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Atheism, Plus a Survey

Something interesting happened to PZ this weekend at the Atheist Alliance of America conference in Denver.

I was (once again) making the argument that there had to be more to the atheism movement than just the dictionary definition, and I first made the case that we’ve comfortably accommodated much bigger, loftier goals than not believing in gods, by pointing out that we readily accept science as part of the atheist parcel. And then I moved on to asking whether there were other things we’d be willing to say that atheists, as a movement, ought to fight for. What are the secular causes?

“Science Education?” I asked. And the audience said “yes”.

“Environmentalism?” I asked. And the audience said “yes”.

“Civil rights for minorities?” I asked. And the audience said “yes,” loudly.

“Gay marriage?” I asked. And the audience yelled back “yes”.

“Feminism?” I asked. And the audience shouted “yes”.

The opposition to Atheism+ is loud, but is it as broad as it claims (even where it doesn’t claim to be universal)? Just as importantly, how broad is the opposition among those who are politically active in the name of atheism itself? How much of the pushback is a general reaction to making waves and making change?

The answers to these questions aren’t easy to get at, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a start. I was chatting with Martin Pribble, author of the most supportive “I am not Atheism+” post I’ve read, on Twitter last night about the amount of hope that has been generated by Atheism+. As I put it then, “There’s a lot of hope. Much of it is coming from people who haven’t felt comfortable speaking up, though, so it’s quieter.” After all, it’s to be expected that a public dialog will be skewed toward the viewpoints of those who aren’t punished for speaking up in public.

That was when Martin reminded me that he’s running a survey related to this topic and I smacked myself in the forehead in a classic “duh” moment. I’ve been meaning to promote the survey, because I think more of us ought to get counted when we have the chance, but I hadn’t put all the pieces together. I have no excuse except not sitting still for more than five minutes since he made the survey public and I saw the questions.

This is a survey about atheism and worldviews, public atheism, and atheism and politics. It is also a place to speak up and be counted on these topics anonymously if you wish. There are three questions, one for each topic, with open ended answers. While the survey requests that the answers be kept short, don’t stint. Martin says he’ll already have a bear of a time processing the information, so what the hell. (Okay, the quote was, “This has ended up being a fair bi[t] bigger than I thought so more info the better”.)

Let’s find out what people really think about these things. And let’s make sure that “people” includes those of us who normally stay quiet.

Comments

  1. sqlrob says

    An online survey, really?

    You should know by now that PZ isn’t the only one that tries to smash those and show their invalidity.

  2. 'Tis Himself says

    sqlrob, this isn’t a multiple choice survey, it’s an essay survey. Here’s the questions:

    How does your worldview, (atheism, skepticism or agnosticism, whichever is applicable to you), influence your life?

    Why is it important to be vocal as an atheist, skeptic or agnostic (if at all)?

    What are the political and social ramifications of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism? Should these movements embrace political ideas that are outside of the description of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism?

    I have copied the questions to a Word document. I’ll be spending at least an hour writing answers.

  3. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    Just completed the survey. I’ll be curious to read the responses of others (if Martin intends to post the responses).

  4. sqlrob says

    You underestimate the resources of something like 4Chan.

    Even if the results aren’t skewed, it’s going to be a bunch of effort filtering through the bogus responses.

  5. says

    I have copied the questions to a Word document. I’ll be spending at least an hour writing answers.

    Eeek an hour, I just spent 10 minutes bashing something out. It’s school all over again with the conscientious kids making me look bad.

  6. Onamission5 says

    Done!

    @oolon #6: I spent about 10-15 minutes on the questions, between breaking up kid squabbles, finding out *WTF is going ON OUT THERE to make them make that noise* and answering phones, then I spent another five fixing my harried typos.

    It’s rare I have a solid hour to do anything!

  7. says

    Thanks for the plug Stephanie. This article has brought with it a good amount of responses, and even though it increases the work for me, I think it is important for the validity of this survey. The results are incredibly varied, even more so than I thought would be the case.

    As for bogus responses? I have not seen even one. Yet.

    The survey closes on Friday, so if you are interested in putting your voice in here, do so before then.

    Thanks again!

  8. 'Tis Himself says

    I’ve decided to inflict my answers on you.

    How does your worldview, (atheism, skepticism or agnosticism, whichever is applicable to you), influence your life?

    My atheism can best be expressed by living a rational life. Because I reject an outside “god” directing my life, I must direct it myself.

    The biggest problem I face in life is not knowing what will benefit me and what will be detrimental. I constantly face choices which effect the quality of my life. I must choose my values: where to live, how to spend my time, whom to associate with, whom to believe. I must choose what to think about, and how to go about achieving my goals. Which character traits to acquire and which to discard. Which of our emotional responses are beneficial and which detrimental. By what criteria to judge others and on what basis to interact with them. I must decide these issues and thus direct my life. To the extent that I default on this, to that extent I am at the mercy of social and emotional factors that may be far from optimal.

    Reason is the mental faculty that integrates my perception of reality while eliminating contradictions. Reason seeks to obtain as accurate a representation of reality as possible. This model includes knowledge of external reality, as well as knowledge of my own thoughts and emotions. Reasoning consists of conscious and subconscious processes. For example, intuition and induction, which are partly subconscious, are used in integration and conceptualization. Information obtained by these subconscious means must be double-checked by conscious processes to establish its accuracy. Because of limits in my cognitive ability, I need to systematically test my data and reasoning against other minds and against reality.

    Rationality does not provide absolute, acontextual certainty. All objective knowledge–knowledge of reality obtained by rational means–is subject to future revision and clarification. Some objective knowledge is beyond doubt; I have no reason to doubt it. That knowledge is called “certain”. It is certain within the context of experience, knowledge and cognitive ability. Some of the things that I am certain of: I exist; I am conscious; improved self-esteem improves personal well-being. Each of these statements assumes a context of knowledge and meaning; they are certain only within that context. Conceivably additional knowledge or a changed context may render them false, but I currently have no evidence to doubt my certainty.

  9. IIzO says

    The only problem with “atheism +” is the name of the movement…atheism doesn’t define anything as it is (except its dictionnary definition) and therefore shouldn’t be used as it is misleading and the “+” simply isn’t explicit enough .

  10. 'Tis Himself says

    Why is it important to be vocal as an atheist, skeptic or agnostic (if at all)?

    Gods and religion are bad for societies. They stifle investigation into the world and how people interact. They increase social inequality and impede social justice. They cause good people to do evil things. Therefore it is my social duty to denounce religion and gods loudly and publicly.

  11. 'Tis Himself says

    What are the political and social ramifications of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism? Should these movements embrace political ideas that are outside of the description of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism?

    Strictly atheism is the disbelief in gods. Strictly literacy is the ability to read and write. But what is read and written is more important than the mere ability to read a newspaper and write a note to your child’s teacher excusing an absence. If one is going to use one’s literacy, then one should be reading more than comic books and writing more than grocery lists. Similarly, atheism requires more than just not believing in gods. As I wrote above, atheism requires the denunciation of the evils of gods and religions.

    Because I dislike the effects of religion on society, it’s not a stretch to dislike other evils found in society. Sexism, racism, and other forms of social inequality should be acted against regardless of whether caused by religion or caused by some other factor. Unless one is dealing with the causes of social inequality, it’s easier to ignore the proximate causes and just deal with the inequality.

  12. lenblakely says

    I for one support the notion of elections for the leadership of atheismplus, might do wonders to see democracy in action.

  13. Rob says

    Following ‘Tis Himself’s lead…

    How does your worldview, (atheism, skepticism or agnosticism, whichever is applicable to you), influence your life?
    I am an atheist and, as a scientist, I like to think that I am typically skeptical of claims until they are evaluated. Once freed from the dogma of religious as a child and historical cultural beliefs as an adult, I had the choice to care only about myself, or to turn my rational mind to making the world around me better (at least as I define better). I have chosen, always chosen, to attempt to make the world a better place. I see no other rational choice and I cannot separate the choice to act from my decision to define myself as an atheist and skeptic. My compassion for others and belief in social justice (in the widest sense) lead me to identify as an atheist, which in turn freed me to pursue social justice unbound by other belief systems.

    I always ‘believed’ Atheism+ was the way forward, without having a name for a movement with which I could self identify other than Atheist. When Jen proposed Atheism+ as a possible movement for like minded people to self-identify with, it was as if the Universe rang like a bell. Nothing religious, simply that here was something that to me was undeniably right sounding at both an emotional and intellectual level.

    Why is it important to be vocal as an atheist, skeptic or agnostic (if at all)?
    The world is a wonderful place. It is also full of terrible shit. Religious wars and bigotry. Racism, sexism, economic and environmental oppression. Few people in the world have complete autonomy and power of their lives in every aspect, but many of us are privileged enough to have the economic and cultural freeboard to speak openly. If you want the world to be a better place, however you define and why ever you chose to define it, you must act if you are able and at the level you are able to. There is no other rational choice. At least as an Atheist and skeptic I can choose to act in a manner that avoids the worst excesses of my cultural baggage and that helps to negate the negative impact of the religiously and culturally crippled.

    As someone who identifies as Atheist+ this is doubly important to me. Yes the dictionary definition of Atheist is simply ‘no belief in God(s)’. So what? Is that really where my intellect and choices are supposed to stop? Do I fossilise at that point? Impossible! I must, we should all apply the intellectual freedom granted by that initial step to grow and change.
    Simply choosing not to believe in God does not make a rounded and decent human being. You can still be an asshole who doesn’t believe in God. Within the limits of my economic and cultural freeboard I am happy to be vocal.

    What are the political and social ramifications of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism? Should these movements embrace political ideas that are outside of the description of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism?
    I have already partially addressed this above. I believe that the world can be improved and that if I/you have the ability to act I/you should. Doubly so if you know you have rational scientific and philosophical grounds for doing so. That said, if you are a dictionary atheist and do not share my social or political beliefs, how and why should I force this on ‘your’ part of the movement. Simply put, I can’t and shouldn’t. But by the same token who is a dictionary atheist to tell me that I cannot grow beyond that stultified state? The choice to self identify with any part of the movement is personal. The choice to act, or not, is personal. Some parts of the movement can choose to have a social justice voice while some can keep their focus on matters of belief only. It’s a big house, there’s room for all.

  14. Intersex Trollassassin says

    > How does your worldview, (atheism, skepticism or agnosticism, whichever is applicable to you), influence your life?

    The ideology of the Guild of Intersex Trollassassins is Posthuman Fascism. We have a will to power and we intend to use it.

    > Why is it important to be vocal as an atheist, skeptic or agnostic (if at all)?

    One may speak up or one may plot in silence. To do neither is to be a slave.

    > What are the political and social ramifications of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism? Should these movements embrace political ideas that are outside of the description of atheism, skepticism or agnosticism?

    Posthuman Fascism seeks to transcend the traditionally male and female methods of seeking power, by favoring rational and ungendered methods. Thus we sincerely endorse causes such as Gay Marriage and a Carbon Tax, in order to end-run mere Human Fascists, who favor traditional values such as Patriarchy and Oligarchy. Traditional Human Fascists are advantaged by their unrepressed consciousness of power, but they are disadvantaged by the objective diversity of the contemporary world.

  15. says

    The opposition to Atheism+ is loud, but is it as broad as it claims?

    Probably not. If we judged the consensus position by post count, the inevitable conclusion would be that the movement’s been crushed by the divine pen of Nostradamus, that atheism’s 9/11 is coming, and that goats are on fire.

  16. jakobaggernaes says

    Sorry, but words have meanings.

    Admittedly the word “atheist” do not mean very much, just “not a theist”. That makes it tempting to use it as a trademark word for movements opposing some theistic excesses, such as fx the current US initiatives to ban abortion, gay sex and the teaching of evolutionary theory.

    You might well conduct a survey and find that todays atheists are chiefly liberals, but that should not change the meaning of the word ‘atheist’. It would just reflect the natural polarisation caused by so many theistic US groups having embraced a strongly conservative political stance.

    How about choosing another word ? Like fx: ‘secularist’. That would also have the benefit of allowing theists who agree with the secular aims of the group to join. There are quite a few such people you know.

    regards JakobA

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Yesterday, I suggested people take Martin Pribble’s survey on the role of politics within atheism and related movements. When Martin suggested I take the survey, I warned him that I don’t tend to write short on these questions. He told me that would be fine. We’ll see how he feels after seeing my answers, printed below. (Yes, I’ve entered them in the survey proper as well.) How does your worldview, (atheism, skepticism or agnosticism, whichever is applicable to you), influence your life? [...]

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