundie screed, but the difference is more about style than substance. Behold this gem:

"Religious belief has traditionally provided human beings with a reason to think that their individual lives have a purpose, and that the existence of humanity as such has a purpose. Atheism, on the contrary, has generally taught that both individual human beings and (eventually) humanity as a whole have no purpose in the universe, and that they will be definitively annihilated in the course of time (human beings after their short spans of life, humanity - at latest - when the earth finally becomes uninhabitable)."

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:04:00 UTC | #158687

82abhilash's Avatar Comment 25 by 82abhilash

The faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and Oxford must be worried that RD's growing popularity coupled with the strength of his well reasoned arguments will shut them down for good.

I bet this place will become the front for religious morderates, apologists and crypto-fundamentalists.

I agree with MelM. There should be an "Investigating Theism" site. But not simply a counter current. But as an academic institution dedicated to understanding religion as a natural phenomenon.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:07:00 UTC | #158690

epeeist's Avatar Comment 26 by epeeist

Comment #166851 by brian faux

A quick shufti at this site gives the impression that it is written by a bunch of religious types.
Yes, some of the staff seem to either be or have been members of the staff at the Margaret Beaufort Institute, which is a Catholic theological house (not even a college).

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:09:00 UTC | #158692

jdb's Avatar Comment 27 by jdb

Okay, I didn't get very far before I noticed something screwy. They say on the Contemporary Atheists page:
that RD is a "molecular biologist". I think this is a bit of a misnomer. Well... other than the fact that he is a biologist, and indeed he is made of molecules.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:33:00 UTC | #158730

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 28 by Enlightenme..


Does the Universe show signs of having been a creation?


Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:34:00 UTC | #158734

the way's Avatar Comment 29 by the way

The top banner picture is quite telling. I suppose that is the fundy evangelical preacher on the right at his pulpit/lectern, and the atheist enlightenment philosopher at his scrolls on the left? Or maybe not!

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:40:00 UTC | #158744

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 30 by Enlightenme..

Put me up for the job of head Atheologian.

I have all the qualifications required.

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 13:41:00 UTC | #158746