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Should Atheists Support Obama’s Current SCOTUS Pick?

Last night, Obama made his pick for the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens. His pick is Elena Kagan, the current Solicitor General. Is it a good pick? Should we as atheists be supporting her?

Earlier today I wrote an article of the Examiner page talking about Elena Kagan’s record on church/state issues. It is mixed and she has a reputation of being a moderate. It is still too early to tell whether or not we as a community ought to support her. Many atheists will not support her simply because of politics. Believe it or not there are actually right wing Republican atheists who will not support any nominee Obama puts forward.

But for the more liberal minded atheists (which is most of us), I still a not convinced she is the right choice. It seems that Obama just wants the Republicans to vote for his pick so he can pat himself on the back for being bi-partisan.

As I wrote in the Examiner article, I fear she would reverse Judge Crabb’s position on the National Day of Prayer and rule against us on other issues of separation of church and state.

Please weigh in and let’s have the discussion.

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  • Steve

    I don’t know enough about how she might vote on the court because she doesn’t have that much of a record. I don’t think her arguments as Solicitor General won’t give too much of a view of how she might rule because it’s the job of the Solicitor General to represent the view of the govt. not his or her own view on the issue.

    I supported the confirmations of Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayor. But I knew more about their rulings in cases.

    Even though I have a few worries, I have no real reason to oppose the nomination. And people with disperate views as Obama, Ted Olson, have high opinions of her. However I think she should be questioned more vigorously than the others to try and determine her viewpoints. But as of now I guess I support her confirmation

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    I believe there are two relevant questions here: (1) is she qualified to serve on the court, and (2) is she sufficiently liberal to help shift the balance of the court. #2 is the one that I have reservations about. I am tired of the moderate crap and ready for a real liberal on the court.

  • Peter

    The way it’s going with those two disagreeing you can envision the future. There will be the The OneTrue Atheist Church. The Reformed Atheist Church. The Only True Atheist Church. PZ Myers Atheist Church. The Atheist+ Feminist Church. And, of course, Ted Ham’s send money, lots of cash. to defeat these demonic atheist churches. Get real, what a farce.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t think most atheists care that much and that is the real lesson of these “atheist churches.” Sure people will show up for the novelty of it, but after a few months, only a very few will stay and it will just be a slightly more entertaining meetup.

  • Michael R

    Sunday Assembly is way different to any usual atheist or humanist group. Way different. Sanderson is a firecracker. His aim seems to be more on having a feel-good and uplifting experience. That’s a whole dimension that is polar opposite to most existing groups. SA is not my cup of tea, but maybe it will appeal to the hipster crowd. Each to his own.

  • Harry

    Some in the assembly are not strict atheists. That galls many who are “atheists” since theirs is a “belief”. Just like religious zealots of all types they excoriate those who don’t share their view. These folks don’t seem to like anyone who is not militant. It seems to me, any group actually thinking about the existence of god is a plus to the race. It’s a shame we who wonder don’t embrace each new group entering the discussion instead of feeling threatened. Maybe that’s the rub. Atheists don’t wonder anymore. Like many, they “know” what’s true without any more proof than a person of faith. Lack of proof of a god is not the same as proof that none exists.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      Militant? Are there really atheists showing up at these Sunday Assemblies with guns? I know Lee Moore isn’t.

      Your comment is a bunch of fail all rolled up into one. When the Sunday Assembly was created, it was promoted as an “Atheist Church.” This got a lot of people who wanted to identify as atheists interested in it. It seems however that the people running the “atheist church” were afraid to use the “a-word.” Many atheists use the a-word because we want to break the negative stereo-type that people like you have. We want a place where we can express our wonder and joy as vocal atheists. This is why people like Lee Moore joined Sunday Assembly and this is why he and others left.

    • Tim Tian

      Excuse me. We don’t know. You do (because goddidit). Absence of evidence is Evidence of Absence. Extraordinary claims require Extraordinary evidence. We are the ones who wonder. Thank You Very Much.

  • Harry

    When I say militant, I don’t mean armed, I mean aggressive and intolerant. No one wins an argument starting with the phrase, “Listen idiot”.
    I am for all intents an atheist but when I try to speak to a person of faith, I can’t hope to have an impact by speaking in a hostile manner about primitive beliefs. I want to have an impact and not see an impasse. This is the situation in the congress. No one can search out the source of their opponents’ positions and so they yell at each other and get no where.
    We need to chip away at the power of the religious right not win in one battle. That’s why I’m unhappy at the negative attitude toward the sunday assembly. They can help but not if the people who call themselves Atheist with a capital A disparage them.
    Atheist is no bad word in my mind. It is a subset of that group who I’m unhappy with; those who rant instead of working slowly and subtly to persuade.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      First, I don’t recall calling anyone an idiot. Second, if by militant, you didn’t mean armed, what do you call armed religious people? Do you see why I have a problem with equating non-violent atheists with very violent religious people? I’m sorry, but the term “militant” can be accurately applied to many religious believers and yet you use this term to describe non-violent atheists in the same way. I take issue with this. Stop doing it!

  • Harry

    A fair point. The term is excessive. My point in general remains though. Unfortunately, though you may not have called a person of faith an idiot, I have heard a significant number of atheists do just that. In fact, I and people like me have been called cowardly for labeling myself agnostic. The tendency for people to shout down opponents in not limited to theism. But this topic certainly gets peoples blood boiling and name calling on both sides is wide spread.
    By the way, I share your concern that there are too many gun wielding people of faith and the notion that a higher law justifies violence. This is why I’d like to persuade people to change and welcome any group including the sunday assembly who might contribute toward that end. Let’s ratchet down the acrimony.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      “Agnostic” isn’t a very descriptive term. As a point of fact, no one knows so we are all agnostic. The question is not about knowledge, but about belief. Do you believe in a deity(s) or not. If the answer is no, then you are an atheist. If you lack a belief in deities, then why don’t you say so? My point here is that religious believers tend to get offended by someone labeling themselves as an atheist. But they tend to view those who avoid that term as someone who might someday believe as they do even if they can’t present any actual evidence. So terms like “agnostic” are less offensive to them. But if enough people were honest about their lack of believe, then the lack of believe would be less offensive to religious believers and religious believers will start to become more tolerant of atheists.

      Let me focus on that second part a moment. Just like with the gay community, intolerant people became more tolerant when they realized that they actually already knew gay people. When you label yourself as an atheist to theists, they will start to humanize you and become more tolerant of those who lack belief in deities. Studies have also shown this. Currently atheists are the most distrusted group in America (actually behind rapists), but when religious believers began to realize that they already knew many atheists, they were shown to have a more positive opinion of atheists as a whole. This is why some people have argues that we should be more open about labeling ourselves as atheist.

      However, we also have to keep in mind various situations. There are times when even I avoid the “A” term because I don’t want to offend the far too easily offended. I sometimes tell people that I am a Humanist, which is also true. After that softens them up a little bit, I might go further and talk about why I don’t believe in any deities. If the conversation goes well, I will push it further and explain to them why they shouldn’t believe in any deities either.

      I am a very vocal atheist and when I hear any non-violent atheist being equated to a violent theist, it really pisses me off. You would be hard pressed to find a “militant” atheist in America these days. But most fans of Duck Dynasty tend to be pretty militant theists. That is why I felt the need to correct you on this point.

  • Harry

    I see your reasoning. I’m not sure how to respond. I think there would be something to the idea if people on both sides weren’t disparaging each other. Ultimately, I’m after dialog and the approach you’re advocating doesn’t seem to be getting us there.

    I must say I have a problem with the idea of stating what one believes in. This is an aspect of what I see as a problem with people of faith. They “believe” in something without proof. I am an engineer and must withhold an opinion when there is lack of proof. For all my feeling that people of faith are incorrect, I know that there will be many things we will know in 10,000 years that we have no knowledge of now. What those things might include is anyone’s guess. I don’t think it’s dishonest to withhold judgement when there is so much yet to learn. I’m not suggesting that any of the world’s religions is likely to be proved correct. I just feel that it’s presumptuous to jump to conclusions.

    By taking this approach, i think I’m regarded as less confrontational by the people I speak with who believe in a deity. Once these folks get in a conversation with a person with that stance, they may bring some analysis to their own position instead of just “believing” without proof. Critical thinking is the key to dislodging irrational blind belief from the race.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      I don’t disagree with you on that. But if someone asks me if I believe that Elvis is still alive, I don’t tell them that I don’t know or that I can’t know or that I am undecided. I tell them, no I don’t believe that. Can I say that he isn’t with 100% certainty? No, but I can say that it would be pretty improbable and until some evidence is presented, I lack belief in that particular claim. Why should my response to Christians about their deity be any different?

  • Harry

    I think the analogy breaks down; at least for me. You and I are discussing existence, the universe and the like. If we are correct, you and I, what we see is what we get. There is nothing but atoms and energy. But here we are, a portion of the universe, a collection of its atoms and joules of energy, discussing the universe. In a very minor way, the universe is then self aware. It thinks about itself. It manipulates itself. If it can do so on any level, even a very insignificant one, couldn’t it do so on a grander level? Even though I have no evidence of it, I hold this as a possibility that can’t be ignored. The details of christianity, islam or whatever feel unlikely to hold water but I can’t say with the certainty with which you know elvis to be dead that there is nothing greater. Who can guess the machinations of such an entity. Again, the idea that we won’t know things in the long future that would astonish us if we knew it now, is something I can’t embrace at all.
    I don’t really think about such an entity in my day to day life. I don’t embrace it at all. It’s not that I believe in such a thing. I just adhere in an absolute way to the scientific method. Proof is required. Your push back would likely be that I must hold it a possibility that elvis lives. A fair point and while in absolute terms, it may be so. He may be in hiding since I haven’t seen the body. It is a matter of small significance and I risk the assumption that he is in fact dead as I also jump to conclusions all the time on matters of small import. Philosophy is no such matter, at least for me. Very arbitrary I admit.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      First, we are not the universe! The universe is made out of atoms and energy and so are we. We are self aware, but there is no evidence that the universe is self aware. Just because we are made of the same stuff, doesn’t mean we are the same. We are made of star stuff, but we are not the universe. That seems a bit egocentric, btw.

      Second, you claim that Christianity and Islam are “unlikely to hold water” and I would certainly agree with that. However, how is that any different from any deity? It is just a bunch of made up shit that is asserted without evidence to be true. Now as I said before, it is certainly possible that it is all true, but it isn’t very probable. If you think it is, then you have to present some sort of evidence or valid reasoning at least for your case. I don’t see it. Horses exist, so isn’t it probable that Unicorns and Pegasuses might exist too? No, it isn’t. People made up those creatures based on horse mixed with other animals. People also made up deities based on our evolutionary need to see patterns and anthropomorphize things we couldn’t explain.

      If someone makes a claim about a deity existing, I am going to first ask them to provide some valid evidence and/or reasoning for their claim. I will then criticize their evidence and/or reasoning until said claim is able to withstand those criticisms. I am always asking religious believers to provide new evidence and/or new arguments for their claims and at this point in my experience I rarely hear anything that can’t be debunked with a five minute Google search or some pretty basic common sense.

  • harry

    It has been enlightening chatting with you. I’ve learned a thing or two about how to interact with folks who are similar to you. Good luck with your interactions. I hope we can both contribute in some way though we differ.