Blatant Intolerance Of
Those With Different Views
(unsigned)

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: FORUM_What_Does_X-Mas_Mean_9359
Date: Friday, December 29, 2000 2:37 AM

The only people I am intolerant of are those who lie, particularly those who lie about me: what I say, and particularly, what my motives are.

I have said, repeatedly, and over the course of many years, that I don't care what other people's views are. I only respond when their actions interfere with my life. These actions include lying about what I've said -- misrepresenting me and thus tarnishing my reputation without just cause.

Have a nice life.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: FORUM_What_Does_X-Mas_Mean_9359
Date: Saturday, December 30, 2000 6:37 PM

If you would bother to read our statement on what Positive Atheism is, you would know how we can call ourselves such.

My views are misrepresented when someone comes on to our forum and talks about things like "your actions of blatant intolerance of those with views different from your own" when this is a flat-out lie. Anyone who has read any of my editorials or any of the responses to my letters can see that this is a bold misrepresentation of my views. Thus, we give such misrepresentations the prominence they deserve.

Finally, "their" actions impair my life in a number of ways. More and more, my tax dollar is being illegally (unconstitutionally) funneled into church treasuries. Our city sends quite a bit of money to the Portland Rescue Mission to feed the homeless. Unfortunately, before anybody eats, they must endure an hour-long sermon from a local fundamentalist preacher.

The travesties, for me, have ranged from wholesale rejection from a group (including my second-grade class) -- to imprisonment for refusing to undergo religious instruction -- to being told "hope your life improves" in a context that implies that my life would improve if I'd change what my eyes see when I open them and look at my world -- to people taking their own misunderstanding of what atheism is (rather than studying what the atheists think atheism is) and condemning me on the basis of their own misunderstanding. It is these behaviors that I am trying to change -- basically, how people treat atheists. I am not trying to convince others to go along with my views on God and religion. In America, atheists are a more widely despised group than even homosexuals. I would like to see this situation reduced, if not eliminated.

It is now taboo to discriminate against African Americans. It will soon be taboo to discriminate against homosexuals. Compared to these two groups, atheists have a long way to go. The main point of Positive Atheism is to urge atheists to clean up their own act, and a secondary point is to urge those who misunderstand atheism to reconsider their views by studying what atheism is. This is why I wrote the piece "Introduction to Activistic Atheism."

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: FORUM_What_Does_X-Mas_Mean_9359
Date: Sunday, December 31, 2000 1:31 AM

Many of the e-mails we post display intolerance: opinions are those of the person expressing them. Atheists display intolerance against theists, theists display intolerance against atheists, and agnostics display intolerance against both. We post them anyway, hoping that all who visit will learn from them. Our Letters section is very popular, as is our Quotations section, and both sections display intolerance at times. I do not feel it would be appropriate for me to micro-manage the views and expressions of others, though I will take on a bigot whenever I can.

Meanwhile, I encourage atheists to respect that theists have what they think are valid reasons for believing (the Argument From Design being the most common reason for believing). I also try to show that any time a person expresses her or his views in an attempt to persuade others to agree with those views, those views are subject to scrutiny. When a person uses falsehood to try to convince others of the truthfulness of her or his views, it becomes necessary to point out that the person has used deception. I will not do this unless I am willing and able to demonstrate that an attempt at deception has been made. Finally, ideas do not have feelings, but some people act as if you have attacked them personally when all you've done is criticize the ideas they have expressed.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: question
Date: Sunday, December 31, 2000 9:41 PM

I spend much of my day maintaining this website specifically so that I may have the opportunity to engage with others. The main point of doing this is that nobody's views are infallibly accurate. The best we can hope for is to be able to find holes in our personal systems of philosophy, and to try to fill them in as we go along. The best method that humankind has thus far found for overcoming our own fallibility is called Liberal Scientific Method (I like to capitalize this and many other similar terms, though many others write them in lowercase).

Basically, Liberal Scientific Method states that nobody is an authority on anything, and that all claims to knowledge are up for grabs. By "up for grabs" I mean that, for example, the Law of Gravitation is always subject to revision; thus, whenever I speak of the Law of Gravity, we do so with the understanding that all of my listeners agree that I am talking about our current understanding of how gravity works -- that is, what we know so far. If a major upheaval occurs in our current understanding of the Law of Gravitation, anything I said prior to that will be cast in light of the new understanding.

Liberal Scientific Method also prevents us from establishing Plato's official arbiter of truth. Nobody holds this position and so anybody is allowed to try to topple any claim to knowledge (specifically, any scientific theory, no matter how firmly established the rest of us think it is).

I am fond of pointing out that a humble patent clerk is as qualified to overturn the entire branch of science known as physics as Einstein was, and a graduate student is as qualified to make major contributions to astronomy as Joycelyn Bell was. Truth is, Einstein was a patent clerk when he wrote the Theory of Relativity and Bell was a graduate student when she identified the first pulsar.

Science is an ongoing, world-wide discussion. We submit our ideas to the scrutiny of others for the specific purpose of encouraging them to find holes in our ideas. I've heard that one of the greatest honors for a scientist is when one of her or his students overturns that scientist's pet theories.

Using this as my basis, I submit my ideas to public scrutiny in the form of my writings and particularly in the form of responses on this forum. Often, though, the ideas that I really have doubts about are ignored while many people write to "refute" what they erroneously think is my position (when it turns out that what they are "refuting" is not a position that I hold in the first place, but is merely their fantasy of what an atheist believes).

What happens here -- way too often -- is the equivalent of me logging on to a Deism forum and ridiculing the webmaster for believing that God throws people in Hell -- when Deists don't believe in that kind of a deity at all. It would be like me logging on to a Christian forum and denouncing their belief in reincarnation -- when Christians believe in resurrection, not reincarnation. Much of what goes on in this forum is along these lines, people ridiculing us for holding a position that we don't even hold.

The real culprits here are the theologians who deliberately misrepresent atheism in order to refute it before the popular mind set -- hoping that only a handful of their followers will bother to investigate atheism to see if what they are accurately representing the atheistic position in the first place. Unfortunately, this widespread and long-term misrepresentation of the atheistic position results in vicious bigotry against atheists. Our biggest goal, here, is to try to set the record straight. I have found that when I meet an individual who gets taken aback by my atheism, all I need to do is explain what atheism is (as opposed to what their priest told them it is) and they usually (but not always) accept me right away. The point I try to make is to explain why it is that I hold the position I do, and as soon as I explain what my position actually is, it becomes clear as to why I hold it.
 

I think the Inflationary Big Bang model sufficiently explains the existence of the universe. Not only is it so simple that it does not require that we resort to any supernatural explanation, it really has no room for supernatural intervention. The best description of this model, for the popular reader, is Victor J. Stenger's book Not By Design. I interviewed Stenger last year, and posted the transcription of that interview at:
http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/stenger1.htm

Stenger explains that as long as the total amount of energy equals zero, singularities such as a positron-electron pair can and will spontaneously manifest themselves out of nothing without violating any of the known laws of physics. The Inflationary Big Bang model posits that a singularity along these lines appeared within a total vacuum (a "true vacuum") and at that point sought to fill that vacuum. It was this act of trying to fill the vacuum which explains the "explosion" we hear about. Whenever scientists have tried to determine the total amount of energy (matter plus anti-matter) they have come very close to determining that the universe contains zero energy. Thus, no energy went into creating the universe; rather, no energy was needed to create the universe. There was nothing for a god to do, nothing that a god would have needed to do to get to where we are today.

The imbalance between the amount of matter versus the amount of anti-matter can be explained through Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, that a quantum fluctuation during the early stages of the "explosion" created an imbalance, and that imbalance carried through to become the minuscule amount of matter that we observe today (stars, planets, photons, etc.) For the most part, though, the universe is almost entirely randomness -- chaos. Only very tiny pockets of order can be observed. The fact that the universe is still expanding makes room for this order to form without being entirely assimilated into the entropy predicted by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
 

I don't know any "positive atheists" but am an atheist trying to continue the development of an approach to atheism called "Positive Atheism." My current understanding of this philosophy is contained in the piece, "Introduction to Activistic Atheism, and this piece is constantly subject to revision as we learn more. There is another concept that uses the same name, "positive atheism" (lowercase), but we are using the phrase to mean what is described in the "Introduction." Positive Atheism is not a major branch of philosophy, but merely a set of suggestions for ridding our society of the bigotry perpetrated against atheists. Thus, I wouldn't call myself a "Positive Atheist" in the sense in which we use the term, and I am not a "positive atheist" in the other sense, I am a "negative atheist" (meaning that I lack a god belief: a positive atheist, in that sense, would assert, "No gods exist).

If the universe is the result of a random quirk at the sub-atomic level, then the universe as a whole has no purpose (except that we give it meaning by calling it our home). If the Earth just happens to be at the right distance from the right star to enable life to form through evolution, then life itself has no purpose (except that we give it meaning as the only possible means for us to exist). None of this reasoning applies to the individual, who (we hope) will define and describe meaning for her or his own life, and will value life as a whole and the universe as a whole.

Aside from the meaning that we give it, I don't see any way for meaning to be ascribed either to the universe or to life. I don't see any way for it to be done, because I have yet to encounter anything resembling a creator. Only a supernatural creator could assign universal meaning to nature apart from our own individual opinions and those opinions which are common among humankind.

How the philosophy of Positive Atheism fits in to this picture is that we think it is proper and healthy to face the fact that the universe and that life have no universal meaning -- that individuals are responsible for defining and describing their own purpose as individuals, and that societies and subcultures are required (and thus allowed) to agree upon certain such descriptions.

This is no fun, for some, but we think it is wrong -- immoral -- for us to lie to ourselves by making up comfortable myths to explain the universe in such a way that we deceive ourselves into thinking that there is a universal purpose to existence. But if there is no such thing as supernatural intervention (specifically, supernatural revelation) then any description that purports to be a revelation is, in fact, the word of a human. When we admit that all descriptions are of human origin (because all meaning is assigned by humans), then we leave room for discussion, negotiation, and (hopefully) revision -- making room for constant improvement of our understanding and thus our condition.

While we will never dispute the right of individuals and groups to create and believe such myths, we will dispute those myths whenever people introduce those myths into the public forum.
 

I had a friend who was working on his Ph.D. and who always used small caps and substituted "u" for the word you, etc., because (I surmise) he had trouble learning how to type. (He boasted that he was just being lazy, an explanation which I will accept.) We have a lifetime subscriber who is almost totally blind, and who literally "blindly types into the keyboard." He then (I think) depends on his wife to read for him (or perhaps has a text reader, many of which are available for free on the Internet).

It is hard for me, sometimes, to take seriously someone who writes poorly, because so often we get letters from people who are calling us stupid or ignorant or uneducated, but the letters are barely readable. Upon further examination, we often find that the writer's grasp of logic is as impaired as their writing skills, and thus conclude that the writer is uneducated -- that is, semi-literate. My closest business associate is this way: she runs a tight ship and would not want to do business with any other, but she cannot spell, cannot cast a sentence, and knows very little about science.

Occasionally, though, we do get a letter from someone who appears to be semi-literate and thus would lack the education to discuss even the basics of science, but who actually knows the what scientific method is and how it works. I, of all people, ought to be more aware of this than I am, because as a typesetter and a copy editor, I make a little change by turning into fluent English the scratchings of lawyers, scientists, and the like, who are masters in their profession but who did not bother to study English.

I have no formal education, but have always loved to write. I could turn a tale like nobody else in Middle School. Only recently (fifteen years ago or so), I began to purchase grammar handbooks designed to be used by people who have English as their second language (I recommend these books above all others for adults who wish to learn how to write properly). As I grew in my understanding that there are a few rules but no hard-set rules, I graduated to the "big leagues" of reference books and style manuals, and have since read (and understood) the entire Chicago Manual of Style (I have read both the thirteenth and fourteenth editions cover to cover, and I even know where I disagree with their judgement on certain matters and why I disagree). It's a lot of work, though, and take practice.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: question
Date: Tuesday, January 02, 2001 7:04 AM

People should be moral because doing so makes for a higher quality of life for all.

As I said, I have no formal education, and thus never got around to studying Sartre.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: question
Date: Tuesday, January 02, 2001 5:40 PM

I stated, several different ways, that the only meaning for anything (that I know of) is the meaning that we assign it. I also tag each e-mail with a wonderful quotation from Bertrand Russell to that effect: where he says "destiny," I can easily use the word "meaning" because "destiny" is what I think of when I hear the word "meaning." If you wish to demonstrate that the universe has meaning apart from the meaning that we give to it, you'll need to come up with an entity who has described this meaning -- a god, if you will.

I care about others, and I don't know why I do this, I just do. Sometimes this baffles me, because when I take a cold, hard look at my life, I think I'd rather spend the rest of my time working. I certainly am not looking forward to the next time I fall in love! But part of me cares about others and wants to relate to people in whatever way possible.

I think this is a product of evolution, as we, the bonobo, the troglodyte pan, and the Neanderthal all have a common ancestor. The bonobo is a very loving species, and the Neanderthal was quite peaceful as far as we can tell. The troglodyte pan has all the war-like characteristics that baffle us in ourselves, and all the playfulness, too. The Homo sapiens spends more of its lifetime as a helpless child than any other species of fauna, and thus nurturing traits are necessary for survival in humans -- that is, if we aren't nurturing, our offspring are not likely to survive long enough to procreate. That's just the way it is, and is the way I am: I didn't choose to be this way, but having lived this way, I wouldn't want to be any other way.

As for suicide, I have endured an acute depressive disorder my entire life. I have twice been trained in suicide prevention, telling them that I wanted to work the hotline but in reality wanting to gain a perspective on my own dilemma. As far as I can tell, the urge to commit suicide is not unlike the urge to get loaded. Rational Recovery's Jack Trimpey taught that the urge to get loaded is a primordial, predatory appetite, not the result of any neocortical activity, but coming more from the midbrain. In other words, the addicted person is of two minds about using drugs: the "it" knows only desire, and the "I" knows better and is hallucinating the desire for drugs.

This is very similar to what I learned in suicide prevention, where we learned that the suicidal person is of two minds. We learned how to get in touch with the part that wants to live, and get that part of the person to realize that she or he wants to live. Now, after having been trained in Trimpey's method and applying it to my suicidal ideation, I have since endured, at times, daily urges to end it all -- but I now know how to interpret those urges and what to do with them. These urges, in me, always manifest themselves as a hallucination that life is pointless (rather than, "Oh, gee, I think I'll go suck a .44 today!"), so I must, on a daily basis, remind myself of the meaning that I have given to my life and of the purpose that I now give it. The fact that I even do this, the fact that I ever resisted suicide in the first place and have continued to do so to this day, demonstrates to me that the tendency for me to attach meaning to my life is either innate or learned at a very young age. I think never having grasped a concept of an afterlife also helps in this respect.

As for Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, I supported it. This is not because I would ever avail myself of it (I don't think I would), but because I think it should be under control and even studied, so people can know the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods for ending one's life when it's time to go and when the pain gets to be too much. Also, should abuses occur, the culprits involved should be held accountable for abusing the process; the process itself ought never be taken to the bar, but ought to be as natural to us as amputation.

I have always thought Sartre would be quite interesting, but the study of philosophy can take any number of paths. George H. Smith pointed out that philosophy is not a culture-wide endeavor, like science, where once we learn something the entire community knows that fact forever and can use it. Philosophy, he says, is re-learned by each student of philosophy and is very personal.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.