• Hello Skeptic Ink Network

    First of all I would like to thank both Ed and John for inviting me to Skeptic Ink and giving me this opportunity. I would also like to say hello to my new colleagues and fellow SINners. I have been reading much of the content authored here and it is both impressive and thoroughly enjoyable, so to be invited to join such a group of talented people is a privilege and I am deeply grateful.

    Now a little bit about me. My name is Peter Ferguson and I currently reside in Galway, Ireland. I have a BA in History and Classics, and an MA in Classics. I am now in my first year of my Ph.D. researching the interactions between pagans and Christians, specifically in North Africa during the Vandal occupation.  I am a member of Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), and an active member of Humanists West, an affiliate of the HAI. I am also the founder and current Auditor of the Atheist Humanist Society in the National University Ireland, Galway.

    I have been very lucky not to of had a deeply religious upbringing. I was reared a Catholic and went through the rigmarole of baptism, communion and confirmation. However, I don’t think I ever truly believed. My earliest memory of religion was being forced to go to church every Sunday and of how boring it was. I used to hide behind the couch every week to avoid it, but as I never changed my hiding place I was quickly found every week; I wasn’t a very bright child. My first doubts regarding religion occurred when I was 8; I was chastised by my teacher for asking a priest where God came from and didn’t accept the answer of “he was always there”. Apparently this had “embarrassed” my teacher and I should simply accept what I was told without question. I treated religion rather flippantly from then on, as a chore that simply must be endured. My parents finally gave me the choice of whether or not I would like to continue to go to mass at the age of 13 and I haven’t stepped foot in a church since, bar official occasions such as weddings and funerals.

    Even though I wasn’t religious in any manner, I would still call myself a Catholic, simply because I never thought about the topic and mindlessly accepted the status quo, (an attitude I fear many among my generation have). This persisted until I started attending college and I began to realise religion’s disastrous influence on humanity, both past and present. I then started to identify with the atheist label and became more vocal in my criticism of religion. I began articulating my criticism and set up a blog as an outlet and established the Atheist Humanist Society in NUI Galway, both in the hope that it will encourage people to consider their beliefs and question the role and function of religion in today’s society.

    On my banner at the top, the fellow on the left is Socrates. I feel he accurately represents a necessary aspect of scepticism. Socrates recognised the limitations of his knowledge and his fallibility. Being a sceptic does not simply mean being sceptical of others, our scepticism must be turned inwards lest we become cynics and fundamentalist regarding our ideals. Listening and receiving the criticism of others is the best way to grow and learn. As far as I am concerned, the ability to self-analyse and admit when you have erred is one of the most important aspects of scepticism.

    On the right is Thales of Miletus, one of the first philosophers to attempt to explain the world and our universe in terms of human reason rather than myth, which is unfortunately something we are still trying to do over 2500 years later. There are no gods and only through human reason can we progress as a species. Atheists recognise that humans are the only force capable of accepting the responsibility of providing for the welfare of humanity.

    Well that is enough about me, now to tell you what to expect from this blog. I will, on occasion, deal with current events as they are related to scepticism and atheism, specifically UK and Irish atheism. I will also write about pertinent aspects of my activities with the university society and the HAI. However, as a Classicist I would like to write about historical events and important pieces of literature which pertain to atheism and scepticism. I will discuss ancient Greek philosophers, pagan authors, ancient ideas of deism and atheism, naturalists, early Christian apologetics, and hopefully as my studies progress I will delve into some biblical criticism. I see my participation in Skeptic Ink as long term, and I hope it turns out as such.

    One final note, Skeptic Ink has a very good and fair comment policy which I will enforce here. I openly encourage discourse and criticism; however, I will not accept childish name-calling of myself or other commenters. If I ever feel the need to delete a comment for such behaviour I will always explicitly state why.

    If this sounds anyway interesting and you would like to follow me, here is my Facebook and Twitter, I will also add a subscribe by email option soon when I figure out how to.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Humanisticus

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    • Mike Compton
    • Reasonably Faithless

      Hello Peter, great to have you on board! I’m very much looking forward to reading your posts. Cheers, James.

    • Chas Stewart

      A classics skeptic! There simply aren’t enough so I’m very excited about this.

    • Terrific to have you, sir. I look forward to reading more.

    • Welcome fellow SINner!

    • It’s wonderful having you here Peter!

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Welcome!

    • David Marshall

      Hi, Peter!

      Let me ask you a question. Without googling, do you know who the following people are? And do you know what their role in history has been?

      (1) Benjamin Lay
      (2) Xu Guangqi
      (3) William Carey
      (4) Hong Rengan
      (5) George Muller
      (6) King Alfred (OK, easy one)
      (7) Timothy Richard
      (8) Mary Slessor
      (9) Benigno Aquino
      (10) Rudy Bridges

      Thanks! — David

      • May I ask why you are requesting such information? Is this some form of test of my knowledge?

        • David Marshall

          Yes, sort of. I’m intrigued by some of the things you say in your autobiography, since they resonate with some issues I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. The fact that you’re historically educated makes this especially intriguing to me.

          • Historically educated yes but to the extent of classical antiquity. None of the people on your list fall within that subject matter. I think this pretty much answers your question. Although I know of some of those on your list, my knowledge is limited and certainly not strong enough to ever write about them. Any pieces of literatue or person which I will be writing about will have been written/lived prior to the 6th century AD

            • David Marshall

              OK, thanks for your honest response.

              What caught my eye was your remark about “religion’s disastrous influence on humanity, past and present.”

              That seemed to imply that even as a young college student, you knew enough about the historical influence of religion in general, or Christianity in particular, to make such a judgement. From your response, as well as from the nature of the case (young college kids can’t really know much history), to be honest, I doubt that was so.

              As a teacher myself, I’m perhaps inclined to hold your teachers responsible, since I’ve seen a lot of that going around.

            • See that is completely different. Not having sufficient knowledge regarding certain individuals in a given list is completely different than having knowledge in historical events. It is best not to confuse the two.

              And yes I know quite a bit about religion’s influence throughout history and present day. I can say with much confidence that humanity would be much better of without it, especially monotheism.

            • David Marshall

              Sorry, if you don’t know at least half of the people on this list, what they accomplished, and what inspired them to accomplish it, you are not now, nor were you then, anywhere near knowledgable enough to make any such generalization.

              Don’t take that as too harsh a criticism. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone is. If I were asked, for instance, “Has religious Taoism had an overall positive or negative effect on Chinese history?”, I would be flailing to answer — still less religion in general. And I suspect I’ve been studying this stuff longer than you have.

            • David Marshall

              But let me ask, this time more generally: what convinced you that that was the case?

            • David Marshall

              Sorry if I’m putting you on the spot, here. But you seem like an intelligent and nice enough young man (don’t mean to be patronizing, but I am probably the age of most of your professors), but who has not yet thought very critically (as you recognize the need to, fortunately) about his own world view.

              As I said, I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, so I found your comments interesting, in some cases ironic. I found it interesting enough that I asked a bunch of Christians about the same 10 people I mentioned above. Then I went ahead and posted a blog about your OP and the conversation we’ve had.

              http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/12/anti-christian-brain-washing-in-college.html

              I answer your questions in that longish post. But to reply briefly here, sure I know of religious wars (by your definition) that precede monotheism — lots of them, and so probably do you, if you think about it a little. And yes, I can also think of wars that Christianity stopped — though that’s not the best method of historical reasoning, in this case.

            • I am unfortunately heading away soon for a few days. Celebrating the new year away from home. So I will not be able to read (in detail) nor reply for a few days. But will do so when I have returned.

            • I do not need to know the acts of individuals to analyse the overall impact of religion. I have no doubt many Christians (and religious people for that matter) have contributed significantly to humanity. However, for religion to be deemed a positive influence then the positives must outweigh the negatives. And the negatives include but are not limited to,

              Countless religious wars,

              Genocides,

              Genital mutilation,

              Subjugation of women for almost 2000 years, and still ongoing,

              Subjugation of homosexuals for 2000 years and still ongoing,

              Inquisitions,

              Massive child sex abuse cover-up,

              Bigotry and racism on a grand scale,

              Scientific repression,

              I will stop there, I could go on for quite a few pages but I think my point is proven. For anybody to claim religion is a good thing, you must list positives which outweigh the negatives that I have listed (which is an extremely abridged list). However, you simply can’t point to a Christian who has done a good thing as evidence. There must be a clear pathway between their religious belief and their deeds. I have identified such pathways for list above. I have not, nor will I ever evidence actions done by a person as proof of the adverse effects of religion if that religion was not the motivator for such actions. The same should be applied when proving the positives of religion, their must be a clear pathway between the believers faith and their actions.

            • David Marshall

              Peter: If you don’t know the positives (and you don’t, or you would have known who these people were), how could you have possibly weighed the positives against the negatives?

              By your own criteria, you could not possibly have done what you claim to be necessary, and have not done that, yet.

              And no, mouthing old humanist talking points does not “prove your point” in the slightest. In fact, I strongly suspect a little inspection would prove a certain ignorance on your part about some of the episodes you name.

              For instance, you mention “countless religious wars.” (Whatever “religion” means, we haven’t touched on that important question, yet.)

              By your own criteria: has Christianity (say) started more wars, or stopped them? Have you even so much as considered the second question?

              What historical evidence can you offer that, say, there would have been fewer wars without Christianity, than there have been with it?

              Do you know that primitive tribes sometimes see 30% death rates from tribal warfare among men, even before they’ve so much as seen a church steeple?

              I assume you’ve read Herodotus. Do you blame the constant warfare he records, on monotheism as well?

            • I never said I didn’t know who any of these people were. True I don’t know who some are, but I merely said it wasn’t my expertise so I would not be able to write in great detail. Now if you deem their actions and the results of these actions to be relevant to the topic then how about you evidence them. No need to go through them all, but just those deemed most significant in your eyes.

              Religious war simply means a war which is caused or justified by religion. These are obviously not always black and white. Of course war exists without religion, it would be daft to assert otherwise. There are many causes to war, religion is one of them. This also answers your question regarding Herodotus, no the warfare described is not caused by monotheism, nor polytheism either. Actually, can you point to one religious war prior to monotheism? I can’t.

              If you want to argue that Christianity has prevented more wars or any wars for that matter, could you at least point to a one or more where it demonstrably has?

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