Open Thread on the Word “Atheism”… What do you Think?

Please read what Paul wrote on his blog about the term “atheism”. I am interested in what you all think about it. Also please read the link he has in the post, its a speech given by Sam Harris.

I am interested in what readers here think about using the word “Atheism”. Do you agree with Harris’ thesis? What is your idea if you are disinclined to follow his?

95 thoughts on “Open Thread on the Word “Atheism”… What do you Think?

  1. I’m still reading the speech, but…I’m torn. I see an importance of not being automatically lumped together with theists at every turn.  However, I also realize that in reality, you can affect people more with a gentle touch than a blunt force. 

    I guess for me it’s a bit of ego death to accept the idea of not identifying myself as an atheist, so I should probably refrain from insisting on it (Sorry if that sounds too Buddhist for anyone). 

    In any event, I definitely see his points about there being no “anti-astrologists” and such.  If we really don’t believe in the supernatural, why stand in the spot that has been especially prepared for us by those we disagree with?  Discussion of religiously involved concepts and events are unavoidable in modern life, but why give the religious the signal that makes them stop listening to us? 

    You may not be able to sway that fundy at work with logic and reason, but you definitely are not going to influence the mildly credulous participants of the arguement by making a fuss over being an atheist.  To the semi-religious, moderate people around you, you just flipped a switch for them that says “as crazy as this guy is, I’m just as crazy!”  I realize this is not always the case, but it definitely happens.

    I’ll probably add several more cents worth after I finish reading the speech.

  2. Oh Good grief, Now ya’ll have gone and gotten all Souhtern Presbyterian crazy on me.

    Who cares? If you are a-theist so what? Why are people always nit picking and trying to deconstruct everything?  Seems to me like theres better stuff to do for everybody than cause an uproar about language and how its used versus the terminology and all the egos etc blah blah…

    Oh and yeah I believe in God.

  3. So what would you suggest would be a better way for us to spend our time?  I’m not going to take the bait and start taunting you, I’m just interested in knowing what your response is, since you made a point of stating your belief in god.

  4. I’m still with Jonathan Miller:

    I’m reluctant to use the word atheist to describe my own unshakable disbelief. And that’s not because I’m ashamed, afraid, or even embarrassed, but simply because it seems so self-evident and true to me that there is no god that giving that conviction a special title somehow dignifies what it denies. After all, we don’t have a special word for people who don’t believe in ghosts or witches.

    And yet, self-identifying as an atheist has its uses—mainly to cut through some crap.

  5. I’d like to point out that “none” is the fastest growing religion in the US.  Also, you can call yourselves (or not) whatever you want, but the majority controls the language so you’ll still be atheists.  Finally, Sam Harris bringing racism into it as an illustration was stupid and irresponsible.  I had to say it so don’t ask why unless you’re ready for serious thread drift.

  6. I understand what Harris trying to say, though I think he’s missing the point.  While opponents of racism weren’t called “non-racists,” they were labelled—anti-racists, equal rights proponents, civil rights advocates, freedom riders, whatever.  (That’s not counting the labels that were placed on them by the racists, of course.)

    If someone is standing as an active opponent of something else, some sort of label seems necessary, even if it’s defined by what’s being opposed (anti-fascist, anti-communist, anti-zionist, etc.).  So if someone is standing in opposition to religion or theism, using the title atheist seems reasonable.  If one is simply being a voice of reason and non-believer in god myths, no title seems necessary.

    Looked at more particularly, if I were opposed to Zoroastianism, calling myself an anti-Zoroastrian would be both accurate and legitimate.  (It might be better if I were “pro” something, but that’s another part of th discussion.)  If I didn’t believe in Zoroaster but didn’t really care except insofar as those Zoroastrians kept blowing their celebratory horns in the streets every night at midnight, I would probably wouldn’t care for the title.

    So if by “atheist” one means an opponent of theism, that seems reasonable as both epithet and sobriquet.  (“Anti-theist” might be better, but Harris would likely have the same objections.)  If by “atheist” one means an opponent of the irrational acts committed by some theists that directly affect you, it’s probably less appropriate and, as Harris suggests, misses the point.

  7. Thank you all for repsonding, hopefully I will get more responses. I really would like to see what everyone thinks. For those of you disagreeing with Harris, do you really think applying a label to a group of people accomplishes anything? I seem to think that it’s just another way to split up and classify people to show their differences in a bold way.

    But in the same respect, I am still up in the air on this one. I guess I am sorta with Elwed, if it cuts through the bullshit…

  8. do you really think applying a label to a group of people accomplishes anything?

    Not on a deep, lasting and meaningful level to anyone worth caring about, no

    There are far more important things about a person. I am against categorization of people anyway

  9. A Philosophy major that I looked up to when I was just starting college informed me that it was just as arrogant to say that there is no God as to insist in the existence of God.  To this day, I’m not 100% sure that I agree with him, but since then I’ve stuck doggedly to my label of “agnostic”.  When it (rarely) comes up in conversation, I usually just say, “I don’t believe in God.” and skip the label entirely.  But, then, I’ve never been much of a team player…

    I don’t know who it was who said, “The words ‘I am’ are powerful.  Be careful how you use them.  The thing you’re reaching to claim has a way of reaching back to claim you.”  Maybe there’s an element of that in my avoidance of labels.  My lack of faith in any deity or supernatural being does not define me half so much as a sense of fair-mindedness—the idea that we are born with a basic equality.  And the us-and-them mindset of nearly every faith does not square with that basic precept.  In fact, it nearly always (in practice, if not on paper) does everything in its power to create a “country club” mentality where the practitioners create the spiritual gated community.  If the practitioners have the upper hand, then the caste system spills over into the real world.  And a whole lot of misery ensues.  And so I reject the notion of a God who predicates her/his favor on this system, along with the rest of the baggage that logically follows.

    I won’t claim that the caste system will disappear if religion suddenly evaporated.  But it would give human beings one less culturally acceptable reason to cheat, snub, demean, hate and kill one another.  And I don’t see any downside to that.  Human goodness will not wither for lack of a Sky Daddy.

    I suppose that trying to live a life that minimizes the negative impact on our fellow travelers to the grave and trying to leave this soggy little jewel of a planet a bit better than we found it is the best one should presume to.  History is not exactly rife with gentle revolutions, after all.  Which is precisely the problem with nearly all “isms” that spring to mind within five or ten seconds. 

    Even in my firebrand atheist days, I never considered it incumbent upon my rejection of God to explain every last thing in the Universe.  I don’t know why so many non-believers let themselves be baited that way.  Reason/Empiricism is still busy with its homework.  Supernaturalists just pulled a self-serving answer out of their ear.  The comparison is not even apples-to-basketballs.  And so I’ve never felt obliged to pit explanation against explanation.

    I will argue with Harris in his implicit defense of Christian extremism by comparing it to the barbarity committed in the name of Allah.  Dude, who the @#$%^&* you think is propping up most of support left for the war in Iraq?  If these were fellow Christians, do you honestly think we would have even tip-toed our combat boots into that quagmire?  Who is pandering to the evangelicals right now?  The same ones clamoring to blow the $#!+ out of Iran because they’re even more Muslim. 

    Coincidence?  @#$%^&* no.  Given the inflitration of the military by the religious right and the…ummm…“affiliations” of those calling ths shots, you can connect the dots with your eyes closed.  The stink alone is enough to guide you.

    So grow up, Harris.  Combine big money, big guns and the reality-proof world-view of theocrats, and you have the political equivalent of the perfect storm.  And we won’t seen the end of the damage for decades.  So let’s skip the “tu quoque” nonsense.  Let’s call out the Christian Right for the war crimes that have been committed by its anointed political contractors (i.e. the Bush Regime). 

    But I do share Harris’ hope of a future when claiming to speak for a supernatural entity will draw the same hairy eyeball as claiming to speak for your teddy-bear.  I disagree with the tactic of flying under the radar, going to ground.  I won’t thump my chest and declare my agnosticism to all simply because I find that just as distasteful as conspicuous religious displays.  But neither will I hide it nor apologize for being agnostic.  And, IMO, it’s putting a face to the label that changes people’s attitudes.  Far more so than books or speeches. 

    To anyone who waded through the above:  Thanks for listening to my rambling rant.

  10. do you really think applying a label to a group of people accomplishes anything?

    “Labels” for “groups of people” are called “language.”  It’s grouping of ostensibly like or similar or comparable things together under a common adjective or noun.  The comparison may be accurate, it may be not, it may be useful, it may be not. 

    On one level, we are all different.  But if we are to make any sort of sense of the world, we have to do some level of grouping, while bearing in mind that the more we generalize, the more exceptions remain.

    So, is it useful to call a group “atheists”?  Is it useful to call them “Christian”?  Is it useful to call them “Americans” or “Democrats” or “men” or “war mongers” or “idiots” or “police” or “artists”?  Certainly you can argue what the definitions are, and who should be inside the group and who should not, but grouping and association is a basic part of our cognition.  The best we can do is remember that even though a person is an “X,” they are also a wide variety of other things, and that even our definition of “X” may be arbitrary or unuseful or counterproductive under some circumstances.

  11. I call my self a humanist or a secular humanist. Since I was raised a Unitarian in a fellowship where our “pastor” was one of the authors of the Humanist Manifesto it seems natural to me to identify as a Humanist.

    If someone asks does that mean I’m not a Christian, what I say depends on if I want to piss them off. If I don’t, I generally respond no, I’m not. If I want to poke them a little, I respond with, no, I’m not superstitious.

  12. Of course labels function differently when applied to groups than to individuals.  As a Humanist (a much more complicated term than atheist) I am against religious fanaticism but nothing in my atheism requires me to be against religion generally.  An atheist and an anti-theist are different.

    If we don’t use the atheist label, it won’t go away, just as “homosexual” didn’t go away when “gay” was adopted by homosexuals.  But listen to Christian radio some time: they don’t ever say “gay” they always say “homosexual” and they’ve made that word into a container for a lot of assumptions.  They own the term now. 

    If we use the word “atheist” and take care for it in that usage, we can have some input to its culturally accepted meaning.  It is simple and descriptive, and worth hanging onto.  If we abandon it, it won’t go away, it will become the exclusive property of the nastier religionists.

  13. Excellent points, DOF, ‘speshly the group vs. individual labels. 

    I guess I’m not too worried about the “ownership,” m’self.  Slinging the term “Commie Pinko” doesn’t seem to pack the same punch it did during its Cold War glory days.  Unless you’re Stephen Colbert, you just look like an idiot when you use it nowadays. 

    It’s already becoming rankly clear (as the zeitgeist sees it, IMO) that faith takes down more buildings than it ever moved mountains.  I hope and trust this signals the end of the blank check for American Christianity. 

    But while I won’t apply the term “atheist” to myself, I wouldn’t presume to advise anyone not to use it if s/he feels that it describes her/his belief system.

  14. Dictionarys and common usage define words. I am both an atheist and I believe in god, A god, not like the one the Vatican uses for profit and power. The god I see would not have profiteers scamming people who are looking for the metaphyical and spiritual holes in themselves and being draw into the worlds oldest pyramid scam, before they can realize for themselves that all they need to do to hear what god is saying, Is to open ones eyes, see what is presented. You will know whats just and good, and whats wrong. Atheism is not not believing in god. Atheism is not believing in their version of it.
    If their was an Adam and Eve,God told him not to eat it,knowing Adam would. Because he gave man curisoty,
    If Moses climbed the mountain, He did not talk to god about the Ten Commandments. He had listen to god all his life. He must of been remorseful of lying about god making the tablets, But he knew it was the only way to save their lives.
    Placebos works because every cell in your body belives it will work. A man, who surrounded by others who believe god will cure him and recovers does so because every molecule in their bodies belive it will.
    the last 100 years, we have learned so much.
    I still think, we limit our thinking by preconceived lessons that start the moment we see light ,
    There’s a long way to go. Open ones eyes and ears and see and or hear. Too many coincidences.
    I know you and I can take a tree and build a house. Billions of people cant build the tree.
    The vaticans god is not.
    7.1
    Sorry if its scattered, too many discussions, too little time.

  15. cubiclegrrl- I waded through your rant, and liked it.

    To your philosophy major I would say this: it’s just as arrogant to say there are no unicorns as to insist on the existence of unicorns.  Either way, gods or unicorns, we can never know for sure.  But that shouldn’t stop us from making educated guesses and living by them.

    And while it’s impossible to unravel all the motivations that sent the US into Iraq, certain kinds of Christian belief have surely played a role.  This is what scares me about religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, and Judaism: the propensity to kill in the name of God.  And I suspect that Muslims are often seen as being more violent and ruthless than Christians nowadays because they often kill with cheap messy suicide bombs, not with nice expensive smart bombs launched from well behind the front.

    If religious people behave nicely, I have no quarrel with them, and lots of my friends are believers of various kinds.  I don’t really care what they, or anyone else, calls me:  when I’m asked what I am, I say an atheist, or a natural, or nothing, depending on my mood.  The particular labels don’t matter so much as the perceptions and dialogues that go with them: the prejudiced will make a bad word out of any name, so it doesn’t really matter which name it is.

  16. Sevenpointone, that’s a new definition of the word atheist to me. Not sure I agree with it.

    As for Sam Harris, I have a real love/hate relationship for the the man. On the one hand I agree with perhaps 75% of what he says on any given topic and then he veers off into left field and loses me. His book The End of Faith was pretty good until the last third when he got into all manner of pseudoscience and this particular essay just leaves me cold.

    Not that his argument doesn’t have a certain logic to it, but as has been pointed out by other better writers, even if we did stop calling ourselves atheists that doesn’t mean everyone else would as well. And, in all honesty, I’ve grown rather fond of the label and feel the only way to change it’s perception is to wear it proudly.

  17. I hope and trust this signals the end of the blank check for American Christianity.

    I too would appreciate that. I am tired of the idea that religious people can talk all they want about atheism, but when an atheist brings up any mention of religion suddenly they are an asshole or whatever.

    I say if you have a belief in “x” there should be no emotional attachment to “x” that keeps others from discussing it.

  18. I say if you have a belief in “x” there should be no emotional attachment to “x” that keeps others from discussing it.

    Emotional attachment to one’s beliefs is scientists must constantly watch out for and correct for.  But it shows up not only in selection bias when analyzing data, but also in riots against cartoonists.  It’s generally a bad thing.  Buddhists believe (heh!) that attachment itself is generally a bad thing.

  19. …the prejudiced will make a bad word out of any name, so it doesn’t really matter which name it is.

    And, more positively, a bad name can be reclaimed.  The Nazis singled out Jews with the Star of David; today it’s on the Israeli flag.  (Not that the flag necessarily carries a good connotation for a lot of folks in the region—but it does have a different meaning altogether.)

    Thanks for the compliment, zilch.  The Philosophy Major, last I heard, was teaching English in Israel.  And it’s been 20+ years since we had that conversation, so he may well have changed his opinion.  Adult life has a knack for that.  wink

  20. A lot of members in my family believe that it’s impolite to discuss religion or politics in public.  I think they see it as picking a fight.  I always wondered why you’d want to develop opinions without hearing as many sides as you could.  This is a great discussion, a lot to think about.

    I don’t know if I agree with Paul that “Atheist means ‘non-theist’.”  I’ve always thought with the “a-” prefix it meant without or indifferent to.  Like amoral or apolitical.

    If there were no (or very few) religious people around trying to force it on other people, I’d probably be interested in Christianity, Islam, and so on the same way I am Greek Mythology.  Unless God speaks directly to me (and he hasn’t yet) my interest in all religions would be waning at best.  Since there are religious people wanting to pass laws based on religion, censor art, avoid taxes, convert me, all the while claiming the moral high ground, I have more of an investment in it.  It’s rare when you can win an argument with a lot of religious people—when you do it’s usually when you’ve showed them the hole in their own faulty logic, as opposed to simply giving them a sound logical argument of your own.  Therefore, if I want to get religious people out of my face, I have to know a bit about most active religions today.

    Please don’t think that just because you’re religious the previous statement is aimed at you.  Many of my friends are religious.  I don’t care how you think we got here or why.  I don’t think religious=dumb or even necessarily illogical.  My problem isn’t with religious people, just the ones who feel they have an obligation to remake the world in their image.

    Also, I completely agree with ***Dave about labels being language—I’ll just add that recognizing patterns and grouping things is one of the primary components of our intelligence.  Labels in themselves aren’t bad.  However, once the group they identify gets bigger we have to get more specific and sometimes end up with a lot of messy terms: atheist, hard atheist, soft atheist, agnostic, deist, apathist, humanist, *ahem* heretic.

  21. I think the answer to this question is one of framing.  Do we want the Fundies to frame us as evil atheists?  It’s analagous to the abortion debate when the Fundies called themselves “Pro-Life”, as if the abortion proponents should be viewed as “Pro-Death”.  But they were beaten by “Pro-Choice”.  If we are atheists, we should say so, but I don’t want to be labelled as an evil being, because atheist has been “framed” as such by the other side.

    Its also how the word feminist has come to mean some (pardon me) dyke with boots.  All the liberated women I see are quick to point out that they’re not feminists, but they actually are.

    I recently “came out” as an atheist a few months ago.  I had always said I “wasn’t religious”, which, I guess, amounts to the same thing.  But actually claiming to be an atheist is kind of like crossing the Rubicon, at least for me.

    SG

  22. This may seem a bit off thread, but it relates (I hope) to the foundation of the argument, in that it addresses the foundation of religion.

    If you get the chance listen to “Old Harry’s Game”, a sitcom set in hell. Current series BBC Radio 4 Thursdays 6.30 UK time, try via listen again. 
    The current series revolves around an atheist who has agreed to write Satan’s biography in exchange for bringing her murdered to justice. She interviews the author of “The Devil Delusion” (“you’re not Richard Dawkins are you?  Because we’re under strict instructions from God that when he arrives we’re to smash his face in”) and the guy who wrote many of the OT laws, including Leviticus.  During this it is explained to her that ‘Satan’ doesn’t appear as a character pre Christ.  Satan is a Hebrew noun meaning adversary, a kind of Angel sent by Yahweh to test men’s’ virtue.  There is no devil that beguiles Adam and Eve, rebels against God, or Falls.

    The reason I bring this up in an atheism thread is what exactly are we not believing in, in the eyes of the religious? Science changes as understanding grows- the BBC recently showed ‘Atom’ a fascinating series about the evolution of sub-atomic physics.  We all understand about empirical testing, and the use of mathematics (even if we don’t understand the physics/maths itself).  The question we should be asking is “How does religion evolve, and how do the religious come to their conclusions?”  For instance, at what point did Jewish followers of Christ start eating pork. How did they decide this?  Anytime I post a response asking for answers to posts by religeous visitors here (such as the list of questions on the ‘Peanut Butter’ thread) I receive no response.

    I can see where Harris is going, and I can see the arguement. I don’t believe however that the opinions of the religeous towards non believers will change if the ‘a’ word isn’t used. It’ sthe Going One God Further thing. What, to a fundie, is the difference between a non believer (ie wrong religeon) and an athiest?  How will dropping the label will not change anything? we don’t define ourselves by the label, as a Christian or Muslim does. We don’t proclaim it. Exactly how are we going to go ‘off the radar’, unless we don’t challenge at all?  (I sometimes use skeptic, as it covers all the pseudo-science bunkum as well, but that is just a change of label, so doesn’t meet Harris’ criteria.)

    Yes, no one is ‘anunincorn’, because definition of self by belief in unicorns has never been an issue, but people did and still do define themselves as anti-racist, in contradiction to what Harris argues.

  23. I like Atheism, I think there’s lots of power and force behind the word Atheist and it spares no punches in declaring your viewpoint… you don’t believe in God or the Supernatural… you live your life by science and testable/provable things (ignoring all the bullshit from the theist crowd).

    I think it’s a lot like people who identify themselves as “Queer” or take on other labels that have been used in unfavorable ways in the past. People brand you as something and cast insults towards you for being something. Just by prettying up the name of what you stand for or pussy-footing around the issue… it’s not going to stop people from declaring you an Atheist!

    I think it’s much more direct and powerful to stand up, claim the word Atheist with solid conviction and try to sway people to seeing your rational arguments… try to challenge their notions of what an “Atheist” is. If you call yourself something else, sure at first people might be more receptive to you but once they discover your (dis)beliefs they’ll likely just call you a “sneaky Atheist” or maybe just think you’re too chicken-shit to hop in the line of fire!

  24. Thriceberg- opinion is divided as to whether the “a-” prefix means “un” or “not”.  For instance, the OED defines atheism thus:

      atheism  Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.

      disbelieve 1. trans. Not to believe or credit; to refuse credence to: a. a statement or (alleged) fact: To reject the truth or reality of.

      deny  1. To contradict or gainsay (anything stated or alleged); to declare to be untrue or untenable, or not what it is stated to be.
        2. Logic. The opposite of affirm; to assert the contradictory of (a proposition).
        3. To refuse to admit the truth of (a doctrine or tenet); to reject as untrue or unfounded; the opposite of assert or maintain.
        4. To refuse to recognize or acknowledge (a person or thing) as having a certain character or certain claims; to disown, disavow, repudiate, renounce.

    This definition thus includes both weak (not believing in god) and strong (believing there is no god) atheism.

    While it’s an interesting point in classical linguistics, language evolves; and we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to definitions based on how people spoke two thousand years ago.  As I’ve said before, I think the difference between “weak” and “strong” atheism to be a matter of degree, not black and white: just as we can never be absolutely sure that we’re not brains in vats, we can never be absolutely sure that unicorns or gods do not exist.  But we can be pretty damned sure about some things sometimes, sure enough to bet our lives on it.

    I would bet my life, for instance, on the Sun rising tomorrow morning.  And I would also bet my life that there is no God.  Of course, fundamentalist Christians would say that I’m already betting my immortal soul on God not existing, so I have nothing to lose (sort of a backwards Pascal Wager).

    Science Goddess:  absolutely, I mean pretty damned correct.  I too would identify myself as a feminist, if that means agreeing with the core tenets of feminism: equality of women with men socially and politically (not genitalialy), and I’m certainly no dyke.

  25. Just for completeness:

    the prefix a- (an-) comes from Greek and means not, or without, and is used with other words for negation of a concept ie:

    amoral = without morals
    atom = not cut(able)
    anerobic = without air
    anaesthetic = without feeling
    atheist = without god
    anarchy = without rule
    achromatic = without color

    IMHO I see nothing wrong with the term atheist, as it describes exactly what it needs to. Trying to disguise it is just the currently polular political correctness raising its ugly head. It’s the same spiel as the creationists trying to disguise ‘creationism’ as ‘intelligent design’ – a game of semantics that can leave you looking stupider than before.

    That aside, we could consider a name like ‘Laplacians’ after Pierre-Simon Laplace “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là” – I have no need of that hypothesis. (His reply when he was asked by Napolean why God didn’t appear in his book celestial mechanics)

  26. The contention of some Christian anti-atheistic apologists notwithstanding, to the best of my knowledge the Greek atheos originally was used in the sense of “without gods”—not necessarily without any at all, but without the right ones. It wasn’t until Christianity ran rampant that Christians used it in the sense of “denial of the Christian god” and since there can be only one, denial of them all.

    In contemporary times, the simple truth is that there isn’t a universally accepted meaning of the term atheist. Some will use the term to stake out a nuanced philosophical position, others will add all the “us good theists vs. them evil atheists” baggage, and there are many shades in between. It’s a waste of time to debate whether we should accept the label unless the context is specified, too.

  27. As an ancient Greek geek I’ll second what scenter said; the a- prefix means “without”.  But I guess my main objection to trying to come up with a more palatable replacement for ‘atheist’ is I HATE POLITICALLY CORRECT LABELS and this is an attempt to create one.

    The history of politically correct labels is that they pile up; as each one accumulates more baggage it is left behind by the group to which it applies.  The baseline is moved and yet another giant distraction is born. 

    I would offer examples but the linguistic victims of Political Correctness have become non-words.  I cannot even say them without completely derailing the discussion.  So instead I offer this speech by Doctor Martin Luther King for inspiration.  There may be an example within the speech somewhere.

  28. Folks:  Just wanted to say that this has been one of the most engaging threads I’ve read in a long time, here or elsewhere.  Thanks, all, for the sheer amount of thought and self-reflection that went into this discussion.

  29. One of the problems athiests cause for themselves is the failure to stand up and say “This is wrong!”.  I’ll pause here just to let you all shout “NO! I do say such things”.

    Finished? Good. Yes we do- time and again drive by fundies here are asked questions that they have no answer to, other than to quote scripture.  However when Dawkins or Hitchins stands up and says “Look- that’s all a load of rubbish” they are attacked by other athiests, including articles in ‘Skeptic’ magazine.  We all feel that we have to treat these myths and chinese whispers of stories with respect- no matter how aggressive these idiocies are pushed.  British Media is fairly evolutionist, yet it still feels the need to put both sides of the story.  They wouldn’t do that for most looney ideas-fairies, time cube etc, but as soon as it makes it into a ‘religeon’ or broad following (e.g. wicca, crystals etc) suddenly it becomes somehow ‘true’, and practitioners especially ‘new age’ get on fluff chat shows.

    To quote Dawkins, abridging Douglas Adams

    If someone votes for a party you dont agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like;  everybody has an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it.  If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down, you are free to have an argument about it.  But on the other hand if somebody says, ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you have to say I respect that

    The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking, ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ But I wouldn’t have thought, ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think, ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say, ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it.’
    Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas, but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

    (p184 “A Devil’s Chaplain”, Richard Dawkins- any errors are due to the OCR.)

  30. Catching up on comments here and there …

    Duckhugger:  I like Atheism, I think there’s lots of power and force behind the word Atheist and it spares no punches in declaring your viewpoint… you don’t believe in God or the Supernatural…

    Actually, that’s an interesting question:  does atheism imply, beyond disbelief in god(s), disbelief in all the supernatural?  If so, that would indicate that maybe another word would be more appropriate.

    It may well be that’s a universal amongst atheists (assuming the label is that monolithic), but I suspect there are some folks who don’t believe in god(s) but believe in unprovable supernatural phenomena of some sort.  (And that’s beyond the issue of, say, non-theistic religions like Buddhism).

    Duckhugger:  … you live your life by science and testable/provable things (ignoring all the bullshit from the theist crowd).

    A pity the label doesn’t mean you ignore all the bullshit from all crowds—that would be even more admirable.

    I suspect, to some degree, that some atheists are less nuanced philosophers who have done a thorough rational analysis of all ideologies and belief systems around them as folks who are offended by the venality, irrationality, and hypocrisy of the dominant culture—“the Man” in 60s jargon—and have latched onto atheism as something with at least a passing rational basis and something that screams quite profoundly in the face of theists (and, more importantly, Christianists).  The same rationality, the same not going into the mainstream crowd, doesn’t always follow into other areas (or, worse, gets transformed into “I don’t slavishly accept the opinions of the mainstream crowd, I prefer the opinions of this minority crowd to slavishly accept”).

    I’m not singling atheists out here—that’s a human trait, and no different from Christians, or theists, who don’t acknowledge or address the irrationality of their positions or beliefs, or how they ought to extend logically into their daily lives and actions and other arenas of thought.

    And, there are, of course, some atheists who are much more consistently rational than others. 

    elwedriddsche:  In contemporary times, the simple truth is that there isn’t a universally accepted meaning of the term atheist. Some will use the term to stake out a nuanced philosophical position, others will add all the “us good theists vs. them evil atheists” baggage, and there are many shades in between.

    Not to mention using it in the “us good atheists vs. them evil theists” baggage.

    Last Hussar:  Yes we do- time and again drive by fundies here are asked questions that they have no answer to, other than to quote scripture.  However when Dawkins or Hitchins stands up and says “Look- that’s all a load of rubbish” they are attacked by other athiests, including articles in ‘Skeptic’ magazine.  We all feel that we have to treat these myths and chinese whispers of stories with respect- no matter how aggressive these idiocies are pushed.

    For myself, I’m a lot more likely to respond positively and constructively to someone who says, “I understand you believe this, and your intentions deriving from that are good, but here’s an outcome of how you exercise that belief that has some seriously negative consequences in the world and on me, and does that seem consistent with what you want to do and be in the world?” than someone who says, “You’re a stupid idiot who believes in something as fictional as the Care Bears but with rape and torture thrown in.  In a rational world your kids would be taken from you and you’d be thrown in a zoo where intelligent people could point at you as the Neanderthal you are.”

    I think that’s a better way for theists to engage with atheists as well as vice-versa.  I think it holds true in other areas of discourse as well.

  31. I don’t understand how people are able to reach deep, believed, conclusions on an issue (religion) that we don’t know enough about to reach a conclusion on (both theists and atheists)

    Surely closing our options is the last resort used for when we hit undeniable proof, otherwise, can we afford to not be prepared?

  32. I don’t understand how people are able to reach deep, believed, conclusions on an issue (religion) that we don’t know enough about to reach a conclusion on (both theists and atheists)

    Since there are practical consequences to epistemological questions, even in the absence of proof we make ‘educated guesses’.  My best guess, based on how I understand the universe, is that there is no overriding intelligence steering it all in the Christian sense.  The universe I see is pretty darn consistent with the position I hold.  If I’m wrong, I hope that intelligence forgives honest mistakes.

  33. Assuming an omnibenevolent, omniscient deity (for the sake of argument), I would expect forgiveness of honest mistakes.  Heck, I expect forgiveness of dishonest mistakes, eventually.

  34. ***Dave, while I think I understand what your trying to say, my point was certain myths are seen as fair game for people to point out their incosistences- Virtually nobody takes David Icke seriously in his claim the Royal Family are alien lizards who are mind controlling us all, yet religeons, which are no more rational, are accorded respect.

    DoF- Sorry, doesnt work like that. It doesn’t matter how good you are, the only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to come to God, through his only begotten son Jesus Christ. Everyone who doesn’t belive, burns in hell for the rest of eternity.  Though as none of us will have bodies, and just be spirits I’m not sure how that works- the church appears to have overlooked that bit.

  35. Though as none of us will have bodies, and just be spirits I’m not sure how that works- the church appears to have overlooked that bit.

    Unfortunately, I believe there is some insinuation that we will have bodies, but I’m too lazy to look through the Bibble to find it.  I remember a bible study of Revelation that I attended where the pastor asserted that the saved and damned both will be given “perfected” bodies at the final resurrection.  He went on to say that the saved would enjoy their bodies, but the damned obviously would not.  Apparently these perfected bodies will be inconsumable but still suffer from burning (like Moses’ burning bush I guess…).  Anyway, he said this with such glee and zeal, I was taken aback even then, when I was deep in fundyism myself.

    Of course, it’s all hogwash though.  Everybody knows that only those that embrace the FSM will be allowed to enjoy the fruits of paradise.

  36. Last Hussar:  ***Dave, while I think I understand what your trying to say, my point was certain myths are seen as fair game for people to point out their incosistences- Virtually nobody takes David Icke seriously in his claim the Royal Family are alien lizards who are mind controlling us all, yet religeons, which are no more rational, are accorded respect.

    I suppose part of that may be both longevity of the tradition and the number of folks who hold it.  Which is not, I grant you, a rational basis for determining the truth, but does give some indication of why it might be polite to give it a nod before laying into its particular failings and problems.

    DoF- Sorry, doesnt work like that. It doesn’t matter how good you are, the only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to come to God, through his only begotten son Jesus Christ. Everyone who doesn’t belive, burns in hell for the rest of eternity.

    For what it’s worth, there are a number of ostensible Christians who would disagree with both halves of that proposition.  (There are also many, perhaps even most, who would agree with it, to be sure.)

    Though as none of us will have bodies, and just be spirits I’m not sure how that works- the church appears to have overlooked that bit.

    And, on the other hand, there are a number of Christians who believe in resurrection of the body as the gospel truth (and who have gotten quite vehement about it).  In fact, the Nicene Creed, one of the few nearly-universal statements of Christian dogma out there (embraced by the Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants) lists “resurrection of the body” as one of its tenets.

  37. dof: If I’m wrong, I hope that intelligence forgives honest mistakes

    That’s a safe bet so long as we’re dealing with a reasonable being.
    There’s always the chance we’re not, but I suppose nobody would be able to please it or know how, and I’d sooner go to hell if it was that way
    Given an eternity, I think it’d be reasonable eventually, but if it was a god-thing clearly something’s wrong somewhere for there to still be problems with human nature – the solutions aren’t instantaneous, and are painful, which both appear to be flaws. Also some feelings need not really exist…

  38. Given an eternity, I think it’d be reasonable eventually, but if it was a god-thing clearly something’s wrong somewhere for there to still be problems with human nature – the solutions aren’t instantaneous, and are painful, which both appear to be flaws. Also some feelings need not really exist…

    Uh…What?

  39. Why would a good god allow bad feelings to exist at all? (boredom, pain, hunger, anger, loneliness, cravings, etc)
    Something don’t fit with it all – he could’ve just made people 100% happy and never needing to do anything to maintain that happiness, but that isn’t the case-

    even boredom, the need for activity, gets in the way of this. The needs for challenge, for meaning in life, for love, all have withdrawl symptons.
    Human nature has a bad side that need not be allowed to exist by a good god.

    (if he existed) Either he isn’t 100% good, and/or he isn’t 100% powerful. 0% powerful would be non-existent completely, but you could say that god exists in the imagination of theists, and so one individual’s model of him has some >0 influence over the mind that hosts him

  40. In fact, the Nicene Creed, one of the few nearly-universal statements of Christian dogma out there (embraced by the Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants) lists “resurrection of the body” as one of its tenets

    My mistake—that’s the Apostles Creed, not the Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed only refers to the “resurrection of the dead,” though that implies some sort of bodily return.

  41. Bahamat writes…

    Given an eternity, I think it’d be reasonable eventually…

    You’d think that something eternal would have to have quite a bit of patience by now.

  42. resurrection of the body” as one of its tenets.

    I find the burial thing a bit creepy, so I want to be cremated

    but does give some indication of why it might be polite to give it a nod before laying into its particular failings and problems.

    Like Flat Earth

    Bahamat

    reasonable being

    Perhaps you should read the old testament.

  43. Les: You’d think that something eternal would have to have quite a bit of patience by now.

    You would, if it is eternal and able to change

  44. I don’t think cremation would be a problem.  Since carbon atoms migrate through the biosphere it’s likely each of us has within us some that were in the bodies of people who lived during the time of Christ.  At resurrection time, disposition of carbon atoms will be individually decided by Solomon, (after all, we have an eternity) If no agreement can be reached by two claimants, each carbon atom will be divided into one lithium and one helium atom with the helium recipient decided by coin toss.  Lithium toxicity won’t be a problem because there is no illness in heaven.  If there are three claimants, the carbon atoms will be divided into three helium-4 atoms to be shared equally. 

    Alternatively, people may not receive their original carbon atoms; the atmosphere currently contains a great deal of fossil carbon which could be distributed among resurrectees.  It is all part of God’s plan.

    That’ll keep ‘em busy for a while.

  45. DOF – great argument for re-incarnation! Has anyone read those paragraphs that are circulating with wrods taht dnot hve th rgt spelng but our human minds fill in the blanks? Something like the sightings of Mary in odd shapes of contrasting colors. We seem to have an inherent need to fill in the blanks, and any old myth will do. Once we adopt a myth, though, it becomes proprietary and part of our culture. “My God’s better than your God!” So respecting a person’s particular religion is really the same as respecting their culture and world view, even though it may have some gaping holes in it. If you put them on the defensive by disrespecting them, how can you hope to engage in meaningful dialog that may even be beneficial? Has anyone considered adeist? The label deist worked pretty well for many of the founding fathers, how about adeist to define those of us who find a belief in any deity a little suspect?  wink

  46. Last Hussar:  I find the burial thing a bit creepy, so I want to be cremated

    The whole “resurrection of the body” thing is the reason why some Christian denominations disapprove of cremation (Catholicism most prominently among them, from my recollection).

    For myself, part of me really doesn’t care (either I’ll have more important things to worry about, or won’t be in a position to worry about anything), part of me worries less about what they do with the body than jonesing for a big fancy tomb with weeping angels and lots of engraving. 

    But, then, what’s the rational basis for being concerned over what happens to one’s body after death?

  47. But, then, what’s the rational basis for being concerned over what happens to one’s body after death?

    I know that. You know I know that, I know that you know….

    Still creeps me out though, laying there, rotting.

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