Religion

"New Atheists" and Libertarians: Separated at Birth?

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Gary Wolf's November cover story for Wired, which I just got around to reading (and which Ron Bailey ably blogged about earlier), is a fine piece of journalism by many measures, and well worth reading. It's about the rise in a more militant intellectual atheism, told through profiles of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris (see Chris Lehmann's perspicacious and witty critique of Harris's The End of Faith from Reason's Jan. 2005 issue here), and Daniel Dennett (see Ronald Bailey's May 2003 interview with Dennett in the always-ahead-of-the-curve pages of, where else, Reason, here).

What kept leaping out at me was how many of Wolf's critical comments on the "new atheists" sounded very similar to complaints and critiques I often hear about libertarians of a certain stripe. A sample:

I have become a connoisseur of atheist groups—there are scores of them, mostly local, linked into a few larger networks. There are some tensions, as is normal in the claustrophobia of powerless subcultures, but relations among the different branches of the movement are mostly friendly. Typical atheists are hardly the rabble-rousing evangelists that Dawkins or Harris might like. They are an older, peaceable, quietly frustrated lot, who meet partly out of idealism and partly out of loneliness.

Still, [atheist lecturer Clark] Adams admits some marketing concerns. Atheists are predominant among the "upper 5 percent," he says. "Where we're lagging is among the lower 95 percent."

This is a true problem, and it goes beyond the difficulty of selling your ideas among those to whom you so openly condescend……

As the tide of faith rises, atheists, who have no church to buoy them, cling to one another. That a single celebrity, say, Keanu Reeves, is known to care nothing about God is counted as a victory….

……the New Atheism does not aim at success by conventional political means. It does not balance interests, it does not make compromises, it does not seek common ground. The New Atheism, outwardly at least, is a straightforward appeal to our intellect…

Ah, the travails of not having ones mind for rent, to any God or government.

NEXT: In Defense of Unhappiness

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  1. Every serious athiest I have ever known has at one time been the member of some whacked out religious group. At the same time, many of the really nutso evangelicals I know were once radical athiests. I think it is those two groups that are separated at birth. Some people just can’t keep things between the ditches and veer from one form of fanaticism to another.

  2. I’m a serious atheist, and I’ve never been a member of any whacked out religious group, although I had some wacky times in the 1990s. I would say I was generally more radical and even a bit nuts back then. I’ve mellowed in general, although I still cling to at least one other “wacky” belief, namely, libertarianism.

  3. I consider myself a libertarian and a serious atheist.

    One of the most insufferable ticks of people who hold so-called mainstream views is the reflexive dismissal of “extreme” positions. The label “fanatic” is thrown and the conversation is over.

    From a statistics point of view I guess that’s a sensible reaction. I suppose extreme views are wrong more often than not. But, hey, sometimes fanatics and whackos are right!

  4. So, what exactly is new about the New Atheism? It sounds like Voltaire, Marx, Mill, etc would fit right in, as would all the cutting-edge nineteenth-century thinkers who were certain that religious belief would disappear by the end of the milennium.

  5. “But, hey, sometimes fanatics and whackos are right!”

    True enough. There is something about extreme views that appeals to a certain type of person. Seriously, go talk to evangelicals sometime. You will be shocked at the number of them who are former radical atheists, or formerly held any number of views or engaged in any number of activities, like drug addiction, that you would think would be totally antithetical to being an evangelical Christian.

  6. My personal experience has always been that Catholicism is the most fertile breeding ground for atheists…

  7. John,

    You are right. I’m a serious atheist, and until the age of 12 I was a member of a whacked out religious group. They were called the “Catholics.” If I described to you the things they tried to make me believe in, you’d call me a liar.

  8. Richard Dawkins scares me a hell of a lot more than the biggest right wing evangelical. He argues that religous education is a form of child abuse and that the state ought to intervene to protect children from their parents’ religous views. That is a very scary concept. It is not that people are athiests. It is that athieism has moved from the private sphere to the public sphere and if the real cranks are to be believed is becoming a threat to religous freedom. The old Soviet Constitution had an article that gaurenteed everyone “the freedom from religous propeganda”. No thanks.

  9. Every serious athiest[sic] I have ever known has at one time been the member of some whacked out religious group.

    Maybe that’s the crowd you run with.

  10. Hi, I’m Jon and I’m an Atheist…

    As a former Catholic myself, I agree that the contradiction implicit in Catholicism drives many people to start questioning it.

    I suppose the main problem with the organized religions is that most of them insist on “saving me,” imposing their viewpoints and the like. If they just worshiped on their own time, things would run a lot more smoothly around here.

  11. There is a huge difference between atheism and libertarianism. If you can move the cultural mainstream to libertarianism, you get personal satisfaction and a freer society. If you can move the cultural mainstream to atheism, you get personal satisfaction. You may or may not get a freer society, but I’d put my money on “less free”.

  12. I agree with John that both evangelicals and Dawkins are a bit too attached to “positive liberty” and their own agendas for me to be comfortable with them.
    Still, between evangelicals and Dawkins, I’ll take Dawkins every time.

  13. taktix,

    I honestly have never had anyone try to save me. Perhaps I don’t give off the right vibe, but I never advertise my religious beliefs and have never had anyone try to convert me to anything. I have, however, on many occasions had atheists tell me how stupid and superstitious I was for believing in God and how Muslim fanatics who fly planes into buildings are no different that Catholics who believe the Pope has moral authority.

    No question there have been a lot of thoughtful atheists in history. Unfortunately, there seem to be few if any now. There was a time when people like Shaw or Wells or Darwin understood and respected religious belief even if they didn’t believe it.

  14. There is something about extreme views that appeals to a certain type of person. Seriously, go talk to evangelicals sometime. You will be shocked at the number of them who are former radical atheists, or formerly held any number of views or engaged in any number of activities, like drug addiction, that you would think would be totally antithetical to being an evangelical Christian.

    These behaviors are only contradictory if you leave out the obvious fact that Christianity is a religion that accepts all repentant sinners, something that cannot be said of other major religions. They always find a way to keep punishing people, no matter how repentant they are for their past misdeeds.

    My biggest problem with atheists is that so few of them are moral nihilists. When I was an agnostic, I was one because I agreed with the fundamentalists that if God didn’t exist, or probably didn’t, all “right and wrong” is whatever human beings call it today. Even today I avoid making moral decisions that aren’t informed by what I think based on scripture God’s desires would be, since I recognize that as a mere human, my personal thoughts on the matter have no authority on moral issues anymore than the next guy’s.

  15. I have been an atheist since around the age of 10 or so.

    The most involvement I ever had with religion was going to a few sunday school classes at moms episcopal church. I guess you could call them whacked out, but only compared to, say, unitarians.

    Of course my male genetic contributory unit was a christian scientist, (mary baker eddy, not the spaceships and aliens with a zenu topping folks). But I ignored him as much as possible.

    I do find myself in a Dawkinsian mood on occasion, but I stop at preventing parents from teaching religion. So long as it is peaceful, I do not care what insanity, (or sanity for that matter), you teach your kids. Of course, since mohammedism is not peaceful…that is another discussion.

    The most whaked out belief I have ever held is the is idea that I care more about me than a liberal does.

  16. Sorry, allow me to rephrase that. “My problem with most of the atheists I have encountered.”****

  17. “As the tide of faith rises, atheists, who have no church to buoy them, cling to one another.”

    This fails to note that lack of god belief is growing faster than any religion in the world today.

  18. Can we stop saying things like “most atheists I know used to be relgious” like it is some sort of pithy revelation into the motives of the atheist? Of course most atheists were religious at one time, most were born into religious families. mccleary is right on.

    Also, the idea that atheists are arrogant and condescending is dumb. You are close personal friends with the creator of the universe, with whom you converse daily, and anyone who disagrees with you is going to be punished for eternity, yet I’m the arrogant one?

    Hope that wasn’t too militant.

  19. I agree with John that both evangelicals and Dawkins are a bit too attached to “positive liberty” and their own agendas for me to be comfortable with them.
    Still, between evangelicals and Dawkins, I’ll take Dawkins every time.

    The problem with the evangelical side is that their arguments are unbiblical. The New Testament purpose of human government is to keep the peace and reflect the liberty of Christ, which is not what they advocate. All non-Christians are free under New Testament theology to remain doing whatever they want that doesn’t inflict damage on life, limb or property. Jesus Himself (Matt 10) mandated that Christians are to voluntarily accept the moral requirements of being with Him, while leaving non-Christians to remain as they are.

  20. It is not that people are athiests. It is that athieism has moved from the private sphere to the public sphere

    I propose that one should at least learn how to properly spell the word before one presumes to discuss its meaning. Is that asking too much?

  21. The real interesting fact is that virtually all people of religion were at one time atheists since we are born without knowledge of any kind

  22. Keanu Reeves doesn’t believe in God? His career alone convinced me of the existence of Satan.

  23. Also, the idea that atheists are arrogant and condescending is dumb. You are close personal friends with the creator of the universe, with whom you converse daily, and anyone who disagrees with you is going to be punished for eternity, yet I’m the arrogant one?

    This reminds me of something Sam Harris wrote:
    When scientists don’t know something – like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed – they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn’t arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

    Source: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/harris06/harris06_index.html

  24. The real interesting fact is that virtually all people of religion were at one time atheists since we are born without knowledge of any kind

    Um. That would be agnostic.

  25. Those atheists–refusing to believe in Magical Invisible Beings. What wackos!

    Wake me up when we get to the 18th century, please.

  26. Mike P,

    Not exactly. Atheism = ABSENCE OF GOD-BELIEF.

    Atheism in general makes NO claims.

    Brief survey of Greek roots:

    A = without, lack of, absence, non-

    Theos = ‘god’ (an illegitimate concept)

    ‘ism’ = suffix meaning ‘doctrine’ ‘theory’ ‘cult’ ‘system of belief’ ‘belief’

    ‘THE-ISM’ = god-belief

    ‘A-THE-ISM’ = absence of god-belief

    The two concepts are jointly exhaustive. Either one HAS a god-belief, or one does NOT have a god-belief. There is no ‘in-between’.

    The atheist has NO god-belief, regardless of the reason why this may be. All humans are born ATHEIST: human infants are born without a priori knowledge; i.e., WITHOUT ANY KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD WHATSOEVER.

  27. When scientists don’t know something – like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed – they admit it.

    When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science.

    I’m curious whether you see the obvious contradiction between these two statements from the same paragraph.

    A scientist may indeed be an atheist. But he should recognize that that is a religious stance, not a scientific one.

  28. “When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn’t arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.”

    Excuse me while I go vomit. Yes, we all know that science can prove a negative. Nothing wrong at all with saying that there is clear scientific proof that there isn’t a God. Furthermore, everyone knows no scientist is ever a beleiver.

  29. Yep, I’m a serious atheist, arrogant to the bone because I admit I don’t have the first freakin’ clue as to the origin of the Earth or the human species. I wish I were more humble, so that I could profess inscrutible knowledge of how the universe and human species came to into being.

  30. Not exactly. Atheism = ABSENCE OF GOD-BELIEF.

    Perhaps you could point me to a dictionary that says anything like that.

  31. I just got Sam Harris’ book as a gift from a friend & started reading it yesterday.

    As an atheist, I found myself offended from the beginning with his “you’re either for us or against us” attitude.

    My believer [and unbeliever] friends all share one thing in common: We all mind our own businees and we don’t bother one another. I think a couple of the Christians have made intercessory prayers for my soul, but they’ve never told me so outright.

    If they asked, I would tell them the reasons I believe there is no god, but I am certainly not going on a [whatever the atheist analogy for a crusade/jihad is] to ‘save’ them from their ‘error’.

    BTW: Don’t be too hard on those who misspell ‘atheist’. “i before e” and its zillion exceptions is always a problem for me & I think anyone who gets it wrong should be given a pass.

  32. @John: I commend you on avoiding gross generalizations. *sarcasm*

    I consider myself a serious atheist, a serious libertarian, and, alas, a former Catholic. I have never been a part of any “whacked out religious group” (unless you count the Catholic church until my confirmation at the age of 14) and often am made to feel as though I exist at the fringe of society. On the other hand, people who thought that the world was round were also relegated to the fringe at one time. I think that I’ll stick with people who remember that this is the 21st Century, thanks.

    BTW: Dawkins is not merely hard on religion. He’s hard on anyone who faithfully accepts, without evidence, assertions that lack empirical support be they religious, psuedoscientific (like, say, astrology), or political. His greatest concern, however, and the motivation for his militant stance on religion, is that he contends that moderate believers pave the way for societal tolerance of extreme fundamentalists of any denomination by making faith virtuous in its own right. It’s probably difficult to criticize their beliefs without casting some doubt on your own.

    NOTE: Article 124 of the Soviet Constitution actually says:
    – “Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
    If anything, that’s sounds like support for religion.

    As for me, I wish O’Reilly would shut up already about the WoXmas and that the Jehovah’s Witnesses would stop leaving Garden of Eden pamphlets in my storm door.

    I relish the day when I am free from religious propoganda but don’t expect things to change in my lifetime. It’s been my experience that many people would rather continue believe something that isn’t justified by reason than to come to accept something new that is, in fact, justified if it means that they must admit that they’ve been wrong all this time.

  33. @MikeP:

    It seems to me that being an atheist would actually be the lack of a religious stance. You know: a- from the Greek meaning “not” and -theist meaing “one who believes in a god”.

    And I fail to see the obvious contradiction in the two staements you note. I’m not certain that all atheists agree with all of science but, at the very least, they probably aren’t basing their opinions on something they read (or more likely, heard was written in) a particular religious text. But what do I know. I think water is wet…

  34. Mike I am sure you are able to look it up yourself however the dic is not always the best source for precise definitions, especially with something as controversial as atheism.

    When debating a topic it’s always a good idea to define ones terms and in all contexts this definition of atheism is correct both because of the etymology that I provided and the fact that atheism really is ABSENCE OF GOD-BELIEF and nothing more.

  35. Aresen:

    I agree about the Harris book. I think one reason that the “new atheists” are so hysterical is that the religious right wing is so hysterical of late (plus George W. Bush and his God telling him to invade Iraq story) that many have simply gone into war mode.

  36. MikeP, From the Princeton Wordnet Dictionary:

    atheism (a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods)

    http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

  37. Aresen;

    Yep the religious never try to impose their beliefs on others. -sarcasm

    -blue laws
    -sodomy laws
    -sharia
    -Saudi religious police
    -pro-lifers

    I could go on endlessly.

    When the American theocracy happens I’m sure your believer friends will put in a good word for you.

  38. You have got to be fucking kidding. (“the dic is not always the best source for precise definitions, especially with something as controversial as atheism.”)

    Um – Greg – as an anti organized religion atheist, I beg you to sit the next few rounds out. You’re being such a prick that you’re making me reconsider stitching a foreskin back on and playing naughty alter boy at the Cardinal’s house…

    “because of the etymology that I provided and the fact that atheism really is ABSENCE OF GOD-BELIEF and nothing more.”

    see second part of that sentence – have faith that Greg is right! No dictionary will have this definition! But he preached it to you, so it’s true!

    All hail Greg the Bunny! I am sure you can look up clips from Greg the Bunny on Youtube, but that might not be accurate, due to a conspiracy from Big Publishing. It’s far too controversial for YouTube to have accurately.

  39. The world needs more atheists, and nothing will get you there faster than actually reading the bible.

    Penn Jillette

  40. in all contexts this definition of atheism is correct both because of the etymology that I provided and the fact that atheism really is ABSENCE OF GOD-BELIEF and nothing more.

    For goodness’ sake, what is the problem with using words the way the rest of the world uses them?

    There is a perfectly good word that means “absence of God belief”, and that is ‘agnostic’, from ‘a-‘ (without) and ‘gnosis’ (knowledge, specifically knowledge of spiritual things).

    atheism:

    1a. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
    1b. The doctrine that there is no God or gods.
    2. Godlessness; immorality.

    [French ath?isme, from ath?e, atheist, from Greek atheos, godless : a-, without; see a- + theos, god; see dhes- in Indo-European roots.]

  41. Mike P.

    from the same source:

    Noun

    1. atheism – the doctrine or belief that there is no God

    2. atheism – a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods

  42. VM, I’ll admit that the second part of my sentence is weak but the overall idea to define ones terms in a more precise manner than the dic is totally valid. The dic is not always correct and commonly defines things by non-essentials (see Capitalism) so clarification and precession is often necessary for clarity and understanding.

    Case in point Wiki has a pretty good entry on the different forms of atheism and the debate regarding the definition.

    Now bow down biotch…

  43. MikeP, From the Princeton Wordnet Dictionary:
    atheism (a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods)

    That dictionary looks like it was written for computer science purposes with great computer assistance. It does not surpise me that they would provide a definition for ‘atheist’ that negates the having rather than either the belief or what the belief is in.

    I await a definition written and reviewed by experts in word usage.

  44. Amazingly, atheism can be used to mean EITHER disbelief in any gods OR lacking a belief in any gods. The former is more specifically known as strong, positive or active atheism, while the latter is called weak, negative or passive atheism.

  45. “Now bow down biotch…”

    heh!

    swat my heinie with a limp stalk of celery! call me Myrna! make me write bad checks! yeehaw! (imagine Coy Detmer’s ride ’em cowboy dance from a few years ago (think it was the dislocated elbow game))

    🙂

    awesome!

  46. Lamar

    You have a point. Some of it is a “push back” reaction. Also, I think the fact that the proportion of the population which identifies itself as atheist or agnostic has now risen to 10 or 15 percent means that atheists no longer feel they have to quietly acquiese to practices they find annoying.

    StupendousMan:

    I know. But my feeling is that both sides have to get past the idea that we have to “save” the other first.

    Don’t forget that the officially atheist Soviet regime imposed many of the same anti-sodomy, anti-gay, etc. laws with the same zeal as the most fanatical religious bigot. This isn’t a “see how evil atheists can be” comment, I’m merely pointing out that it appears the need to ‘save’ or convert the other side that is the root of the problem.

  47. Excuse me! Excuse me, please, people! WHAT is God?!

  48. And I fail to see the obvious contradiction in the two staements you note.

    1. When scientists don’t know something they admit it.

    2. Atheists tend to draw their opinions from science.

    Okay, these two sentences are not semantically contradictory. But if you presume from the tone of the paragraph that atheists are scientists, then you have the statement:

    3. When atheists don’t know something they admit it.

    That would be a contradiction: Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.

  49. Aresen,

    My take is that atheists just want to be left alone. The problem is that the religious just can’t seem to do that. I have yet to hear of an atheists advocating laws making religious belief illegal. But the believers are constantly pushing for laws (always telling people what they can’t do) based on their religion. Laws of this sort force non-belivers to act according to some religion.

    This is not an even dispute. The relgious want to tell me how to walk, talk, drink and fuck. I just want them to keep their nonsense to themselves.

    I don’t make a distinction between religious beliefs and an extreme ideology such as the one espoused by the Soviets. Crazy is crazy.

  50. Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God.

    Perhaps you skimmed over this:
    “There’s an infinite number of things that we can’t disprove,” he said. “You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it’s wrong to say therefore we don’t need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don’t need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There’s an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there’s not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it.”

    It isn’t the atheists that don’t know what they know.

  51. “Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.”

    Mike P this a strawman that miss-represents atheism. In certain cases in which the evidence for something truly inconclusive, one may legitimately say with regard to a claim, “I don’t know whether it’s true.” But claims that have no supporting evidence at all (like ‘god’ exists) should be rejected as arbitrary rather than being evaluated or even entertained as hypotheses.

    This is basic scientific procedure: every claim must have some evidence in its favor before a scientist considers the possibility of testing it. And it applies to non-scientific inquiries as well. A claim that has no evidence whatsoever in its favor should not be rejected as false-rather, the very question of whether the claim is true or false should be rejected outright, for the claim itself is arbitrary.

  52. ARGH, stupid html tags

  53. “That would be a contradiction: Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.”

    This one admits it. But there seems to be two flavors of atheists: those who assert positively that there is no God (or gods), and those who assert that they do not accept as true that there IS a God (or gods) because of lack of evidence. The two positions are similar, but not exactly the same.

  54. Regarding the usage debate, does it really matter? Let’s say you claim there is a monster at the center of the Milky Way and a scientist refuses to believe you. Do you really care that he can’t prove a negative, that he seems to take an affirmative stance on the absence of such monster, or that he is generally an a-monsterist but? Technically I suppose we could call him an agnostic since presumably he would change his mind if you presented enough evidence of the monster’s existence but how is that amonsterist / agnostic distinction all that important?

    A scientist may indeed be an atheist. But he should recognize that that is a religious stance, not a scientific one.

    No, as I just showed above, it is entirely consistent with a scientific view to disbelieve a claim absent evidence to support it. The distinction is that disbelief does not mean impossibility just that there is insufficient evidence to hold that belief. For that reason atheist is more meaningful term than agnostic because agnostic implies nothing about the overall weight of the evidence. Given the typical usage you would all be agnostic about the monster or about the invisible dragon in my garage (Carl Sagan’s example).

    Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.

    That’s not true – they know in the same way they know there is no monster at the center of the galaxy. That is to say they disbelieve absent evidence but would be amenable to change that belief with the appropriate level of evidence. Given the extraordinary nature of the claims (i.e. either a monster or an all-powerful creator of the universe) that would obviously need to be some extraordinary evidence. However, it is a mistake to claim that an atheistic stance is equivalent to a theistic one. To do so is to say the amonsterist stance is equivalent to a belief in the monster.

  55. When the American theocracy happens I’m sure your believer friends will put in a good word for you.

    Here’s some evidence for you that a theocracy is not in our future. Maybe a totalitarian state with religious overtones and that exploits “friendly religions” a la V for Vendetta or Equilibrium, but you are missing the point if you’re terrified of Calvin’s Geneva writ large.

    Fundamentalists like me who would tell such a “theocracy,” that there is no authority outside of Christ would ended up in the gallows next to you. Why? We’re the ones that would be likely to do to their state-sanitized and approved preachers who preach the “gospel of Fascism” what Jesus did to the money changers in the temple.

  56. “(1) Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda. Incitement of hostility or hatred on religious grounds is prohibited.”

    That is the 1977 Constitution. Note people are free to worship or engage in atheistic propaganda but not religous propaganda. I think it also is an issue of translation. I have seen it translated as a right to be free from anti-religous propaganda. You cite the 1936 Constitution.

    People like Franklin and Dawkins in particular do themselves a huge diservice. They seem to be in denial that serious people can be anything but athiests. Being conscending to your opponents is not going to win you too many converts. Just because you are an athiest doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole anymore than believing in God does.

  57. how do we know keanu reeves is an atheist?

  58. Sorry. I was responding to a precise question about two contradictory statements and was necessarily brief. I recognize that there are at least two flavors of atheists: dogmatic and nondogmatic.

    Nondogmatic atheism is a perfectly rational position. Dogmatic atheism cannot be defended scientifically except by sad inductive arguments such as comparing God to Wotan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  59. “how do we know keanu reeves is an atheist?”

    How do we know that anyone is until we define the word? And how can the word be defined until we decide what the word God means?

  60. “He argues that religous education is a form of child abuse and that the state ought to intervene to protect children from their parents’ religous views.”

    You’re lying. Dawkins completely rejects any such state intervention in such matters. This is quickly becoming a snide, knowing lie amongst his enemies, as he once signed a petition that could have been interpreted calling for that. But when informed of this, he immediately and officially took his name off the petition and made clear his stance. He believed the petition was about a) whether government schools should indoctrinate particular religions (instead of just teaching ABOUT them, which he supports) and the somewhat obscure-to-Americans issue of whether children in state schools should be labeled and counted as believers in a particular religion for the purpose of census and allocation of attention purely based on what their parents believe.

    The idea that Dawkins and others are trying to win converts to atheism is yet another common lie. Their goals are stated pretty clearly: they think irrational beliefs should not be given special respect in public debate, and that we should not be afraid to point out irrational beliefs, especially when they cause harm.

  61. I love how so many atheists try to deny the existence of agnosticism: “Either you’re a theist or an atheist.”

    This reminds me greatly of certain gays (and some straights) who try to deny the existence of bisexuality.

    The fact is, although the existence of an all-powerful creator is an extraordinary claim, we have the minor question of “Why is there existence?” That can’t be answered very easily (I’m not sure it can be answered.) Unsurprisingly, many people have come to the conclusion that there was a being that made the universe. Take off your smug-glasses until you can confidently disprove that.

    Of course there are theist fundamentalists but in my experience atheists are more annoying and arrogant than theists, on average.

  62. Right on smartass sob!!! So true!

    And what are the objective characteristics of ‘god’? This is precisely the problem with such arbitrary notions, for there is no existent entity from which to draw an abstraction and thus validate the idea ‘god’.

    In fact, conventional ‘definitions’ of ‘god’ accomplish the exact opposite of the task of a definition, which is: to identify to the point of cognitive legitimacy an idea or thought.

    Every ‘definition’ of ‘god’ fails this task. For instance, all ‘definitions’ of ‘god’ make some kind of statement to the effect that ‘god’ is infinite or limitless, such as ‘god is infinitely wise’ or ‘god is infinitely good’ or ‘infinitely powerful’. Such statements counter the very purpose of a definition, and thus disable the task of concept-formation.

    Also, as all definitions of ‘god’ include at some point the statement that ‘god is incomprehensible’, the notion ‘god’ again cannot be legitimized. The task of conceptualization is to provide man with the tools of cognition. By stating that something is incomprehensible, one excludes his notion from the process of concept-formation from the beginning, and the notion remains cognitively useless.

  63. Plunge,

    He calls religous endocrtination by parents “child abuse”. He can disclaim his disire for government intervention all he wants, but if he ever wants anyone to believe him then he needs to stop using loaded terms like “child abuse”. If it really is child abuse, why shouldn’t the government intervene? That is precisly the conclusion Dawkins expects people to make. He just didn’t have the balls to come out and say it after people called him on it and his signing of that petition.

    “they think irrational beliefs should not be given special respect in public debate”

    No, they think that people shouldn’t have the right to profess their religous views in the public sphere. There is a difference. Dawkins is dangerous fanatic.

  64. MikeP

    “There is a perfectly good word that means “absence of God belief”, and that is ‘agnostic’, from ‘a-‘ (without) and ‘gnosis’ (knowledge, specifically knowledge of spiritual things).”

    Can you not read your OWN POSTS? Agnosticism concerns lack of _knowledge_, which is a different metric. Regardless of whether you are an agnostic or not, you still must either believe in God or not. There is no third option (other than being ignorant of what’s in your own mind, i.e. insanity) Atheists don’t believe.

    Some atheists claim to know that specific gods don’t or can’t exist. However, to claim that this is because of faith is, again, a lie. Even if they are mistaken, they give logical accounts of why they think they are correct about this, not mere assertions of faith. Deductive arguments against irrational claims about Gods are perfectly logical and rational, though of course they can only cover specific god claims.

  65. “However, to claim that this is because of faith is, again, a lie. Even if they are mistaken, they give logical accounts of why they think they are correct about this, not mere assertions of faith.”

    “Mere assertions of faith”. Yeah that is all any religous thinker for the last 5000 years of human history has ever given. Plunge you illustrate why modern athiests are so annoying. It is one thing not to beleive in God. It is entirely another thing not to understand that there are thoughtful reasonable arguments going the other way, even if you don’t find those agruments convincing.

  66. Agnostics are cowards, the moral inferiors of theists, for at least theists take a stand, however misguided. Agnostics play it safe by refusing to assert anything other than a confession that they are afraid to use their own brains.

  67. John, you’re still lying.

    “He calls religous endocrtination by parents “child abuse”.”

    Have you actually read what and where he said this? He said it in the context of discussing parents who threaten their children with hell: one of the most violent and evil concepts ever imagined. Many kids demonstrably and by their own accounts are traumatized by the idea. In that context, I don’t see how Dawkins is so out of line on calling that a form of abuse, albeit psychological.

    “If it really is child abuse, why shouldn’t the government intervene? That is precisly the conclusion Dawkins expects people to make. He just didn’t have the balls to come out and say it after people called him on it and his signing of that petition.”

    Blah blah blah: in other words, you have no argument or defense of your lie against his clear statements to the contrary, and all you can do is try to imply this or that about what you want us to think he “really” wants.

    “No, they think that people shouldn’t have the right to profess their religous views in the public sphere.”

    You’re lying again. Please, show any evidence that all that this is what ANY of the big bugaboos want. You hear this refrain about the ACLU, Dawkins, Harris, and all the rest: except that all are defenders of speech and free inquiry in the public square, religious speech included with all the rest. Generally, liars like yourself simply try to misrepresent their objection to _government_ sponsored special privilege to religious expression as an opposition to _public_ expression by private individuals.

    I think you’ll find that on a board of libertarians, not many of us are going to fall for that sort of rhetorical swithceroo.

  68. Being conscending to your opponents is not going to win you too many converts.

    Considering that theists believe in something without any evidence at all, no argument is going to convert them, condescending or not.

    Of course there are theist fundamentalists but in my experience atheists are more annoying and arrogant than theists, on average.

    Right. They know you’re damned to eternal suffering and are happy to remind you of it, but at least they’re a humble lot.

  69. “It is entirely another thing not to understand that there are thoughtful reasonable arguments going the other way, even if you don’t find those arguments convincing.”

    Again, you need to keep better track of arguments. I didn’t say that all theist arguments are “mere assertions of faith.” But this IS a common refrain about what strong atheists have, and I was responding to it. The difference with theists is that some of them DO claim to believe things on faith. So we take them at their word. Other theists can give rational arguments for why they believe, and yes, that’s not faith. And I didn’t say it was.

  70. Regardless of whether you are an agnostic or not, you still must either believe in God or not. There is no third option (other than being ignorant of what’s in your own mind, i.e. insanity) Atheists don’t believe.

    Are you serious? Do you believe it is raining in Rome right now? How about whether the altitude of K2 to the nearest millimeter is even or odd? Of course there is a third option, especially for the hard questions.

  71. “Have you actually read what and where he said this? He said it in the context of discussing parents who threaten their children with hell: one of the most violent and evil concepts ever imagined. Many kids demonstrably and by their own accounts are traumatized by the idea. In that context, I don’t see how Dawkins is so out of line on calling that a form of abuse, albeit psychological.”

    He doesn’t call it abuse except when he does. But I am the one who is lying. If you think that is abuse, you are beyond the pale of rational discourse. That kind of hyperbole can only be meant to do one thing; destroy religion as a force in society. Like I said Dawkins is a nutcase.

    “You’re lying again. Please, show any evidence that all that this is what ANY of the big bugaboos want. You hear this refrain about the ACLU, Dawkins, Harris, and all the rest: except that all are defenders of speech and free inquiry in the public square, religious speech included with all the rest. Generally, liars like yourself simply try to misrepresent their objection to _government_ sponsored special privilege to religious expression as an opposition to _public_ expression by private individuals.”

    Except that they call the things they want to end, abuse and intolerant speech. Dawkins maintains that the virtues of tolerance trump those of free speech. His position is that religious speech is intolerance and hate speech and there is no First Amendment right to it. You are the one who is lying and Dawkins is the one who is rhetorically dishonest. Basically Dawkins says “yes, I support free speech, unless that speech promotes intolerance in which case there is not right to it.” Of course in Dawkins world nearly all religious speech is intolerant speech.

  72. I think one reason that the “new atheists” are so hysterical is that the religious right wing is so hysterical of late…

    I suspect the Religious Right here in the Western world, Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East, and other religious extremists are so hysterical because they realize deep down that religion is more and more irrelevant to most people living on this planet.

    Your average person on the street may shun anything as extreme as atheism, may belong to a religion, but Oprah is a bigger influence on popular norms in moral thinking than any current religious leader.

  73. It is entirely another thing not to understand that there are thoughtful reasonable arguments going the other way, even if you don’t find those agruments [sic] convincing.

    Are any of these arguments not built on a foundation of faith? Because if they are, they qualify in my mind as “mere assertions of faith.”

  74. I, too, am a serious (but non-militant) atheist, from the apparently fertile breeding ground of Catholicism.

  75. andy

    “I love how so many atheists try to deny the existence of agnosticism: “Either you’re a theist or an atheist.”

    You’re confusing an important logical issue here. I don’t think most atheists deny the existence of agnosticism, but many point out that presenting it as a “third way” to either theism/atheism is incoherent. I myself would be happy to be called an agnostic atheist. Agnosticism concerns claims of knowledge, while theism/atheism concerns whether one believes. In my case, I do not believe largely because I do not know: I think knowledge is necessary to compel my belief. But not all people think that: some feel that they believe or need to believe regardless of knowledge: they are agnostic theists (some of whom are fidelists, lie Gardner). If you tell me that you are an agnostic, I’m not going to disagree with you. But you do have to admit that if the question I asked was “do you believe in god or not” that the reply “I’m agnostic” is a bit of a dodge. Either you believe or you don’t, no different from either you have a solid gold nugget in your hand at this moment, or you don’t.

  76. “BTW: Don’t be too hard on those who misspell ‘atheist’. “i before e” and its zillion exceptions is always a problem for me & I think anyone who gets it wrong should be given a pass.”

    The way I remember how to properly spell “atheist” has to do with what it is, not rules of grammar.

    The description of a person’s philosophical outlook always end in “-ist”

    Capitalist
    Marxist
    Communist
    Evangelist
    Transhumanist
    Nihilist
    Interventist
    Atheist

  77. “Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.”

    What kind of low IQ statement is this? I don’t know anything for sure. I have merely arrived at a conclusion based on the evidence I see.

  78. Interventist should be Interventionist.

    Oh, and I’m sure there’s an exception or twelve to my rule, but it’s really helped me to properly spell the word.

  79. “He doesn’t call it abuse except when he does. But I am the one who is lying.”

    You still can’t follow the argument can you? I didn’t say you were lying about him calling it abuse: I explained why he said that. What you were lying about was in claiming that he wants any sort of government intervention to compel this or that from parents in regards to their religious beliefs. He doesn’t. He’s said so very clearly.

    “If you think that is abuse, you are beyond the pale of rational discourse.”

    In other words, we shouldn’t wait around for you to present a logic refutation or argument against the usage: you are just going to grumble and cross your arms and tap your foot and then change the subject to something else.

    “That kind of hyperbole can only be meant to do one thing; destroy religion as a force in society.”

    Dawkins is a harsh critic of the special passes we give on religious nutcasery in society. But if you want to insist that he wants to use coercive force: insist that he wants anything other than for this to be a war of words and ideas, then you are going to have to back that up with some evidence. So far, you can’t seem to do so. Every time you try, the subject mysteriously changes, or you start imagining positions you believe that they “really” want even if they say the exact opposite.

    “Except that they call the things they want to end, abuse and intolerant speech.”

    By calling them onto the mat and pointing them out as such, not by having the government ban them.

    “Dawkins maintains that the virtues of tolerance trump those of free speech.”

    So you say: prove it.

  80. meidageek,

    What is your rule? I don’t get it.

  81. plunge:

    A friend of mine helped me get over that particular mental hump by saying, “People who claim to be agnostic don’t understand the question they were asked.”

  82. I have no problem with what militant atheists and militant libertarians “believe.” I simply find a rather disturbing percentage of those I encounter to be patronizing pedants and mirthless martinets. I am content to think that personal beliefs about God or a lack thereof can be neatly filed under “Nobody’s Damn Business but One’s Own.”

    For all the gum-flapping about personal freedom, mentioning “religion” to a group of libertarians is like throwing a haunch of beef into piranha-infested river. Many libertarians (at least many among the ones I know) are offended by religious belief. For them, it a huge piece of spinach in one’s intellectual smile. What I find ironic and semi-amusing is that this sense of offense is precisely what I see coming from the religious right. The only difference is what offends.

    As for me, I think tolerance rests upon the bedrock of not giving a rat’s ass about what my neighbor believes. Now, you folks are welcome to keep arguing about the proper definition of “atheism.” I could use a cold beer.

  83. [Lamar | January 8, 2007, 4:10pm | #

    “Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.”

    What kind of low IQ statement is this? I don’t know anything for sure. I have merely arrived at a conclusion based on the evidence I see.]

    Are you sure about that? 😉

  84. I’m an agnostic. I don’t believe and I don’t give a shit what you believe (as long as you’re not trying to infringe on my rights).

    My problem with most atheists I know isn’t their beliefs, but that most of them are extreme liberals (i.e. socialists). I know nine that I can think of right now and everyone of them thinks we should have universal health care, higher taxes, much more spending on education, carbon taxes, higher minimum wage, etc. They all hate Wal-Mart too, even though after a Wal-Mart opened up near us 5 years ago, it totally revitalized our local business sector (many new stores, gas stations, and restaurants have come to feed off the Wal-Mart traffic).

    I don’t know why atheism and socialism seem to have such a large correlation coefficient. Shouldn’t atheists believe in “survival of the fittest” (i.e. free markets, objectivism)?

  85. “I don’t know why atheism and socialism seem to have such a large correlation coefficient.”

    Anyone who thinks their personal anecdotes constitute a “large correlation coefficient” doesn’t understand what a correlation coefficient is.

    “Shouldn’t atheists believe in “survival of the fittest” (i.e. free markets, objectivism)?”

    Some do, some don’t. If you think about it though, there is no particular reason why atheists would have anything at all in common, even similar convictions. They are defined as a group only by what they aren’t. It’s as if you expected all non-NBA basketball players to play in the NFL.

  86. What kind of low IQ statement is this? I don’t know anything for sure. I have merely arrived at a conclusion based on the evidence I see.

    As I noted above, that was too brief. Please reread as:

    Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet dogmatic atheists don’t admit they don’t know.

  87. Myself, I’m a liberal in the classic sense: I think democracy, capitalism, and free inquiry are the pillars of human achievement and progress, and all three share an inherent core of “no one has exclusive sole claim on what’s right: discovering that is something that comes out of a process that is always ongoing”

    How that would make me a socialist, I don’t get. Of course, anyone that thinks that higher-than-they’d-like taxes and government spending is “socialism” probably can be convinced to believe any crazy thing.

  88. If you think that is abuse, you are beyond the pale of rational discourse.

    This is the kind of thing I was talking about before. “You are an extremist.” “You are beyond the pale!”

    You know what? I guess I am.

    Now, do I believe all religion indoctrination is child abuse? No. I mean, virgin births, miracles, Santa Claus, Ni?o Dios (Latin America’s Santa Claus), the Tooth Fairy etc. are all more or less innocuous.

    But I’m comfortable stating that some religious indoctrination can be child abuse. Exposing 4 year olds to God-sanctioned homophobia, hell for non-believers, or suicide bombing as a path to heaven sounds like mental abuse to me.

  89. John

    I think Mediageek is referring to the fact that the name a belief or ideology usually ends with “ism” and that the noun for a subscriber to an ideology usually ends with “ist”.

  90. Jose Ortega y Gasset,

    “I simply find a rather disturbing percentage of those I encounter to be patronizing pedants and mirthless martinets.”

    And how would you respond to an adult who believed in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy? People are entitled to their beliefs but I’m not going to give someone a pass when they profess an unfalsifiable belief- I’m going to ridicule them.

  91. “Are any of these arguments not built on a foundation of faith? Because if they are, they qualify in my mind as “mere assertions of faith.”

    It depends on what you’re looking for. For folks who are looking for a rational basis for their faith, most schools of apologetic thought within (at least) Christian theology that I’ve read focus more on historic/archeological evidence to provide a foundation for the historic accuracy of the bible, as opposed to science. Whether you find those cases compelling enough to believe will likely decide whether you are an atheist or a Christian.

    Because unless God shows up and submits to lab tests or we one day find a way to hop dimensions and accidentally find heaven, I doubt that the scientific method which relies on observation and repeatable results will ever be able to prove or disprove God’s existence.

    Regarding militant atheism (or militant anything really, for that matter), I think the problem arises whenever one moves from the realm of “This is what I believe and I will try and convince anyone of it if asked” to “This is the sole truth and I will use the power of the State to force the Truth upon my fellow man, even to the point of violence.”

  92. The claim that babies are born atheist is an interesting one, but it doesn’t seem to work. Using the dictionary to try to infallibly demonstrate this point doesn’t seem to work either, since what people mean by words sometimes isn’t the same as what the dictionary says.

    When people say the word “atheist,” they usually are referring to someone who has had time to consider the question of God, namely, a person who is a teenager or older.

    Ascribing atheism to a baby is like assuming that babies are anarcho-capitalists, since they surely have no idea of what government is.

    BTW, I have a Merrium-Webster Dictiobary right in front of me which defines atheism as “one who denies the existence of God.”

  93. Aresen, thanks for summing up my post clearly.

    🙂

  94. The description of a person’s philosophical outlook always end in “-ist”

    Capitalist
    Marxist
    Communist
    Evangelist
    Transhumanist
    Nihilist
    Interventist
    Atheist

    Don;t forget ‘scientist’

  95. MikeP
    It is more true to say theists don’t know anything about God or proof. Yet they don’t even allow for the possibility that they don’t know.

  96. “I doubt that the scientific method which relies on observation and repeatable results will ever be able to prove or disprove God’s existence”

    Well, as was stated earlier we need a definition for god to even start in inquiry. Much has been done already to rule out the Abrahamic god. Since the bible is considered by many christians to be the inerrant word of god any errors in it would tend to rule out that specific definition of god.

  97. “The claim that babies are born atheist is an interesting one, but it doesn’t seem to work. Using the dictionary to try to infallibly demonstrate this point doesn’t seem to work either, since what people mean by words sometimes isn’t the same as what the dictionary says.”

    Well, for centuries, the word “atheist” was also defined in dictionaries as people who are immoral and evil. I think we atheists are just fine defining atheism, instead of people eager to either slander non-believers, or make straw man arguments easier on themselves.

    I often find that most people who insist that atheist means “dogmatic belief that there is no god” often don’t even themselves use the word like that in practice. For instance, if they ask if I believe in god and I say no, THEY will call me an atheist. And then they will spin around and demand I justify my “belief.” That is the sort of incoherent rhetorical treatment non-believers get tired of.

    But hey, what words we use are not important. I’m also perfectly happy being called a non-theist. That’s basically what I (and most atheists) mean by “atheist.”

    “When people say the word “atheist,” they usually are referring to someone who has had time to consider the question of God, namely, a person who is a teenager or older.”

    Correction: when most people who are brought up to hate and despise atheists say they word, this is what comes to mind.

    “Ascribing atheism to a baby is like assuming that babies are anarcho-capitalists, since they surely have no idea of what government is.”

    The reason babies are non-believers is not any fundamentally different from the way I am a non-believer. The baby CAN’T believe (anything), and I DON’T believe (in God specifically), but for both of us, this lack of belief stems not from any act: we just are that way because we haven’t become believers.

    “BTW, I have a Merrium-Webster Dictiobary right in front of me which defines atheism as “one who denies the existence of God.””

    You’re leaving out what it probably also says (depending on the edition): 2. Godlessness.

    Here’s a pretty good rundown on how different dictionaries treat the definition through the years:
    http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/dict_standard.htm

    Suffice to say, dictionaries (especially Webster) are generally written by theists. But when atheists look back at atheism through the centuries, what it has meant to various people, famous atheists, and so on, we see a pretty clear line of defining it the way we say and the way the word derivates: without god belief. You’ll also find “disbelief in God” which is ambiguous: it can imply either lack of believing or actively believing not. Which is ok, because atheism encompasses both views (strong atheism is a subset of weak atheism).

  98. Warren/Mike

    Do you allow for the possibility of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and/or Xenu?

  99. StupendousMan,

    “I’m going to ridicule them.”

    Jose,

    “I could use a cold beer.”

    I think that about sums up the two types libertarians. Cheers, Jose! Screw you, stupendous.

  100. The question of moraliy is also interesting. The thing is, many atheists do seem to rely on an objective understanding of morality. I have only a sketchy understanding of what Dennett believes about this.

    On the one hand, he says that morality has evolved, which may lead one to believe that it could have evolved differently. If after all, rape was the way our species evolved and still reproduced, maybe it would be “moral.”

    But on the other hand, when being interviewed by Robert Wright on Meaningoflife.tv, Dennett ackowledges that morality might exist in some Platonic world somewhere, and that a sophisticated alien society would no doubt have some mathematical and moral concepts that we share with them, making both math and morals transcendent.

    Dennett has also said elswhere that social mores like dancing and clothing probably have cultural explanations, while rape and murder are just plain wrong.

    Perhaps it’s the conciousness that we have evolved which allow us to be moral, to survey the options and choose the “best” one.

    Whatever the explanation is, not everyone believes that morality collapses if belief in God does. Even some of the religious believe that even God is bound by eternal moral truth.

  101. “I’m not going to give someone a pass when they profess an unfalsifiable belief- I’m going to ridicule them.”

    That neatly defines the difference between us. To me, ridicule is like masturbation. It is a harmless release if done in private or with another consenting adult (or two). In public, it’s just jerking off. This is why, at parties, I avoid libertarians, athiests, evengalicals and guys in rain coats.

  102. It is more true to say theists don’t know anything about God or proof. Yet they don’t even allow for the possibility that they don’t know.

    Warren, I think you need to start using the adjective ‘dogmatic’ too…

  103. “Whatever the explanation is, not everyone believes that morality collapses if belief in God does.”

    True, but I think they end up appealing to faith even more so than theists. Dennett says that murder and rape are just wrong and more than societal constructs. Why? I don’t see him or anyone else give particularly good reasons for it other than they don’t like murder and rape.

  104. Here’s another pretty good summary of the controversy over what “atheism” means:

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist4.htm

    Keep in mind that since the issue is semantics, there is no real “right” answer, and in the end, in a perfect world, I don’t think it matters who is right. But in the short-term it often DOES matter, because all the different definitions are all used at different times by different people, giving a lot of rhetorical room to haggle over various things for bragging rights.

    Again, I think the key takaway is that:

    1) theists are the ones who will decide “common usage” but theists are of course generally hostile to defining atheism in a charitable way (hence the fact that “wickedness” is still found as definition for atheism in some dictionaries, though some at least note that this is archaic)

    2) even those theists who insist that atheism means “belief in no god” most strongly still use the word inconsistently themselves, regularly applying it to people who simply don’t believe despite their claimed bright line definition

    3) the majority of self-identified atheists define the word as the more inclusive “lack of belief” which at the very least gives us the right to a sort of “technical” definition.

    4) the real goal in defining things is clarity and consistency. I don’t really care about what words are used to define what, but I strongly suspect that certain definitions are insisted upon by theists for the purposes of equivocation (i.e. ease of confusion and swapping around definitions without acknowledging it)

    I think most atheists wouldn’t mind if you called them a non-theist. The problem with using that instead of atheist is mostly just historical habit and a sort of parallel to the seizing upon the term “queer” by the gay-rights movement: we don’t want to let people to hate us control the words we use to describe ourselves.

  105. Jose Ortega y Gasset,

    Although I never bought any of the BS clergy and other religious adults tried to feed me I am damn angry that I had to fight my way through those types of people. Personally I’ve rarely experienced passive religion. In the US it’s all around you- but like people who live neat the highway most filter it out. To me it’s a constant din- or to use your terminology a giant circle jerk.

  106. “True, but I think they end up appealing to faith even more so than theists. Dennett says that murder and rape are just wrong and more than societal constructs. Why? I don’t see him or anyone else give particularly good reasons for it other than they don’t like murder and rape.”

    John, you might check out the writings of Ayn Rand. Her philosophy of Objectivism gave very good reasons why such actions are wrong. And she was definitely a non-believer or atheist.


  107. Why? I don’t see him or anyone else give particularly good reasons for it other than they don’t like murder and rape.

    The ‘not liking’ murder and rape is as good of a reason as any. And it most defintely is a societal construct?

    Do you consider sexual relations with 12yr olds, immoral?

    Well a few centuries ago it was definetely not as immmoral as it is today. (it still isn’t else where in the world) God-based morals would have to be absolute, however defintions of rape and murder defintely change and evolve to fit societal likes and dislikes.

  108. “John, you might check out the writings of Ayn Rand. Her philosophy of Objectivism gave very good reasons why such actions are wrong. And she was definitely a non-believer or atheist.”

    I have and at best it comes down to a utilitarian argument. She makes a good stab at it, but it is a tough case to make.

  109. VAl,

    Without God, who is to say the Romans, who saw nothing wrong with a father selling his daughter or slave into prostitution, were really wrong? Their system of morality certainly worked well for them. It was an effective construct if nothing else.

  110. Anyone who thinks their personal anecdotes constitute a “large correlation coefficient” doesn’t understand what a correlation coefficient is.

    If you look closer, you’ll see I said “seem to have a large correlation coefficient.” Being a Ph.D. scientist for 12 years, I know quite a lot about statistics, thank you. There are data, by the way, supporting the correlation between atheism and liberalism in the U.S. The fact that I was using my friends as anecdotal evidence was simply because I have direct experience with them and what they support politically.

    It’s as if you expected all non-NBA basketball players to play in the NFL.

    I’m sorry, that’s not a good analogy. Darwinism (which I know quite well and regard as law, not theory) is one of the central tenants of modern atheism. A more apt analogy, would be that I expected all non-NBA basketball players to at least be familiar with the rules of basketball and know what they mean.

  111. John,

    Very Dostoyevsky of you. Without God, people would probably act about the same as they would under a similar system. Don’t try to hang the moral relativist bullshit on the backs of atheists.

  112. As a both a libertarian and an atheist, I have come to see parallels in how most mainstream people, statist and/or theists, tend react to both my minarchism and my atheism:

    Statist: “If there’s no government, people would be robbing, raping and murdering in the street.”

    Theist: “If there’s no God, people would be robbing, raping, and murdering in the street.”

    The only thing that the statists has going for them in this comparison is that at least government exists, while the Theist’s tyranny of choice is suspiciously inscrutable. Of course, in my experience, a large portion of my fellow blasphemers do have a tendency to be leftists, however I can’t say I blame them given that the Bible-beaters some to have co-opted capitalism. I got a feeling that perhaps there would be more “godless capitalists” if we didn’t have

    As for John’s cliche chest nut aobut the USSR and atheism, I pose a question: If the tyranny of the USSR was a prime example of what happens in an “atheism” society, then what do you think will happen to someone like…. me in the USSR? Surely since Lenin and Stalin et al. were such committed atheists they would overlook my support for free speech and economic freedom, right? Right?

    I got a feeling that if you were to look into the beliefs of Russia’s political prisoners, there were more than a few atheists languishing the gulags than people like John would like to admit.

    I’ve spent the past few weeks reading both Harris and Dawkins and I found them to be just what atheism needs: People who are willing to stand up, kick ass, take names, speak their minds and political correctness be damned. I’m soooo sorry that so many spineless people–even among atheists–who are too concerned about offending the willfully ignorant to appreciate their message.

    This is the 21st Century. We have no need for the grunting primitivism that religionists have to offer. The stakes are the future, and they too high to be “nice” anymore.

  113. [ John | January 8, 2007, 4:58pm | #

    “John, you might check out the writings of Ayn Rand. Her philosophy of Objectivism gave very good reasons why such actions are wrong. And she was definitely a non-believer or atheist.”

    I have and at best it comes down to a utilitarian argument. She makes a good stab at it, but it is a tough case to make. ]

    Well of course it’s a utilitarian argument! Utility for living one’s life to the fullest. What else would one want a morality for….except, maybe, for justification of mistreatment of others?

  114. Actually the dictionary I have defines atheim only as “one who denies the existence of God.” Sorry.

    But I still say that dictionaries are guidlines, not necessarily rules that trump all subtle understandings.

    The reason I gave a definition was to answer an invite made by an earlier poster who claimed that the dictionary would vindicate his/her understanding of the word, and it turns out it didn’t.

    As to what people generally believe about what atheism means, I really don’t know why one must hate atheists to believe it means “one who denies the existence of God.” If 90% of Americans believe in God, and if people are constantly ascribing strong atheism to all forms atheism, then it could just be a good ole’ fashioned misunderstanding. Most religious people probably aren’t familiar with Russell’s teapot, but over time, they probably will become more familiar, and will understand that atheistic arguments are more sophisticated than simply claiming to disprove a negative.

    Still, I maintain that most people, when they say atheist, are referring to someone who has considered the question. The closest I could get to agreement is to allow that PERHAPS babies could possess something like a weak atheism.

    But even then, that seems to assume that God is an artificial concept that people wouldn’t naturally believe if others didn’t present it to them. The thing is, we have no idea whether God is natural or unnatrual as a concept (leaving aside God as a reality). People may tend to develop ideas about God (or the supernatural in general) inevitibly (as historical evidence would suggest). Or it could be that all the supernatural belief systems around the world were just a fluky historical coicidence, something I’m disinclined to believe.

    If supernatural belief is inevitable from a evolutionary and/or historical perspective, and most people around the world are religious because of this inevitibility, then how do we know what a baby’s unformed mind leans toward? If by the time a baby forms language, the baby is drawn to supernatural explanations moreso than naturalistic ones, (I don’t know if this is true or not) then it doesn’t seem to do the atheist position any good to ascribe atheism to babies who may or may not lean toward the position when they can finally know what the hell is going on, and can talk to us.

    BTW, I agree that weak atheism, according to the technical definition, fits what seems to be a baby’s state of mind. I just don’t think it does any good for either side, and I think it may be a way of trying to demonstrate that this form of atheism is more natural, and that seems to cut corners in the debate.

  115. The question I have is: How does the Christian dismiss the other gods of the world’s religions?

    The Christian is only one step away from being an atheist, since he’s got only one more god to reject. The Christian does not accept the other, competing gods of the world’s religions, correct?

    So, by what principle does he step forth and pronounce those gods to be fiction, while at the same time insisting that this same principle cannot be used in reference to his god-belief?

  116. Without God, who is to say the Romans, who saw nothing wrong with a father selling his daughter or slave into prostitution, were really wrong? Their system of morality certainly worked well for them. It was an effective construct if nothing else.

    Absolutely! But when you say God, which do you mean? The Roman’s defintely didnt have a shortage of those? So the concept of morallity had evolved since then, as new societal constraints demanded.

  117. God said it. I believe it.

  118. Jay J, the issue is important because it establishes onus. If we are born without any knowledge then someone had to be told about ‘god’ since there is nothing in nature that one can point to and say there is ‘god’.

    After all at some point someone had to invent the word ‘god’. So what exactly are they referring to?

  119. Without God, who is to say the Romans, who saw nothing wrong with a father selling his daughter or slave into prostitution, were really wrong? Their system of morality certainly worked well for them. It was an effective construct if nothing else.

    Errrr… John, the damn Bible, in many instances in both the Old and New Testaments, endorses slavery.. even sexual slavery. Both Jesus and Paul preached that slaves be obedient to their masters and neither spoke out against the practice at all. Christians took and owned slaves from the Roman empire up to the 19th Century and in America many Southerners used the Bible as “proof” that Slavery was kosher with God.

    I find it insulting that you regard humanity so slightly in that you believe that we can’t figure out what’s right and what’s wrong on our own without an apocryphal cosmic dictator waiting to punish us for committing an equally apocryphal list of “sins.”

    I recently heard an interview with Dawkins on Alan Comles’ FOX News radio show. Of course, all but one of the callers were hard core Christians. One of them claimed, quite loudly, that if there was no God, he would kill his next door neighbors if the mood struck him. Compare that to Dawkins, who doesn’t believe in God, yet has never killed anyone nor broken any laws that I know of and appears to have any compulsion to do so ever.

    Who’s more “moral?” The Christian who would kill without the ever present fear of a God’s wrath hanging over his head? Or the atheist, who seems to be able to act commendably without such a threat?

  120. “I don’t see him or anyone else give particularly good reasons for it other than they don’t like murder and rape.”

    well, oddly enough, there’s more than a few arguments against it that aren’t religious in origin. one is indeed utilitarian, which i don’t particularly take issue with because (barring other explanations, supernatural and otherwise) that’s how things tend to work. (if they don’t work, population in question doesn’t work)

    i prefer a different path, myself, in that while i agree that morals are an illusion (in that there is no enforcing agency in the sky, at least not that has ever made itself known, so it might be a bit more laisse-faire than we can possibly use in this case), that the idea of natural rights is fundamentally indefensible, but i accept such things are necessary. a kind of “noble lie” to keep cohesion, to cover up the blend of utilitarian ends and cultural gloss that make up the rules and laws of a particular people. so i’m ok with morals being an illusion, because i don’t treat them like one, and most other people don’t (at least most of the time). there are plenty of good, utilitarian reasons not to rape or rob your neighbor – first and foremost is retribution, and cycles of revenge that tend to follow – but they don’t suffice for people.

    why? i have no fucking idea. on this question i am deeply, deeply agnostic. apagnostic, even – i don’t know if i coined that term or someone else did, but i think it describes a great deal of people who have no real religious beliefs and don’t really care to, if only because upsetting one’s neighbors and one’s life isn’t always really high on someone’s agenda. maybe it’s a gloss, and maybe it’s just something we all pretend to believe, but so long as we avoid stepping backwards into greater violence against our neighbors, how much does it matter?

    it’s a great idea that there is a divine source (if not maintainer, but i think again history doesn’t really support that view, unless He She or It has a taste for wanton destruction and horrible violence against children and other innocents, in which case It should probably go fuck Itself.) or at least a post-human source of morality and individual worth, but what that could actually be is strictly a matter of faith. it also involves ignoring the stories of many religious traditions, almost all of which have some form of violence being done towards another population group in direct violation of the stated tenets of the religion in question. (buddhism and jainism are, at least as i can tell, some of the few to buck this trend)

    while i don’t particularly care for dawkins’ style at all – i sympathize with him, but i also think he’s a dick whose main saving grace is he’s far too smart to be a total fuckwit like harris – john’s assertion that he’s to be more feared than a falwell type strikes me as, well, john.

  121. I think it would do some good to clarify what I mean by some key words:

    What would it mean for morality to be objective and/or transcendent?

    If 2+2=4 in any universe, then math is transcendent. If 2+2=4 no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise, then math is objective.

    If alien socities would inevitiblly have concepts of equal opputunity, freedom, and moral responsibility, then that would qualify as evidence of the transcendence of morality. If the acts of rape and murder inevitibly lead to certain states of mind like guilt, remorse, subconscious traumatic disorder, etc in the perpetrator and victim, then morality seems to be objective.

    The questions about states of mind seems to be questions for mental health professionals. The questions about aliens, well, who can answer this one?

  122. The objection of most believers, but especially of Christians, to a morality based on anything other than the “word of God” is that it would be a humanist morality. It would use “human” derived standards (reason-based ones, hopefully) of right and wrong. That is to say, it would be fallible. What they ignore is the fact that morality based on the “word of God” is ALSO human-derived. It is subject to human interpretation of the “word of God” as well as fallible human judgement and belief that the Bible IS the word of God.
    There is no escaping the fact that all beliefs, convictions, standards, etc. are human ones.

  123. Greg,

    I agree that as of now, people are told about God, so someone had to invent it. But the point is, someone did invent it, and they actually invented supernatural explanations for the world around them in just about every society. Societies that in fact had no contact with one another.

    So are supernatural explanations historically inevitible? It seems so to me.

    So is the idea of God foisted onto the baby? If so, then that seems to imply that the baby wouldn’t develop such an idea otherwie. But since supernatural explanations seem ubiquitous, then it seems like most babies would eventually come up with the concept.

    For these reasons, it seem strange to me to enlist babies on one side or the other in this discussion.

  124. Jay, your point is utterly irrelevant. It’s no secret that man has used the concept ‘god’ to explain the unexplainable throughout history. I don’t care to postulate whether or not a child might invent the notion of ‘god’ unicorns, ghosts or aliens because the point is that because we are born without knowledge of any kind therefore it is up to the person asserting such existent to present the evidence for such an ascertain (not to mention a proper definition). For this reason the knowledge we born with and posses as babies is highly relevant and is important in establishing the onus of who is responsible for proving what.

  125. *pardon my sloppy English on that last post…

  126. “After all at some point someone had to invent the word ‘god’. So what exactly are they referring to?”

    The Jehova’s Witnesses assert that they are refering to the Creator of the Universe…that is to say, the creator of all that exists, ever did exist, and ever will exist. According to that line of belief nothing can exist unless it is created, because of cause and effect. Nothing, of course, except the Creator (natch)…he always existed.
    I prefer to think that the universe (the cosmos, existence) has ALWAYS existed in some form or another and always will…even if only as empty space. I don’t think the idea of a “creator” or first cause is necessary.

  127. @MikeP:

    You’ve taken two statements by two different people and formed a syllogism by adding your own conclusion. Does this somehow make sense to you? If it does, well, okay, but you can’t really expect anyone else to see such a assertion as logical or convincing.

    And dogmatic atheism? I mean, is there some document somewhere to which we atheists are supposed to refer in order to know what we think or something? If you’re looking for an obvious contradiction, I’d think that conjoining the words dogmatic and atheism pretty much nails it.

    “That would be a contradiction: Atheists really don’t know in a provable way that there is no God. Yet they don’t admit they don’t know.” And, you’ve provided the perfect segue for this comment with your Flying Spaghetti Monster comment.

    I, nor any atheist that I know (we all hang out together, don’t you know – burning goats and drawing up pentagrams), have never sought disproof for my non-belief. I don’t require it any more than you apparently require any rational evidence for you choice to believe. And, I’ll admit, that I am not aware of any manner in which that conjecture can be disproven. I’ve merely chosen to not believe because I’ve yet to encounter proof that would convince me of his/her/its existence. The burden of proof, it seems, is on those who believe to convince those do not. And that, you see, is the entire point behind the Flying Spaghetti Monster…

    As with all other gods, FSM was created to address issues that were otherwise difficult to address. Your “You can’t prove that there’s no god!” statement is that very issue. Namely, that you can’t prove that the FSM (RAmen!) doesn’t exist! Do you get it? Do you see the logic, not to mention the humor, here?

    Bobby Henderson developed the idea with the aim of intervening in the KS Board of Ed’s attempt to subvert the scientific enterprise by introducing what is plainly a religious concept – Intelligent Design – into the science classroom. This is an hotly battled, extremely contentious issue and Mr. Henderson found a witty and relevant argument, with the same degree of logic offered by ID proponents, that equal time should be given to FSM as they propose should be given to ID. It’s a pretty compelling argument if you can divorce yourself from you indoctrination in religious belief. But, I don’t harbor any hope of convincing you since you (1) already have plainly stated you position on the existence of god and (2) demonstrated that you aren’t too clear on the nature logic anyway so no argument (and that’s what logic is – the rules of interpreting an argument) that I can come up with would have any impact anyway.

  128. If you add a few r‘s, you can probably get what I was trying to say.

    *sigh* Preview, preview, preview…

  129. Yea smartass sob the contradiction that a person has to evade to hold that line thought is glaringly obvious.

    If you say that ‘nothing exists’, then you are automatically precluding your ‘god’ from existing, for positing ‘god’ presupposes existence.

    There is no ‘fact’ prior to existence. Can you give us an example of a ‘fact that does not presuppose existence’? If your strategy is to say that ‘nothing’ exists- as an existential entity in its own right, as an equivalent to ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ – then by all means, go ahead. Feel free to produce evidence for this ‘nothing’. The fact is, no line of argumentation can negate the fact of existence, no matter how desperate you try, no matter how acute your panic. Existence is indisputable, and any argument to the contrary necessarily presupposes existence, any way you want to look at it.

  130. I prefer to think that the universe (the cosmos, existence) has ALWAYS existed in some form or another and always will…even if only as empty space.

    Wow. Disbelief in both religion AND cosmology. Now THAT is the way to take an unpopular stand.

    FWIW, I don’t think even the creationist have denied the existence of the cosmic microwave background and the impact of its existence on our knowledge of the history of the universe.

    It’s the Big Bang, baby!

  131. JF, the big bang theory does not claim to contradict one of the most basic physical laws that matter cannot be created or destroyed. Try again.

  132. Whoops, that last post was mine. LOL

  133. Greg,

    An earlier poster declared that a baby would fit the definition of an “atheist.” All I’m doing on this subtopic is quibbling with that.

    If you’re trying to establish onus by pointing to a baby’s state of mind, it seems like you’re at the end of the rope. The thing is, I know that you’re not. There are much better arguments.

    My point about what humanity would inevitibly believe is that it is very difficult to ascribe one tendency or another to babies in the argument between atheists and theists.

    After all, the atheists justification for their non-theism isn’t “goo-goo gaa-gaa.” No, it’s much more sophisticated than that.

    Some people claim to have always had a concept of God as far back as they have memory, do you know that they are mistaken in this memory? Or do you have strong reasons to believe that they are?

    If people tend to inevitbily rely on supernatural explanations when left to their “natural” state, then we don’t really know what potentialities or tendencies lie in the baby’s fluid mind.

    I assert that when people use the word atheism, they almost always are referring to someone who has surveyed the situation. Even a weak atheist is someone who can communicate that there are no good reasons for believing in God. A baby would say no such thing, and I believe that there’s no good reason to believe a baby thinks such a thing.

    Even this definition of atheism is more charitable than the one I’ve provided from Webster’s and the one provided by another poster.

    You can establish onus without reverting to what babies think, and you can actually do it much better, IMHO.

    Seriously, do you think a baby would more naturally understand free and spontaneous relations than they would paying taxes for a police force? If the answer is yes, then does that lead you to believe that babies are anarcho-capitalists? Or does it lead you to leave babies ot of the discussion until they grow up and can decide for themselves?

  134. Pi Guy,

    You’ve taken two statements by two different people and formed a syllogism by adding your own conclusion.

    Way upthread, there is a comment quoting a paragraph that purports to come from one Sam Harris.

    That is where those two statements come from.

    If you’re looking for an obvious contradiction, I’d think that conjoining the words dogmatic and atheism pretty much nails it.

    I’m not using ‘dogmatic’ to mean “following a authoritative dogma.” I’m using dogmatic to mean “Characterized by an authoritative, arrogant assertion of unproved or unprovable principles.”

    I don’t harbor any hope of convincing you since you (1) already have plainly stated you position on the existence of god

    Actually, I don’t believe I have.

    and (2) demonstrated that you aren’t too clear on the nature logic anyway so no argument

    It’s a long thread, but you could read it all before criticizing someone’s capacity for logic.

  135. Greg,
    I completely agree with you on that. And “nothing” is not a kind of something…it is the absence of anything.
    Space is not a “nothing” as some might think, but is actually a something…it is that which may be occupied by mass or energy,etc.

  136. Jay you claim that there is a better way to establish onus yet you don’t enlighten us with it.

    Also your analogy with anarcho-capitalism is a really really one bad as it ignores a long list of underlying concepts that a baby would have to possess to grasp such a politics.

    Absence of ‘god’ belief requires no such complex chain of knowledge.

  137. Exactly smartass sob, ‘nothing’ simply isnt, never was, cannot ever be.

  138. [ Wow. Disbelief in both religion AND cosmology. Now THAT is the way to take an unpopular stand.

    FWIW, I don’t think even the creationist have denied the existence of the cosmic microwave background and the impact of its existence on our knowledge of the history of the universe.

    It’s the Big Bang, baby! ]

    jf,
    What makes you think I don’t accept cosmology? I DO accept the theory of the Big Bang. But one cannot have a “bang” without that which explodes.

  139. Greg,

    If you really are an informed atheist, then you are already aware of arguments against theism and you are aware of ways that grown-ups establish onus all the time. You challenging me to come up with these ways seems like sophistry. I simply don’t believe that you need me to enlighten you on this topic.

    I asserted earlier that enlisting babies in this argument seems like cutting corners by trying to establish atheism as a more natural fallback position. However if people tend to be theistic when they get the chance, then it shows that when babies grow up, they aren’t atheist. Teenagers and adults, are, after all, babies all grown up.

    I would certainly never try to ascribe theism to babies, becaues that would be ridiculous. But when someone else tries to establish atheism among babies, it looks equally ridiculous. If babies tend to latch onto theism when they get a chance, then how does that demonstrate that a baby would decide that there are no good reasons to believe in God if they had the chance?

    I understand Russell’s teapot and all that, and I understand weak and strong atheism. But if atheism doesn’t at least include the conscious decision to decide that there are no good reasons to believe in God, then the term is rather meaningless isn’t it? If it means ONLY a lack of belief in God, then I suppose rocks are the perfect atheists.

  140. Hey, Greg, wanna hear something ironic? I was once told by a Catholic priest that I could not possibly be considered an atheist, precisely because of my views on existence. According to him the belief in the eternity of existence – the infinite – is equivalent to belief in a Supreme Being or God! Like you said – exactly what is being refered to?

  141. Jay,

    “But if atheism doesn’t at least include the conscious decision to decide that there are no good reasons to believe in God, then the term is rather meaningless isn’t it? If it means ONLY a lack of belief in God, then I suppose rocks are the perfect atheists.”

    It’s amazing! I think you may actually be starting to get it!

    Yes. Just because there are bunch of people running around who make claims about gods, it DOESN’T mean that everyone else must be somehow fundamentally defined by this activity. Atheists are a group that only exists definitionally because there are theists. Without theists, we’d just be a bunch of different people and things, none of us god believers, but that fact wouldn’t mean anything: it defines nothing positively about us, lists no affirmative characteristic.

    The fact is, babies are not believers, and I am not a believer in the same way, so it is perfectly sensible to place us in the same group: and yes, rocks too. You insist that I must hear and then reject as unconvincing the arguments of theists before I can be a non-believer. This flies in the face of logic, the burden of proof, and just basic decency. No, I have no onus to care about or even listen to the arguments of theists. I myself have, in fact, done so, but plenty of people could care less.

    There’s nothing particularly special about any of this other than that you seem to DEMAND that theism be given some special treatment when it comes to logic, definition, and so on. Other claims, even commonly believed ones, don’t get the same treatment.


  142. I would certainly never try to ascribe theism to babies, becaues that would be ridiculous. But when someone else tries to establish atheism among babies, it looks equally ridiculous. If babies tend to latch onto theism when they get a chance, then how does that demonstrate that a baby would decide that there are no good reasons to believe in God if they had the chance?

    But if atheism doesn’t at least include the conscious decision to decide that there are no good reasons to believe in God, then the term is rather meaningless isn’t it? If it means ONLY a lack of belief in God, then I suppose rocks are the perfect atheists.

    First of all you are again asserting that atheism requires a forced rational decission, where as the argument is that atheism is the natural outcome, and its the theistic onus of prove due to a complete lack of evidence to the contrary.

    Aslo babies are the closest to a clean/natural slate that we have at the moment, thats why I think he brings it up. Every other human on earth (almost) has been already brought up by parent who were either theist or atheist there by introducing a bias. We cant just go and collect a few babies and have them grow up in a controled environment with absolutely no exposure to either side of the issue and then see where it takes us.

    Your assertion that theism is a natural tendancy is strange. Babies dont latch on to theism, babies latch on to their parents/guardian beleives. If the majority of parent chose to warship FSM, then more then likely their kids would continue with that beleif.

  143. If I were to start a religion, claiming that myself and all its followers are human and those who chose to reject our religion only do so, because they are infact, aliens. Would the onus of prove be on you to prove that indeed you are human or on me that am I not a complete loon?

  144. Jay, you’re problem is that you see it as a matter of sides. But there is only one coherent “side”: theism (and frankly, only in the vaguest barest of senses: theists only have slightly more necessarily in common than atheists do, which is to say just slightly more than nothing at all). Everyone else is a non-theist, but this doesn’t put them on the same side anymore than everyone who isn’t one of the Washington Redskins is on the opposing team.

    By pointing out that babies are atheists, no one is trying to enlist or count babies in some sort of census of who’s got who. We’re trying to point out a key insight about non-belief, which is that it doesn’t take or require anything at all, not even a mind, to NOT do something.

    Theism is an affirmative step. Theists shouldn’t be so offended by pointing that out: if theism is laudable, then the fact that it takes some effort over and above nothing makes it more laudable.

    But the question of whether god or superstition is something humans are likely to believe in is irrelevant to the question of what the logical onus and default position is. Personally, I think the way in which humans are virtually obsessed with seeing personality and motive even in things that clearly have none (like volcanoes, storms, etc.), building faces out of random noise, encourages us to personalize and try to deal with personally everything around us, which certainly makes ideas like God likely and natural for us.

    But that hardly makes it logical to claim that non-belief is thus not the logical default position, that babies aren’t non-believers, and so on.

  145. I think too many people are assuming that they know what I believe. I’ve already provided a definition of atheism from Wester’s which calls an atheist, “one who denies the existence of God.”

    I ackowledge that such definitions are probably too narrow, but several of you seem to feel absolutely no obligation to conform at all to what people mean when they use the word atheism. My usage of the word is more broad than Webster’s, but some of you wish to use the word in a narrow way on the oppsite end of the spectrum from Webster’s.

    You can break the word’s etymolgy down all you want, but it is assumed that a person who is capable of holding such positions is the one holding it. Oherwise I suppose the air is also atheist.

    If you and Greg are denying that an atheist refers to a conscious agent who has decided that there are no good reasons to actively believe in God, then you have slipped into absurdity.

    Man yawl really have all those theists quivering in their boots now that you have all those babies and rocks on your side!

    Have a good night.

  146. Greg and smartass sob,

    General relativity predict that a gravitational singularity preceded the Big Bang. Considering how little we really know about gravity, it’s certainly open for debate, but at least there are equations that fit the observed model. Wikipedia has a very interesting article on cosmogony that examines the various theories of the state of the universe prior to the Planck time (which is as far as I know the only unknown part of the history of the universe).

  147. LOL that’s a good one smart ass sob.

    However in a weird way he’s right for ‘the infinite’ is just as invalid as a concept as ‘god’ is because if time exists it can only exist within that which exists. Meaning that time can only be used to measure things within extistence and cannot be applied to existence per say. But this is beyond most peoples ability to understand and certainly beyond my ability to articulate here. So I will close with saying that existence is unbounded but finite, just like all things that exist are finite.

  148. If babies are athiests, then babies are anarchists too, which means that anarchism is natural and strongly implies it is correct. Yay.

    I do find it pretty amusing that three people are now lined up in a camp that thinks that what babies do or do not believe about X has anything whatsoever to do with the truth of X.

  149. Space is not a “nothing” as some might think, but is actually a something…it is that which may be occupied by mass or energy,etc.

    And it actually is. A manifestation of the uncertainty principle, one of the postulates of quantum mechanics, or more precisely the corollary of the Hermitian requirement of operators which yield observable properties, is the so-called zero point energy of space. If I chose to measure a location of some piece of space to an infinite precision, that is, that piece of space is where I have defined it, then it’s energy cannot be zero, or I otherwise would know both properties to an arbitrary accuracy. So, ’empty’ space is filled with a pervasive energy field, or virtual particles. It’s been measured; the Casimir effect. Good stuff.

  150. Lets get some things clear about the issue of morality before any more confused goofy thinking muddies the water:

    1) Moral values, whatever they are, are not facts in the same sense that “this rock is heavy” is a fact. Talking about them being faith in the same way that “I have faith that god exists” is simply using the fallacy of equivocation

    2) Theists have exactly 0 advantage on non-theists when it comes to explaining or justifying morality. At least things like utilitarianism explain in detail some standard, why we might all equally value it, and how to evaluate things. Theism rarely has anything better than “because god doesn’t like that” which in addition to being obscure, just begs the question of why it’s MORAL to care, outside of god simply being able to threaten or command (which has no particular moral value).

    We’re all in the same boat when it comes to moral philosophy. However, while things philosophically are very controversial and ultimately unsatisfying in the sense that we cannot find any ultimate justification for why one should value not raping that would convince, say, an alien, the point is often pragmatically moot. Human beings really do seem to mostly all have common enough moral values taken as axioms that allow us to have sensible debates over things like rape: even with people who seem alien and irreconcilable to our views. The conservative attitudes of some of the Muslim world towards rape, for instance, aren’t simply hopeless from our perspective. We do generally believe that by appealing to other values people in those cultures still share with us, we can convince them that their views are wrong: not just “wrong for the west but right for us” but wrong period.

    Theists, again, may claim advantage here, but when challenged to explain what, they come up with nothing distinctive or unique to their point of view that makes any more sense than anything else, outside of appeals and arguments over value. We’re all, as I said, in the same boat.

  151. “If babies are athiests, then babies are anarchists too, which means that anarchism is natural and strongly implies it is correct. Yay. I do find it pretty amusing that three people are now lined up in a camp that thinks that what babies do or do not believe about X has anything whatsoever to do with the truth of X.”

    Lying is such an unseemly habit, and you and John should really try to avoid using it so much.

    Who has asserted that what babies don’t believe proves that not believing in it is “right”? I haven’t, so why am I counted as one of “three”?

    Anarchy is a philosophy, not simple lack of belief in government (anarchists believe in governments, they just don’t like them). Babies don’t know what governments are, and have no attitudes towards them or anything.

    The point of babies is that they illustrate that we need not even know or care or even be able to think about god claims to not believe in them. Not believing in something takes no effort or attention at all. The idea that believing in god is itself an ideology is like claiming that bald is a color of hair, or that not raping women is a kind of rape. The fact that babies don’t believe in gods doesn’t prove that one shouldn’t believe any more than their lack of belief in quantum mechanics proves that they shouldn’t believe in that either. But it does illustrate something of insight about how beliefs work, an insight that you so far just seem immune to getting, leading you to lots of error.

    But then, the problem seems to be that you can’t get anywhere without misrepresenting things. I sympathize with your plight, but really, you’re only making things worse for yourself.

  152. Since I’ve gotten a few responses in the mean time, I’ll repsond again.

    I never said that theism was natural, never. I didn’t say it.

    I am pointing out that people have tended to believe in some supernatural system. Ok so babies latch onto what their parents say. So what, why did their parents believe it? If the answer is that their parents believed it to, well it had to start somewhere. And it just so happned to have started all over the world in cultures that were independent of one another.

    Now, I’m approaching this from 3rd-person neutrality OK? But when you say that a baby is in the most natural state, and that a baby would only believe something that their parents told them about, why did some humans way back when tend to believe in supernatural explanations? And why did it happen over and over and over again? Now, this does not, to me, establish that theism is more natural. But it does seem to pose a problem for the over-confident claim that babies are naturally atheistic. If the behavior of humans when they grow up is X, then how does that show that they’re natural behavior is Y? I’m sorry, but we don’t have a window into a baby’s state of mind.

    I re-assert that if atheism refers ONLY to non-belief, then the term is rather meaningless.

    Poiting out that babies tend to grow up and believe what their parents taught them doesn’t touch the question of why societies overwhelmingly choose to believe these things in the first place. If all the reasons for believing are evolutionary, then it still doesn’t demonstrate that babies naturally are atheistic. If evolutionary psychologists are correct that religion served an evolutionary purpose and that we have, to some extent, evolved religious tendencies, then that would seem to be more evidence that a baby might lean toward theism, if it had half a chance. I’m not claiming that it would or wouldn’t though.

    Please don’t take anything I’ve said as being an endorsement for theism. If you do, you’re reading too much into my post.

    Also, I realize that babies aren’t being tallied up on one side or another. And I understand that babies are being pointed out because they represent the clean slate. I demonstrated that I understood this when I said it is an attempt to establish atheism as the natural fallback position. What I said about babies being on a “side” was toungue in cheek, which I tried to make clear.

    Even if we used the more broad definition of atheism as “holding no gods,” that would still imply that one is capable of holding something. I’m sorry, but you really should try and confrom SOMEWHAT to what people mean by the word atheist.

    A person who is just hopping along naked in the forest is not what hardly anyone means by the word atheist. That person may be non-theist, or agnostic, but not atheist.

    Again, break down the etymology all you want, but also try and live in the real world. Dictionaries and common usage are on my side. Try and come around and meet me half way.

    And please, if the definition of atheism makes rocks and babies the perfect atheists, then the word really has no practical utility. Rocks and babies don’t believe in a whole lot of things.

  153. Violence, poverty, and other social ills can be indexed to rate of church going/following an organized religion (not spirtual practices like meditation). Western Europe has far fewer problems with violence poverty, etc. than the U.S. does and church going is relatively low comopared with the U.S.

  154. The point of babies is that they illustrate that we need not even know or care or even be able to think about god claims to not believe in them. Not believing in something takes no effort or attention at all.

    Okay, fair enough. I have read back through the thread and it does appear that this is all you are trying to say: that a baby’s agnosticism does not confer any form of proof or evidence; it is simply an analogy.

  155. “I re-assert that if atheism refers ONLY to non-belief, then the term is rather meaningless.”

    You’re really making some major breakthroughs: you may understand atheism yet!

    Yes, the term IS ultimately meaningless: it’s a privative rather than affirmative definition. It’s meaningless in the same way that “non-Donald Trump” is, because it doesn’t tell us what someone is as opposed to what they are not.

    Why is it useful regardless though? Because there are lots and lots of theists running around assuming that everyone else is a theist and that their way of being is the only way. Atheists don’t agree. You can’t just make that assumption: because there are atheists.

    Atheism does include those atheists who are anti-theist, who assert that there are no gods, it’s just that isn’t the most fundamental similarity shared by all non-theists: that we aren’t theists.

    If you want to insist that atheist MUST mean ONLY those particular atheists who make strong claims about the existence of gods, then go right ahead. Ignore the history of atheism, OUR common usage, and all the else. It doesn’t ultimately matter. But if so, then, please, have a heart, and be consistent. Call us all non-theists, and admit that this term is _useful_, if not particularly meaningful outside the context of discussing theism.

    Babies are non-theists. Understanding that helps theists understand that their beliefs are not so fundamental and important that us non-believers have to run around all day long straining not to believe in gods: which is basically what they imply when they claim that non-belief is some sort of religion or ideology to itself.

    “Again, break down the etymology all you want, but also try and live in the real world. Dictionaries and common usage are on my side. Try and come around and meet me half way.”

    You’ve cited precisely ONE dictionary that none of us can see. I’ve posted entire articles about the history of the word in dictionaries comparing lots of them. You are the one not coming halfway, or even really making an honest effort.

  156. plunge,

    I understand the differences between strong and weak atheism. I understand Russell’s teapot. I’ve already stated this.

    I have been willing to expand the definition of atheism beyond what many theists use. If you go back and read all my posts you will see that. I suppose you can choose not to believe what I say about the dictionary if you choose. It’s the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, published by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated in Springfield, Massachusetts, Copyright 1997.

    I appreciate what you posted about the history of the word. But I’m not saying that theism is natural and that there can only be one narrow understanding of atheism. I simply was responding to a poster who said atheism is the natural fallback position of babies. Now it’s obvious that strong atheism isn’t a baby’s position, but I am skeptical that weak atheism can even be atributed to babies. Even weak atheism assumes that there is a conscious person holding the non-belief, at least when the vast majority of people use the word.

    Now plunge, this is not the same as me saying that atheists must affirmatively deny God. I’ve been much broader than some atheists have here, who seem to use the word atheist as it could ONLY mean a weak version.

    In terms of whether or not I’m giving an honest effort, that’s pretty confident of you to be able to tell such a thing. I guess that’s the same confidence it takes to say that babies are atheist. I already know that no one is saying that babies aren’t strong atheists OK?

    I simply mean that even a broad meaning of the word would imply someone who is conscious enough to know what it means. Once again, this is not the same thing as ascribing strong atheism to all atheists.

    Now I really am going out to spend some Christmas gift cirtificates.

    Have a good night…

  157. At some point in time then, doesnt the baby need to grow from ‘weak atheism’ toward ‘strong’ or ‘positive’ atheism or toward ‘theism’. It’s intellectually impotent to remain in the baby ‘weak’ atheistic state of mind (aka. agnostic).

    Obviously most of the time, this growth is determined by the parents, where the baby is ‘forced’ to comply with the parental doctorine. So during early development theism is common. Even in atheistic families, children accept some sort of theistic variation, Santa Claus for example, tooth fairy, etc…

    But shouldnt further growth and increased capacity for independent thought and action ultimately lead to ‘strong’ atheism. We do reject Santa and the tooth fairly early as childhood constructs. Why does theism, which in my view shares the same level of evidence remain a ‘fact’ for otherwise seemingly rational adults.

    Adult atheists should be ‘strong’ atheists. By that I mean that when questioned whether one beleives in god, the person should postively assert that he/she in fact does not. Whatever their reason for the belief might be, the rejection of god should be positive. Otherwise you are something else besides atheist. That doesnt mean you need to write books and shout at Sunday church goers, but must refrain from the intellectual cop-out that is agnostisism

  158. Some responses to some implausible claims:

    “Atheism is a religious stance”: Well, it’s a stance on an issue with religious significance. But it needn’t be ‘religious’ in a bad way. If someone thinks about the issue, looks at the evidence, arguments, and reasoning out there, tries to figure out what’s most likely, and ends up an atheist, that’s a very reasonable stance to take. Indeed, if someone does all that and ends up a theist (maybe convinced by a design argument), then while I disagree with them, there’s nothing irrational or contemptible about the way they’re forming beliefs. (If someone ends up a Scientologist or a Jack Chick acolyte, that’s a different story)

    “Atheists ought to be moral nihilists”: The problem of finding an objective foundation for morality is everyone’s problem, not just atheists. Theists often end up stuck with moral subjectivism/relativism, with God’s arbitrary commands or attitudes determining what’s right or wrong. (This is something all educated people should know, as it goes back to Plato’s Euthyphro.) Theists and atheists are in exactly the same boat on this one.* (People seem to think utilitarianism or Randianism might help resolve these problems, but I’ll go on record as saying they won’t) If the issue is less theoretical and more practical (where a ‘nihilist’ is someone who simply doesn’t care about right and wrong), then I’ll just point out that if there’s anyone out there whose commitment to morality really is contingent on God’s existence, then that person has remarkably bad character (and probably bad parents).

    “Morality is objective or transcendent just in case all beings everywhere share a certain sort of psychology”: The thing about objectivity/transcendence is that it’s completely independent of anyone’s psychology (this is why divine command theory fails). If 2+2=4 is objective/transcendent, then even if everyone everywhere forever thought 2+2=5, still 2+2=4 would be true and everyone would simply be wrong. Likewise, if “torturing animals is wrong” is objective/transcendent, then even if everyone everywhere forever denied it, still it would be true and everyone would simply be wrong.

    “Atheists ought to be starve-the-poor survival-of-the-fittest types”: First, atheism and Darwinian evolutionary biology are completely different topics — what connection there is, is merely social and historical. Second, biology doesn’t say what’s right and wrong, and it certainly doesn’t say that people with ‘unfit genes’ are to be starved. Biology just says that genes that make for reproductive success (a highly context-sensitive matter) tend to show up more and more in populations of living things.

    “Believing that torturing animals is wrong is just faith”: If this is faith, then faith is sometimes fine (better than fine!). But this is irrelevant to the theism/atheism issue. In general, claims about supernatural beings require a justification not required by basic moral judgments. Or at least this is how things seem, and I see no reason to doubt the appearances.

    “Agnostics are cowards, they refuse to take a stand”: But some agnostics do take a stand, looking at the reasons and evidence for and against God’s existence, and arguing that it’s roughly balanced. Paul Draper, for example, takes this position. I disagree with such agnostics (I think the balance tips towards atheism), but there’s nothing irrational or contemptible about their way of forming beliefs.

    “Atheists are stupid because you can’t give a knockdown disproof of God’s existence”: You pretty much never need a knockdown proof in order to reasonably hold a position. I have no knockdown proof that Earth has only one moon. I have no knockdown proof that it’s wrong to torture animals. I have no knockdown proof that Julius Caesar existed. But I think those things are true, and I’m reasonable in doing so. Just because I have no knockdown proof that there’s no God, it doesn’t follow that it’s unreasonable to think it’s true.

    “If you don’t have 100% confidence, then you’re an agnostic, not an atheist”: I don’t have 100% confidence that Julius Caesar existed. Am I now an agnostic about that? I (almost?) never have 100% confidence in things I believe. That doesn’t make me an agnostic about nearly everything.

    “The whole debate is pointless because you can’t define ‘God'”: The term is pretty stretchy, but it has clear exemplars and it can’t be applied to just anything. If a non-English speaker used the term to refer to an ordinary dryer sheet, and didn’t think the dryer sheet was special, and didn’t think it was worthy of worship, etc., we’d chalk it up to linguistic error. Why? Because the term has a clear enough meaning to guide interpretation. Likewise, it has a clear enough meaning to figure out whether there really is anything in the world answering to the term.

    “‘Atheism’ can only mean the absence of belief in God’s existence”: a-theism, it’s the lack of theism”: But etymology is no safe guide to meaning, otherwise pedophiles are those with a friendly love of children. The meaning of ‘atheism’ is determined by usage and nothing else.

    “‘Atheism’ can only mean belief in God’s nonexistence; otherwise you have no room for agnostics”: Plenty of people use ‘atheist’ for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to theism — ‘agnostics’ and ‘strong atheists’ alike. This is a quite common use of the term.

    “Atheists are bad because they believe in God’s nonexistence”: There’s nothing wrong with believing in God’s nonexistence. If you think about an issue, look at the evidence, arguments, and reasoning out there, and try to figure out what’s most likely, it’s only natural and right to end up taking a position. If you end up thinking God exists, OK. If you end up thinking God doesn’t exist, OK. If you end up thinking it’s 50-50 odds, OK. The question is whether your reasons are good reasons.

    “Creationists don’t deny the big bang”: Young-earth creationists think the entire universe is 6000-10000 years old. Roughly 45% of Americans appear to agree (you can Google it).

    * Apparently plunge already said this. Good. (S)he’s absolutely right (about this anyway).

  159. The New (militant) Atheism is just evangelicalism without the God. If I want to believe in God, what business is it of yours? And what are atheists so afraid of, anyway? That they might be wrong?

    I can’t help but think of Mark Foley. Those who rail the loudest against things are often in the closet about those same things.

  160. And what are atheists so afraid of, anyway? That they might be wrong?

    Egon, what makes you think atheists are really afraid of something?

    (I mean, if you have a good reason to think atheists are afraid, then it makes sense to speculate as to what they might be afraid of. But otherwise, it looks like you’re just making stuff up)

  161. Egon, we are not afraid of being wrong. Also nobody here is trying to take your right to beleive in anything. We were discussing the reasons and logic behind theism and atheism.
    This is a liberatrean blog after all. When you ask us,’If I want to believe in God, what business is it of yours?’ We say, ‘None at all, do what you will! But if we want to think that you are an idiot, what business is it of yours?”

  162. @MikeP:

    You are correct. I did, indeed, not read the thread as thoroughly as I should’ve. I let my perception of your views influence my comments. I beleive that I made some good points but my errors justify your response, to be sure.

    1 Kilo-pardons!

    Pi Guy

  163. “Those who rail the loudest against things are often in the closet about those same things.”

    while i tend to agree on the political side (a percentage of politicians and moralists seem to have a love of decrying what they enjoy in private and secret) i don’t think this is very applicable. were gay libbers of the 70s really straights in the closet? (while out of the closet, which itself was a gateway to another closet…closets within closets…)

  164. Pi Guy,

    No problem. It’s a long thread with a lot going on.

    I should learn my lesson and stop trying to moderate the extremes in such a fiery dispute. It’s just that dogmatic theists and dogmatic atheists seem to have a lot in common.

    Yet I’m not dogmatically antidogmatic. I myself am, after all, dogmatic about libertarianism and about rigorous science. So I’ll just let sleeping dogmas lie…

  165. I’ll agree to quietly step over the sleeping dogmas as well.

  166. val,

    “But shouldnt further growth and increased capacity for independent thought and action ultimately lead to ‘strong’ atheism.”

    No. First of all, not everyone is even interested in the subject of gods. Second of all, one might simply hear and reject arguments made for God by theists, but remain without special claims about Gods of their own. This is my situation, for instance.

    “Adult atheists should be ‘strong’ atheists. By that I mean that when questioned whether one believes in god, the person should positively assert that he/she in fact does not.”

    You are confused. Asserting that you do not believe is NOT the same as making a statement about God, or about anything other than describing yourself. I freely say that I do not believe in god: but this is weak atheism. It is also 100% consistent with agnosticism.

    In Doxastic logic, ~BX (not believe claim X) is not equivalent to B~X (believe not X). One is a claim about oneself only, while the other is a claim about the state of existence: that there is no God in it.

  167. “I understand the differences between strong and weak atheism. I understand Russell’s teapot. I’ve already stated this.”

    Saying you understand and showing it are two different things.

    “I have been willing to expand the definition of atheism beyond what many theists use. If you go back and read all my posts you will see that. I suppose you can choose not to believe what I say about the dictionary if you choose. It’s the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, published by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated in Springfield, Massachusetts, Copyright 1997.”

    Right: a single edition of a single dictionary, and frankly, not one of the best (especially since Webster had a long history of slipping biased definitions into his dictionary that only got cleared up over a long time. For instance, Christian things are defined as matters of fact, while other religious and spiritual beliefs always have a caveat of “some people believe.”) As many have shown, many other dictionaries include the non-belief definition, and some even put it first as the primary definition. Coupled with the fact that this is how most atheists themselves use the word, and coupled with the fact that it is the most logically clear and consistent usage, I think we’re made a fair case that you citing a single dictionary is not good enough. Jefferson used our definition. Most famous historical atheists used our definition. It’s not a cut and dry issue.

    “Now it’s obvious that strong atheism isn’t a baby’s position, but I am skeptical that weak atheism can even be attributed to babies. Even weak atheism assumes that there is a conscious person holding the non-belief, at least when the vast majority of people use the word.”

    Then the vast majority of people aren’t thinking very clearly, regardless of how they wish to define things. The majority may define common usage, but when this becomes and excuse to misrepresent atheists, that is precisely why I object to such a shifty, equivocating usage.

    “Now plunge, this is not the same as me saying that atheists must affirmatively deny God. I’ve been much broader than some atheists have here, who seem to use the word atheist as it could ONLY mean a weak version.”

    Again, you’re wrong. The weak INCLUDES the strong. Anyone who affirmatively believes that there is no god ALSO does not believe in god. That is what people are saying, not that strong atheists are somehow not atheists.

    “Once again, this is not the same thing as ascribing strong atheism to all atheists.”

    Ok, so then why do you object so vehemently to someone pointing out that babies aren’t believers? They are not believers in the same way that many if not most atheists are not believers. We were born. We didn’t believe. We grew up not believing. Some of us never really paid attention to the god claims, and others did but found them unconvincing, and others did and did find them convincing and became theists.

    I certainly agree that anthropomorphizing things is natural for obsessively social creatures such as ourselves, and thus the historical development of seeing spirits behind natural events all the way to the one-up-man-ship of expanding this concept to all of existence, as the more abstract and modern gods do, is predictable. But clearly, it’s not an inherent or natural thing for all humans to believe. Because for many of us, we don’t believe and never have. That’s why we are like babies and why we bring up the comparison. Not to claim babies on our side because babies are cute and cuddly.

  168. Dave,

    thanks for the reply,

    I just wanted to say that when I posted about the possible objectivity/transcendence of morality, I didn’t intend to say that people thinking morality was transcendent would make it so, nor did I mean to say consensus would make something objecive.

    When I discussed morality, I put the words evidence and seems in to hint at the fact that consensus and psychological staes would not conclusively prove anything.


  169. No. First of all, not everyone is even interested in the subject of gods. Second of all, one might simply hear and reject arguments made for God by theists, but remain without special claims about Gods of their own. This is my situation, for instance.

    You are confused. Asserting that you do not believe is NOT the same as making a statement about God, or about anything other than describing yourself. I freely say that I do not believe in god: but this is weak atheism. It is also 100% consistent with agnosticism.

    Plunge, we are getting more and more vague here. I can only make positive statement about something I can either directly experience or at the very least weigh evidence of and produce a coherent thought. Maybe ‘belief’ is the wrong term, call it a ‘cognitve outcome’ or whatever you like, however I assert that there is no god based on that outcome. Since we only have our senses as external data inputs I was using ‘beleive’ as synonym for my perceived reality.

    Thats what I meant by ‘strong’ atheism, Maybe ‘positive’ atheism is a better term. However, interest in the subject is irrelevant, if you’ve never thought of god or ever been questioned then I suppose you are a ‘weak’ atheist, or atheist by default.

    If I however I come up to you and question you about your ‘cognitive outcome’ on the subject of god and you choose to engage in coversation with me, that sufficient interest. And I think that at that point one must either choose to be a ‘positive’ theist or a ‘positive’ atheist.

    ‘I’m agnostic’ as the answer, I feel, is a cop-out. Because, when asked explain the person usualy says that he/she is undecided. OK, fine, AGNOSTIC is a fair answer if the person being questioned is at the current moment actively engaged in congitive discourse after which he will arive at either theism or atheism.

    Since agnosticism, basicaly means without knolege of god and you, I and many others have engaged in quite a lengthy thread on the subject, you arent really agnostic anymore. You’ve been presented with ‘knowledge’ from both sides as well weighed the evidence your self.

  170. “‘I’m agnostic’ as the answer, I feel, is a cop-out. ”

    that’s great. but you miss an important category.

    those who do not care. hence apagnostic. there may or may not be countless beings, hidden from human eyes and ears, or there may only be one directly guiding everything, or perhaps this is all a joke by Tezcatlipoca, He Who Plays Us Like Flutes.

    the question is actually irrelevant for some of us. you can think this is a cop out if you like, however.

  171. “You’ve been presented with ‘knowledge’ from both sides as well weighed the evidence your self.”

    arguments != knowledge.

    the issue is unknowable. hence it’s continued popularity.

  172. arguments indeed is knowledge…

    Do you ‘beleive’ in the speed of light? Or do you know it? Have you ever performed an experiment to determine it, or has one been performed in your presence. Or did you gain your knowledge from books? And the fact that you dont care about the speed of light doesnt really make it any less a fact.

    Like it or not, we base the majority of our knowledge on the arguments of experts. They become experts by actually demonstrating some of their assertion true or demonstrating their expertise to other experts. I dont go and peer review every paper published and test the claims for my self. The problem with religous ‘experts’ is that none of their knowledge has ever been demonstrated true, and infact alot of it has been demonstrated false.

    And yes, when I ask you if there is a god, and you tell me you are agnostic, because you dont care to engage in the conversation, because you’d rather do something else, you are doing an intellectual cop-out, you just cop-out for your own reasons.

    But, the stance that agnostisism is a valid theistic/atheistic stance is just wrong to me. You are agnostic because you dont care to spend the time thinking to reach an actual conclusion. Which is fine by me, but what are you doing in this thread?

  173. “If I however I come up to you and question you about your ‘cognitive outcome’ on the subject of god and you choose to engage in coversation with me, that sufficient interest. And I think that at that point one must either choose to be a ‘positive’ theist or a ‘positive’ atheist.”

    No. It’s very important to get the logical issues clear here, because confusion can easily lead one astray.

    I don’t positively assert anything about the existence of God. I have no need to really. I’m not putting forth the idea, other people are. That’s not to say that I don’t have attitudes about the various claims made about why I should think God exists. I pretty much find them all anywhere from simply unconvincing to ridiculous or even dishonest and vile.

    But it’s important NOT to confuse arguments for something with the thing itself.

    I’m an atheist and an agnostic. I don’t know, and I don’t believe. Simple as that.

  174. “arguments indeed is knowledge…”

    indeed is is.

    “But, the stance that agnostisism is a valid theistic/atheistic stance is just wrong to me.”

    standard answer, honed after years of having this conversation: ok. that’s cool. whatever floats thine boat, m’lord.

    alternately, if drunk or feeling particularly mysterious: there is no enemy anywhere.

    “But, the stance that agnostisism is a valid theistic/atheistic stance is just wrong to me. You are agnostic because you dont care to spend the time thinking to reach an actual conclusion.”

    obviously!

    orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    the question has been deemed to be unimportant!

    sorry!

    this isn’t that hard. even an atheist should be able to figure it out! [rimshot]

    buth theriously…

    long answer: the question is unanswerable to any degree of satisfaction, at least for my own satisfaction. furthermore, the data is largely unavailable, even if certain religious practices will make it appear to be more available (at least according those who undertake these things).

    but furthermore, let’s presume there is a divine being in the christian sense (so as to not complicate things), who doesn’t really make itself known, but intercedes in the world in ways both sublime and mysterious to us, but not directly outside of through intermediates of varying degrees of reliability.

    we must contend with various interpretations of what this thing’s will actually is, from the deeply individualistic christian mystic tradition and christian anarchism to established religious organizations. none of these are particularly harmonious, except on some major broad points, and that’s not really much of a help to us.

    one possible answer, presuming one is falliable and of limited capacity for piercing the veil of maya like any regular human, is that the question is then unimportant. if we cannot know it’s will, then what use does obeying one set of religious rules over the other really do for us? not a whole fucking lot, really.

    and if even the worst jesus crispie on the face of the earth, the most westboro baptist church motherfucker you ever done met…even if these fucks are right, and their god is both vengeful and righteous and a total fucking prick, and hell is both real and eternal and filled with all sorts of horrors…so what?

    would you bend a knee to something like that?

    short answer: either shit’s cool, shit’s unknowable, or shit can go fuck Itself.

    long answer, con’t: on the other side, if there is no organizing principle, the question is even less important, outside of social organization and community, both of which are very important. it doesn’t matter what you do, metaphysically, because it’s irrelevant to anything but your immediate spiritual peer group and your own mental landscape.

    short answer, con’t: shit ain’t even shit, so fuck it.

    does this help?

  175. Plunge,

    I assume, in the course of having exchanges on a blog like this one, that those I’m interacting with will read my posts. Perhaps I’m wrong about that. Let me reiterate a couple of things:

    I understand the difference between strong and weak atheism. Why don’t I explicitly define it for you? Because its becoming more and more tiresome talking to you. I mean hell, if you had read my posts, you would see that I demonstrated already that I know this difference. I understand that Val was using the terms incorrectly, and I’ve already acknowledged that technically speaking, a rock or baby does embody weak atheism. I only ask you to consider what Dave said above. What atheism means is what it is commonly meant.

    If those mean ole’ theists have been hurt you, well I’m sorry, go and cry on your momma’s shoulder. It’ll be OK.

    I’ve already acknowledged that Webster’s definition is too narrow, but I haven’t gotten the same courtesy from your side. Webster’s definition is too narrow, but it is PART of the range of definition. Your side needs to clarify that weak atheism is the version being referred to when atheism is attributed to babies. Also your side needs to proclaim that one need not be a conscious agent or even be capable of understanding what the term atheism means in order to qualify for being one, as this is the most idiosyncratic part of your usage.

    As for me, I’m an agnostic. I understand that this is technically the same thing as weak atheism. I wish to call myself something besides that in order to put as much psychological space between me and people like you, stopping before making a massacre of my intellectual conscience by becoming a theist. I’m also more ambivalent about the ontological status of spirituality and morality than most self-described atheists seem to be. Of all the organized religious traditions, I find the psychological insights of Buddhism the most appealing, and therefore don’t have the animus for organized religion in general the way many atheists seem to. For each of those reasons, I choose to call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist, even though I realize that my position is technically the same as weak atheism. BTW, if I said my own agnosticism was the same as atheism in general, this would be too vague, and a little misleading.

    So you see, I’m an agnostic, and you’ve alienated me. Dave didn’t explicitly sound like a theist, but he acknowledges the importance of common usage. Now I’ve acknowledged weak atheism and the way the word is used by many atheists, but maybe because some theists are mean, you refuse to yield to common usage. Oh well, whatever blows up your skirt.

    As an agnostic and as someone who understands that this is technically the same as weak atheism, I assert that you have added nothing to the debate by bringing in babies and rocks?go figure. I’m able to understand burden of proof and all that stuff without agreeing with the utility of appealing to baby atheists. Wow, how did that happen? Maybe its that I see that there are other ways of talking about these topics without appealing to a particularly peculiar usage of the word atheist, one that doesn’t require the atheist to even be conscious, or even be a “one” at all. Maybe people should mean what you think when you say atheist, but most of the time they don’t. You have to accept that if your going to be persuasive to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. Once again, sorry for all those meany theists.

    As for you, with the way you use the word atheist and the way you ascribe it to babies and rock, that’s fine. But in your presentation and your declarations about the words, you’ve been as rigid as a religionist and as prickly as a postmodernist, so I’m gonna leave it with you.

    Have a good?whatever it is you’re having…

  176. I’m an atheist and an agnostic. I don’t know, and I don’t believe. Simple as that.

    plunge, quite frankly you’ve lost me, since Im no longer sure what your point is, but you did illustrate one of the points I was trying to make. That is, by claiming that you are both atheist and agnostic you’ve suggested as I was trying, that the ‘agnostic measure’ does not belong on the spectrum of theist/atheist. It is not the middle ground between those two positions as many people believe.

    I however also hold the opinion that you cannot be both agnostic and a theist or atheist at the same time, to me all three are mutually exclusive.

    Theist and atheist are the two oposing teams on the playing field and the agnostic is the guy selling hotdogs.

  177. but furthermore, let’s presume there is a divine being in the christian sense (so as to not complicate things), who doesn’t really make itself known, but intercedes in the world in ways both sublime and mysterious to us, but not directly outside of through intermediates of varying degrees of reliability.

    dhex, lets presume there is not a divine being in the chrisitan or any other sense. I figure that due to the lack of evidence to the contrary, the absence of any such diety should be the default presumption. please make your argument from this point of view… Otherwise your argument is the same theistic argument that was used all over the place earlier in this thread.

    mr. dhex meet Mr. Russel and his teapot.


    orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    the question has been deemed to be unimportant!

    did I misrepresent your position somehow?? I said you are agnostic because you dont care to spend the time to reach an actual conclusion. What did you imply diffrently? OK, you dont care to spend the time because you deem the question unimportant, fine. Again what did I say that was different.

    does this help?

    sorry, not in the least…

  178. i did reach a conclusion, but it’s just not one you like. which is too bad, but the world sings us a sadness song now and again, and we must maintain, somehow…

    “Otherwise your argument is the same theistic argument that was used all over the place earlier in this thread.”

    well, i don’t see it as such. it’s neither theistic nor atheistic, as i addressed above. this tends to blow some minds like a vatful of acid on a day its raining kittens, but such is the price of being too cool for school.

  179. “Weak athiests?” I don’t think so.

    But, the stance that agnostisism is a valid theistic/atheistic stance is just wrong to me. You are agnostic because you dont care to spend the time thinking to reach an actual conclusion.

    Not necessarily.

    Here’s the question: “Does God exist?”

    Proofs:
    There is no definitive proof that God exists.
    There is no definitive proof that God does not exist.
    Lack of proof is not proof.

    Answers:
    Theist, “Yes, God exists.”
    Athiest, “No, God does not exist.”
    Agnostic, “I don’t know whether God exists.”

    Reasons:
    Theist, “Despite the lack of evidence that there is a God, I believe God exists.”
    Atheist, “Despite the lack of evidence that there is no God, I believe God does not exist.”
    Agnostic, “There is no evidence that God exists, and no evidence that God does not exist, therefore I don’t know whether God exists or not.”

    “I believe…” is a faith-based response not built on facts. The only reasonable (based on reason) conclusion is agnosticism. It is not necessarily a matter of laziness or lack of application. Even the most diligent search for answers does not always produce them.

    And, BTW, I can appreciate the above argument even though I remain a lifelong Christian. Faith is not a dirty word.

  180. Larry A., you’re making a few mistakes.

    “I believe…” is a faith-based response not built on facts.

    Again, I believe Charles I was beheaded, I believe the square root of two is irrational, I believe water is H2O. These are beliefs I have, beliefs I share with educated people. Is this “a faith-based response not built on facts”? (I mean, what sort of attitude are you supposed to have when you have good evidence for something’s truth? disbelief??)

    You also slide from “there is no definitive proof of theism or atheism”, which is relatively uncontroversial, to “there is no evidence for theism or atheism”, which is obscenely controversial.

    I’m also curious as to how you decide which religion to follow once you give up on reasons and evidence.

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