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What kind of atheist are you?

I am accustomed to annoying people. A year and a half ago, I made this post about Dictionary Atheists that sent almost as much hate mail winging my way as desecrating a cracker did, and because I just love to poke people, I’m going to revisit it now.

I’ll admit that I took a rhetorically wrong approach that led many people to come away with the wrong impression. I was saying that dictionary atheists, those people who say they’re just atheists because they don’t believe in god, were simply reciting an equivalence and not addressing any of the interesting reasons why they were atheists, the stuff that we need to communicate to get other people to recognize our values and appreciate them. Somehow, in some people’s minds, this got turned into Tyrant PZ telling all the atheists what they have to believe, I think because they interpreted my criticisms of superficial explanations and a request to acknowledge deeper cognitive mechanisms to be a demand that there is only one good way to think, which is not true at all.

So I’m going to try something different. I’ve been reading all these “Why I am an atheist” stories, as well as various atheist blogs, and what I see is a couple of major strands of atheist thought. Let’s put together a brief and preliminary taxonomy of atheists! Maybe it will help clarify things, because I consider all of these ways of being an atheist as being perfectly valid, so it should be clear I’m not being judgmental or trying to shoehorn everyone into my flawless mold. But I do think we should all try to be aware of the underpinnings of our ideas.

I see four major categories of thoughtful atheists: scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists. I’m going to describe what I think are the major strengths and weaknesses of each; you can tell me whether you think we need more divisions and better defining characteristics, but be warned, taxonomically I’m more of a lumper than a splitter.

Scientific Atheists:

The New Atheist camp tends to be well-stocked with scientific atheists, because the most influential atheist of our generation, Richard Dawkins, is one, and The God Delusion is really a wonderful introduction to their philosophical position (also, a disclaimer: I consider myself one of these kinds of atheist, too). Scientific atheists have strong expectations that claims about the nature of the universe will be backed up with empirical evidence and reason; that our goal should be acquiring deeper truths about reality; and that knowledge and epistemology are paramount.

Examples: Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Jason Rosenhouse, Pharyngula.

Strengths: They are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. It is almost certainly true that there is no god, and it is definitely true that god’s proponents have not provided reasonable evidence to support their outlandish and unnatural claims. For many of us, that is sufficient: the power of science combined with the failure of religion to ever provide cause to think their claims are true means that the Scientific Atheist will simply say “case closed” and be done with it.

Weaknesses: Smugness. It’s a well-deserved smug, though, because they are right — but it means they’re often poorly suited to political action. It also means they tend to be dismissive of the other kinds of atheism; witness the exceedingly smug put-downs of philosophy by Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss.

Common phrase: “Show me the peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Or STFU.”

Philosophical Atheists:

Give credit where it is due — philosophical atheists are the original atheists, and while they are a bit swamped by the rising numbers of scientific atheists, they’re still a major intellectual contributor to how we think. Philosophical atheists aren’t as focused on empiricism; instead they address the logic and assumptions of claims about gods. They may also have a deeper appreciation of history, and consider the causes leading to atheist conclusions.

Examples: John Wilkins, Camels With Hammers, Atheist Experience, The Uncredible Hallq.

Strengths: Rigor. Asking hard questions. Of all the atheists, philosophical atheists are the most likely to turn on their fellow atheists and demand that they back up their assumptions. This is the team that keeps the rest of us honest, and is essential to the integrity of the movement.

Weaknesses: Long-winded, and to the rest of us, fussy and annoying. These are also probably the least charismatic of the atheists: it’s really hard to rally around a detailed discussion of modus ponens. Unless you’re a philosopher.

Common phrase: Phrase? These are philosophers. You’re more likely to get a treatise out of them.

Political Atheists:

While the scientific atheists have knowledge and forcefulness, and the philosophical atheists have reason and logic, the political atheists are the ones who get the hard work done. These are the organizers and diplomats and lobbyists, the people at the cutting edge who make it their business to work every day with (and against) the opponents of atheism. They’re willing to work for incremental gains, so they’ll often be more narrowly focused on what we can get done today, next week, next year. If you find an atheist who will cite case law at you and wants to organize a campaign to resolve a church-state separation conflict, you’ve found a political atheist.

Examples: This Week in Christian Nationalism, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, all of the sites of the major atheist organizations.

Strengths: They do the work. Without these people, we’d be a bunch of stuffy academics meeting in university auditoriums to talk about ideal universes and inconsistencies in the Bible.

Weaknesses: Infuriatingly willing to compromise. Oh, wait, is that a weakness?

Common phrase: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Humanists:

Humanists are people driven by real-world concerns; they support atheism because they see religion as a source of oppression or injustice, they see secularism as a better path to fairness and equality, they want to put a human face on the abstractions of atheism. These are people motivated by ethical and social concerns. It’s fine to say we’re atheists because we believe in the truth, but it’s the humanists who give us a reason to think the truth matters.

This category represents the bulk of humanity. These are the idealists who set the grand goals, and the activists who want a better world. If we want the atheist movement to grow, we must adopt wider goals than pure science and philosophy. We must embrace humanity and culture.

Examples: Black Skeptics, Maryam Namazie, No Country for Women, Zinnia Jones

Strengths: This is the heart of an atheist movement that will endure and grow. Ignore it and we can expect atheism to fade away.

Weaknesses: Pragmatically fickle. If the atheist movement does not address human concerns, they’ll leave and follow institutions that do. Why be an atheist if an inclusive, progressive church were to do a better job? Why be an atheist if we neglect the concerns of women or minorities, or belittle civil rights?

Common phrase: “Our aim is a Humanist world in which human rights are respected and everyone can live a life of dignity.”

None of these categories are mutually exclusive, and I suspect a lot of readers are thinking, “Oh, I’m both X and Y”, or even recognizing elements of all four in their thinking. That’s good! I think the only way for this movement to grow and take over the world is for us to develop an appreciation of a synthesis of all of these motivations. I recognize my own failings; as a scientific atheist myself, I have to struggle to not just wave away all the other reasons as irrelevant. I consciously try to express a greater concern for humanist issues.

I also think that lacking an understanding of the multiple strands of atheist thought is a common cause of the Deep Rifts problem that keeps cropping up in the atheist movement. Those of us who identify most strongly with one camp will snipe at the other camps; the differences between us are fracture points. When a philosopher complains that the New Atheists are naive, or a political atheist grumbles that we aren’t diplomatic enough, there’s a temptation to just reach out and slap ‘em a few times. Respect my bunker, while I take a few potshots at yours!

The current arguments over feminism are broadly reflective of a division between the scientific atheists and the humanists. Often, scientific atheists like to wallow in a smug party of our own incontrovertible truth (I can say this as one of them), and we can get resentful when we’re told that no, there’s more work to be done if we want to win the culture wars. What, just being right isn’t enough? We have to be socially conscious? Oh, screw that, my answer is simple and pure and true.

But what we need is more recognition that a scientific equation is not sufficient for most people, and that there are problems in the world that cannot be resolved by nothing more than an accurate description of reality. Dismissing feminism or racism or environmental concerns or whatever issue involves human happiness as irrelevant to the True Atheism™ is a serious problem in our movement right now, and we’re going to stall out in our current growth if we only appeal to scientists and technocrats.

Go forth and be aware. Listen to people other than science nerds or political wonks or academics. We can only conquer if we accept the breadth of human experience.

Comments

  1. smhll says

    I’m an atheist because I read detailed descriptions of the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition when I was twelve and I thought “This shit is wrong!” Does that make me a humanist atheist?

    Also, my latter years thought was that no sensible G-d would create hundreds of religions and only the ones who picked the right doctrine get the big sparkly end-of-life door prize while other people go to hell.

    But I don’t think about it a lot. So there maybe should be a Lite Atheist category, even if it is less filling.

  2. Brownian says

    What about those of us who are atheists just to piss off our families?

    Strengths: Ruining family functions.

    Weaknesses: The ham that’s served at family functions.

    Common phrase: “I don’t say grace, Gramma. I’m an atheist. I said, ‘I don’t say grace.’ Gramma: Grace. I don’t say it. Gramma, where’s your hearing aid? Did you leave it in the bathroom again? I’ll go get it.”

  3. says

    Yeah, I also thought about including Bandwagon Atheists (only there because the cool people are), Dumbass Atheists (anti-authoritarian jerkwads), and Racist Atheists (because…ISLAM!), but then decided to confine myself to just the thoughtful atheists.

  4. says

    Lifelong Atheist here… so I’m not sure where I fit in to the categories.

    Maybe the Deep Rifts are due in part to people having an easier time defining themselves by what and who they are not, rather than defining themselves by their own attributes and being happy with that. I have no problem with how the vast majority of people work their atheism, because as long as they don’t interfere with me and how I’m doing it. I have a HUGE problem with people like the accommodationists and anti-feminists who can’t be happy or comfortable in their own niche without constantly appending their position with “…unlike THOSE OTHER atheists.”

    … and I’ve been guilty of it too, towards more formally philosophical atheists. I don’t have much use for formal philosophy, but that doesn’t make it invalid. John Loftus makes it invalid. :)

  5. Brownian says

    Yeah, I also thought about including Bandwagon Atheists (only there because the cool people are)

    Because the cool people? I am the cool people. Er, person.

    Also, I am definitely not on the wagon.

  6. says

    You left out an important category, default atheists, i.e. the people for whom not believing in god is not a big deal because it has become the normal assumption of educated people and doesn’t have very many positive implications. For example, the non-existence of God doesn’t imply the rightness or wrongness of political liberalism, feminism, environmentalism, or much else. Unfortunately, this sort of atheism doesn’t lead to very interesting “Why I am an Atheist” narratives.

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I would say I’m about 80-15% scientific atheist, 15-20% humanist, with a soupcon of the other two types PZ mentioned.

  8. dianne says

    I’m the kind of atheist that doesn’t believe in a god or gods because there’s no evidence for it. I guess that puts me in the “scientific atheist” category. The humanism follows from that belief.

  9. Esteleth, Raging Dyke of Fuck Mountain says

    I think this taxonomy has a lot of truth in it!

    I’m a blend of humanist and scientific atheist – which is to say that I’m inwardly a scientific atheist (i.e. that’s why I’m an atheist) but outwardly a humanist (i.e. that’s how I’m an atheist).

    A lot of the taxonomy shows up in who people are willing to make common cause with. A humanist may be willing to work alongside a religious social-justice campaigner in a way that a philosophical or scientific atheist would not, and a political atheist would more readily make common cause with a religious minority in the cause of building a secular society.

  10. says

    I suppose I am a philosophical atheist, in that I do enjoy seeing someone like Sam Harris poke a few holes in Dawkins or Steven Pinker’s reductionism. I recall one dialogue where Sam was talking about his meditative experiences. Dawkins jumped in, cut him off, and said “that’s just the brain” – as if Sam were making some woo-woo truth claim, which of course he was not. Sam was discussing the enjoyable esthetics and benefits of meditation (which are sometimes, but by no means always, interpreted as supernatural) and Dawkins reactivity betrayed his anxiety. I mean, after the guy makes love to his wife and she says “that was great honey” does Dawkins then say “that’s just the brain my dear”. Lol.

    But atheism in the sense of an answer to the stupidity of taking any religious text literally has always just seems like the only sane and rational stance. It’s the only position that makes sense with the evidence we have.

  11. left0ver1under says

    I have no opinion on the definitions PZ Myers lists, but there is one thing about definitions of groups that does bother me.

    You can tell a lot by how groups define groups other than their own, that they display their biases in doing so. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find an atheist who defines a catholic as someone who supports organized pedophilia, but you can readily find baptists who call catholics “papists” or “satanists”.

    The most honest definition of a group other than one’s own is in the words and views of the group being defined. But getting anyone to do that is rare, since most people try to portray themselves as good or right and others as bad and wrong. Atheists reading might agree that we “lack belief in gods” (plural, since all claimed gods are equally false), while the religious near always define us as “deniers of god’s existence”, a statement I doubt any atheist would accede to.

  12. says

    I’m 60% political atheist, 30% humanist, and 10% scientific atheist.

    Most atheists in Europe are I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn atheists, which is not very useful for anything at all, unfortunately.

  13. ChasCPeterson says

    so far I’ve got:

    Atheists
    …Lifelong/Default/?Lite?
    …Thoughtful
    ……Scientific
    ……Philosophical
    ……Political
    ……Humanist
    …Other
    ……?Lite?
    ……Bandwagon
    ……Dumbass
    ……Racist

  14. don1 says

    I guess originally as a humanist, just too much horrible stuff that makes no sense in religion. More lately adding a scientific dimension, evolution is pretty horrible but at least it makes sense.

    Also a disinclination to grovel before a putative higher power.

  15. dianne says

    Most atheists in Europe are I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn atheists, which is not very useful for anything at all, unfortunately.

    On the plus side, they’re less likely to start religious wars.

  16. says

    Interesting breakdown, though I have no idea where I’d fit. My father was a paranoid schizophrenic, so at a young age I became a very careful skeptic of everything, terrified that I too might become delusional. As I did that, I began to see how little support there was backing up so many beliefs people held. I guess maybe I’d fall under the scientific atheists, because I need hard proof.

  17. ericdutton says

    I came to atheism through the scientific door, but I spend most of my energy on philosophical atheism. It was my experiences in with the church that made me skeptical of the supernatural, but it was you (a scientific atheist) that led me to embrace atheism. My inclination toward philosophical atheism might explain why I rarely comment here except when I disagree with you or with majority of the commenters.

  18. karmakin says

    @5: Yeah, it’s the attitude like guys like Loftus, that philosophy and theology are the end all and be all that really put me off all of that as well.

    Personally I’m a Political Humanist atheist. I wouldn’t be interested in an atheistic movement that didn’t generally move in the right direction in terms of culture and society. It’s not that it would make me a theist, I’d just ignore the whole thing. I’d become apathetic over the issue.

  19. Esteleth, Raging Dyke of Fuck Mountain says

    I’d argue that the lifelong atheists fall into two categories: the ones who are led by their atheism to do something (which puts them into one of the other groups) and the ones who are not (which makes them part of the “silent” atheists).
    Silent atheists are atheists who don’t talk about, don’t advertise it, don’t do anything.

  20. joed says

    I consider myself a Taoist-Atheist.
    In order to attempt to avoid the venom I will consider myself a simple atheist.

  21. flevitan says

    What kind of atheist was Hitchens? Philosophical? Political? Humanist? Irascible? Rhetorical?

  22. cowalker says

    This is an excellent description of the main points of view among atheists. Dare I suggest that the “accomodationist atheists”–religious belief or lack thereof is irrelevant, unless that belief becomes disruptive to others–also have a place at the table? I count them as a subset of Humanists.

    OK, PZ, I know that you can’t stand them, and I get why, but listen to what PZ says: “Dismissing . . . whatever issue involves human happiness as irrelevant to the True Atheism™ is a serious problem in our movement right now, and we’re going to stall out in our current growth if we only appeal to scientists and technocrats.”

    I think some people tune out immediately if you begin by attacking their feeling that there is a spiritual element to human life, but they would listen to your reasons for rejecting the idea of a personal God, if you didn’t begin by denying what they believe they’re experienced.

    Some people are ready to listen to you, or Richard Dawkins, in all-out, religion-stinks mode. Often these are people who have suffered from, or witnessed religious abuses. Others need to start with baby steps.

    I’ve never understood why some atheists think that atheism should be expressed in only one way.

    “We can only conquer if we accept the breadth of human experience.” PZ Myers

    I count myself as a scientific atheist, but have long acknowledged that the last 1% of not-atheist was gotten over by temperament. There is no evidence for a God, but I am also disgusted by the concept of a being that would deliberately design a world where sentient creatures must devour each other alive to survive, and then demand worship from these creatures. I detest bullies. I guess this is the humanist in me. I can imagine a different kind of person, so afraid of death or disorder, that he/she would strain mightily to overcome the lack of proof, and to believe.

  23. mojave66 says

    I’m definitely a mix of scientific and humanist atheist, but I don’t mind talking modus ponens over a few beers.

  24. Beatrice says

    If we simplify the issue, I guess the category in which I fit the best is humanists.

  25. boredbygod says

    Might there be a fifth category — the aesthetic atheists? Of the categories you offer, I would feel most at home with scientific atheists. But none of the categories quite capture my true, original motive for rejecting religion: it is so obviously a product of human culture that it needs to be judged by the standards of other products of human culture — and, once we judge it by those standards, we find that it is so lame as to be almost painful.

    Even as a child, I couldn’t help feeling that religion was phoney, unpersuasive, and deadly dull. It was like watching a bad movie, except that this bad movie never came to an end. If religion had offered me better entertainment value, it’s possible I wouldn’t have got around to analyzing it in scientific terms (and noticing that, in addition to being unimpressive from an aesthetic point of view, it also made a poor fit with reality).

    If asked to defend my atheism, I will probably do so in terms of scientific atheism. But the real reason I turned against religion in the first place was aesthetic: religion puts on a really lousy show. It’s surprising to me how many ex-theists report that they were once impressed by that show, and had to learn to see past it. For me it was always “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.

  26. Trebuchet says

    I suppose I’m a scientific atheist, but it’s difficult to remember my 15-year-old thought processes nearly 50 years later.

    I kind of disagree with the “political atheist” category. I see those as subsets of the other three kinds. You don’t become a political atheist at first, you start out by becoming an atheist some other way and then move into the activism.

    Another category, although small, might be the “raised that way” atheists. Definitely NOT my category!

  27. Azuma Hazuki says

    I am definitely a combination of scientific and philosophical atheist, and in fact I believe that the two are two sides of the same coin…both of which must be mastered if you want to be able to justify this (lack of) belief.

    Remember, science was called natural philosophy until fairly recently in our history. I always thought it was a little glib to just assume the scientific method works without validating it philosophically, or at least taking a cursory whack at the problem of induction etc.

    People who come at this from a purely scientific starting point get flattened the first time they run up against van Tillian presuppositionalism. The solution to presup is fairly simple, but only if you know philosophy. Conversely, people who have only a philosophical background and don’t know the history and science behind what the apologists spew very often find themselves overwhelmed by plausible-sounding claims they can’t refute.

    Humanism plays a part in my feelings on this too, but that’s just it: feelings. You can’t start from “religion makes people do inhumane things” and get to “therefore none of it is true.” You just can’t. Reality doesn’t give a good there-is-no-god-damn what we feel.

  28. Patricia, OM says

    I’m a ten-tined pitchfork atheist. Religiots start hurling that bullshit at me, I’ll fork em’ till they run.
    That’s it.

  29. DLC says

    what about the “pretends to be an Atheist just long enough to get some street cred and then joins a church” kind ?
    or the “I’m rationalizing joining church because my boy/girlfriend/fiancee wants me to” kind of Atheist ?

    Me, I’m a “joined the Non-believers because they had better chocolate” Atheist.

  30. fernando says

    Philosophical and scientific.

    Both are inseparable in my view of atheism.

  31. forgotmygingko says

    WHOOHOO!!

    Buffet Atheist here. All four categories suit me just fine.

  32. A Hermit says

    I try to take a bit from all those categories I hope, but probably mostly humanist here. I like boredbygod’s suggestion of the “aesthetic atheist” as a kind of sub-category (uh oh, schisms already!) I’ve always thought of religion as a kind of art form, often expressing the worst but sometimes the best in humanity. So I guess I’m kind of an art critic atheist.

  33. anteprepro says

    I’m all of them. Science and philosophy are complementary to one another, and, together, provide relative certainty that atheism is true. Humanism and politics are complementary to me, and together they provide me with the desire to defend atheism and undermine religion. Science and philosophy are how I know, humanism and politics are why I care. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case for a lot of people here.

  34. raefn says

    Primarily humanist, although I understand the other arguments for atheism. I strongly believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Religion is an obstacle to universal respect because it fosters misogyny and tribalism. Religion is never ‘we’, it is always ‘us versus them’.

  35. tariqata says

    Esteleth @11 nailed my stance perfectly:

    I’m a blend of humanist and scientific atheist – which is to say that I’m inwardly a scientific atheist (i.e. that’s why I’m an atheist) but outwardly a humanist (i.e. that’s how I’m an atheist).

    I’m not an atheist because I think religion is a source of injustice and repression (although I do); I’m an atheist because there is no empirical evidence to justify a belief in a god or gods, and more than ample evidence to suggest that science and reason are the tools that enable us explore and understand reality. I wouldn’t stop being an atheist if the atheist community is suddenly beset by a wave of racism or sexism or homophobia, for example, but I hope that I’d stop being a member of that community (or at least lurking on its edges – longtime reader of Pharyngula here, but very infrequent commenter).

    At the same time, although I am fascinated by new research that helps to explain natural phenomena, I’m not interested in doing it; the problems that interest me are problems of policy – specifically, crafting housing and urban policies that ensure that all people can access safe, affordable and appropriate housing. I wouldn’t say that I was motivated to do the kind of work that I do specifically by my atheism, but it is the underpinning of my belief that we all have an obligation to work to make this a world where everyone can “live a life of dignity” – there is no other world, and no one else but us to do that work.

  36. =8)-DX says

    Hehe, I feel like all four inform my atheism. I wouldn’t be here without meddling science and philosophy, an interest in world politics and a grudging aknowledgement of humanist ideals.

    take over the world

    Years ago, in a basement somewhere, amid the buzzing of crazy scientific machiner:
    Purple PZ: “I feel like I could… like I could… like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!!”

  37. cowalker says

    boredbygod at 4 July 2012, 1:18 pm says:

    “But the real reason I turned against religion in the first place was aesthetic: religion puts on a really lousy show.”

    You make a very interesting point. I have long maintained that it’s no coincidence that fervent religious belief has declined at an accelerating rate from the invention of the phonograph, moving pictures, and TV through the advent of the internet, iPods, flat screens, etc. Religion used to offer a lot of DRAMA and entertainment to the average person. I mean, humanity was the precious stake in a fight between Good and Evil. Jesus loved you personally. The Devil never ceased scheming and tempting you personally. There were free plays and music, which used to be scarce commodities.

    Now we can easily experience the angst of Bella and Edward, Real Housewives, and Biggest Losers, or the beauty of great music, exotic places on earth and visualizations of the cosmos, or the excitement of online communication with people who share our interests, carry on flame wars and offer sympathy.

    That has to put the hurt on religion.

  38. Dick the Damned says

    Waaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

    What about us antitheists? Didn’t even get a friggin’ mention, eh.

    (And for the record, I’m a scientific, philosophical, humanistic, political antitheist.)

  39. christinereece says

    I can see the D&D applications now:

    Scientific atheist: +2 intelligence/dex, -2 charisma/wisdom
    Philosophical atheist: +2 wisdom/charisma, -2 con/strength
    Political atheist: +2 charisma/con/dex, -2 intelligence
    Humanist atheist: +2 con/wisdom/strength, -2 charisma

  40. knighttyme says

    I’ve been thinking a great deal about these issues as of late and feel this is a good opportunity to share my thoughts. First of all, I am mostly in agreement with the broad categories that have been outlined in this blog post. If I have any criticism at all it is that I’m not sure that it is fair to classify “humanist” as a type of athiest without an athiest modifier added.

    While it is true that most humanists will have many things in common with a secular mind set that is attractive to atheists, it is not strictly true that they will lack a belief in gods. Humanist is a boarder term that encompasses both theists and atheists who hold a set of humanist values which are wholly independent from where they stand on the god issue.

    I do see many areas where atheists of all stripes can cooperate with theistic humanists and as a result I would agree that this is a great place to start when trying to find common goals with larger segments of society. It simply isn’t necessary to agree on everything in order to make positive social progress.

    The second and perhaps more contentious point that I would like to bring to the table is that I believe the source of the rift that has been witnessed lately is a bit more subtle than a conflict between the different styles espoused by these broadly defined categories of atheists.

    I think it really boils down to something that originates with the so-called “is-ought problem”. The “is” part here of course deals with facts and observations while the “ought” part deals with values. I want to stress now that I think both of these are incredibly important. Facts without values tell you how to generate both retroviral gene therapy agents and new plagues but doesn’t tell you which to focus your resources on making. Values without facts on the other hand will tell you which of these to focus your resources on, but won’t give you the slightest clue how to do it. To forge a well functioning society one needs to both acknowledge the facts while establishing a set of common values. Of course you don’t get values directly from facts, but I think it is fair to say that values can and should be informed by facts (facts on the other hand should not be influenced by values).

    Alright, with all of that on the table time for be to address what I think the core problem is, I’ll start by quoting PZ:

    “The current arguments over feminism are broadly reflective of a division between the scientific atheists and the humanists.”

    I think the division we see here is actually just a difference in how each of these groups looks at arguments that incorporate things like facts and values. The scientific minded are generally going to focus on the facts, perhaps brushing over the values aspects of a particular issue (this doesn’t mean they do not respect or have values… it just might not come through strongly enough when they explain their position). Similarly the humanist minded are generally going to focus on the values, perhaps brushing over the fact based aspects of a particular issue (this doesn’t mean they do not respect or have facts… it just might not come through strongly enough when they explain their position).

    I think the main problems happen when these two sets of people get into a disagreement and then subtly hop back and forth between fact based argument and value based arguments. One group will end up thinking that someone is trying to use facts to attack their values, and the other group will end up thinking that someone is trying to use values to attack their fact. In the worst cases, the fact based writer will often accuse the value based writer as having no facts to back up their position, similarly the value based writer will often accuse the fact based writer of having a poor set of values. Needless to say, this is a recipe for disaster.

    I think the only potential cure to this problem is for people to better recognize when someone is making a fact based argument and when someone is making a value based argument.

    In particular, I think the issue of feminism creates a trap here for people because feminism itself is not simply a set of values, it also has amassed decades of philosophical and scientific components to it as well. These philosophical and scientific components should not be shielded from skepticism or criticism simply because a value system is associated with them.

    I think that in general it should be possible for someone to criticize the philosophical underpinnings of some of feminist theory, or to criticize the methodology of a scientific study in support of feminist theory without it being interpreted as an attack on the core values of feminism.

    Often times when people construct these arguments they are not sensitive enough to the fact that it is easy for people to see an attack on one as an attack on the other, so it probably behooves them to explicitly state that they agree with core values like equality. Yet at the same time, people who read criticisms that go after philosophical constructions or scientific methodology should understand that an attack on those things is not necessarily an attack on their value system.

    Sensitivity and understanding on both sides I think could go a long way toward resolving this problem. In addition, I believe asking questions clarifying issues pertaining to values and facts can do a lot to defuse potentially hostile interactions.

  41. susans says

    John Wilkins, not charismatic? He got me to try Malaysian food. It was good. And while I have not wavered at all in considering myself a scientific atheist, he has given me reason to explore the philosophy of it all.

    Plus, and this is something I had not been willing to contemplate in any meaningful way, he allowed me to see that agnostic can be a legitimate position from a philosophical stance. I know that is a very unpopular position here. I don’t care.

  42. magistramarla says

    I’m primarily a Humanist Atheist, married to a Scientific Atheist. I was never a “true believer” and mostly just gave christianity lip service. As a Latin teacher, the more I studied and taught about ancient religions and how they influenced each other, the more I realized that christianity was just another in the crowd. I suppose that’s about as Humanist as one can get.
    It helps me quite a lot to have a hubby and a daughter who are scientists. They can give me another perspective and explain the science to me.
    It takes all kinds to make up a society, and the same is true for the Ath

  43. nemistenem says

    Seems like I’m ever the fencesitter, am finding elements of all groups in my belief (or lack thereof) system. While I find the scientific line of thought most interesting and convincing, I’ve encountered all these over the years and seem to have incorporated some of all to varying degrees, emphasis on each changing with where my mind is currently focusing… or is that wandering?

    Brownian, your Comment #3 really cracked me up.

  44. onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork says

    Humanist, definitely, with shades of political because I pursue social justice on multiple fronts.

  45. magistramarla says

    Drat my arthritic fingers – accidentally posted too soon!
    I was saying that the Atheist community is made up of all kinds of people, and we all have a legitimate voice. It is important that we all learn to listen to each others voices.

  46. kifflington says

    Not sure what category I’d fall into; I’m an atheist in that on the cusp of adulthood I wrestled with trying to reconcile a christian upbringing with what I was learning the deeper I got into my scientific education. Eventually I decided to stop trying to answer a question for which I could find no cast iron evidence either way – i.e. Is there a ‘God’? – and just act like there wasn’t.

    Lazy Atheist?

  47. Andy Groves says

    I thought Wilkins was a member of the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic?

  48. says

    I guess I fit three of your categories. I do not fit “political atheist.” I wonder, though, whether some of the people who are criticizes as accommodationists are not more accurately described as political atheists.

    I’ll have to answer Brownian #3, who wrote:

    I don’t say grace, Gramma. I’m an atheist.

    Has he not heard of the secular grace: Two, four, six, eight; bog in, don’t wait.

  49. upprunitegundanna says

    Would it also be worth creating, or at least acknowledging, a taxonomy of “bad” atheists? By which I mean people who are atheists, but whose reasons for non-belief – and their attendant philosophies – we want to distance ourselves from? Although there are abundant good reasons for being an atheist, there are also some very bad reasons that lead some people to atheism.

    For example, there seem to be rather a lot of atheists among compulsive conspiracy theorists: people who simply reject all conventional knowledge in favour of “not being sheeple”. The film Zeitgeist is a depressing example of this. I remember when news of the Gabby Giffords / Tuscon shooting came out, and the profile of Jared Loughner was emerging. It turned out he was a Moon Hoaxer, a 911-truther, a NWO-believer and almost every other conspiracy theory you could name. I though to myself “shit, I bet it turns out he was an atheist too”, and as it happens, I was right. But Loughner does not fit into any of PZ’s categories; he couldn’t argue the atheist position to save his life. But, as a compulsive conspiracy theorist, he had a reflexive mistrust of all “authoritative” knowledge and rejected it without skepticism. Among the “authoritative” things he rejected was religion. Bad reason for atheism.

    Almost as depressingly, there are also a certain number of atheists in White Nationalist groups. Out of morbid curiosity, I once typed “atheist” into Stormfront’s forum search bar, to see what racists say about them, and was upset to find that there are some people among their ranks who self-identify as atheist. But again, their reasoning is as absurd as it is disgusting.

    Firstly though, I found it interesting to read the threads, because you will never find more chummy camaraderie between atheists and fundamentalist Christians than you do on these forums; this suggests to me that White Nationalism is more important in the philosophy of these people than their religion is.

    However, why do these atheist white nationalists reject God? Not because of rationality. As you know, if there is one group of people that white nationalists hate more than people with dark skin, it’s Jews. Racists also have a pathetically essentialistic view of the world: they talk about things and people as though they have special separate essences that must be kept pure and uncorrupted, which his why they are so morbidly fascinated with purity of blood and so on. This essentialist view also carries over to abstract things like religions and philosophy. Since Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, atheist white nationalists cannot accept Christianity because they view it as “tainted” by Jews. Since there are no other available religions for them to follow (apart from Norse paganism sometimes), many of them simply reject religion altogether. Again, this is a very bad reason for being an atheist.

    Objectivism is another philosophy followed almost exclusively by atheists (although it is amusing to see Tea Partiers suddenly threatening to go all Galt on our asses). Ayn Rand could actually talk quite eloquently about the problems with religion, and I’m sure that her modern day followers can parrot her perfectly well. But even so, the ludicrously high esteem that they hold her to suggests that they couldn’t allow themselves to NOT be atheists as a point of dogma, which is also a bad reason to be an atheist.

    I’m not trying to be needlessly provocative by bringing up these examples. As atheism becomes a more common and “readily-available” worldview, I imagine we are going to find more and more people who fall into the general kook category, who are also atheists. There have always been kooks, and there always will be; as the number of atheists rises, it is mathematically certain that a larger overlap of the kook and atheist circles of the worldview Venn diagram will emerge.

    It’s important that we can easily define ourselves as separate from these people, in order to avoid needless smears by association. I suppose this was my main issue with PZ’s original pieces about dictionary atheists: no amount of agonising about the “real” definition of atheist is ever going to retroactively make Stalin a believer (although the Mormons may have taken care of that for us by now). However, as long as we can properly describe and distinguish the various styles of non-belief, we can make it clear that Stalin is a different from us as Osama Bin Laden is from Irshad Manji. I think this list does a great job of delineating those distinctions, but I also think that identifying the “bad” forms of atheism is also important.

    For the record, I guess I would put myself as a 4: humanist.

  50. DonDueed says

    Per leftover1under’s comment, atheists are often accused by the religious of being “angry at God”.

    So, are there really any Angry-At-God Atheists? Is that a legitimate (non-thoughtful) category? Or is that just a rationalization?

    I sometimes get the feeling that the “I used to be an atheist, but…” people might actually be AaG atheists (if they were ever any kind at all) who got over it.

  51. says

    christinereece:

    Humanist atheist: +2 con/wisdom/strength, -2 charisma

    Pfffft, I’ve got so much charisma that it’s leaking out my butt!

    … Erm, wait. That doesn’t sound quite right.

    Improbable Joe:

    Really, Peez? “Racist Atheists (because…ISLAM!)”

    Haven’t you beat up on Thunderf00t enough?

    Considering we’ve got at least one regular commenter here that is holy crap racist AND you don’t have to look very far to find other atheists that are Islamophobes/racist against Arabs/hateful against people from the Middle East*, I don’t necessarily think that this is piling on Thunderf00t.

    Even though he’s an ass.

    **cough* Sam Harris *cough*

  52. Pierce R. Butler says

    In my experience, most atheists arrive at their position by two routes, which I call cosmological and anticlerical.

    We can lump our esteemed host’s first two categories into the cosmo- camp: they ask the Big Questions, and would (probably) come to the same answers if they’d been spawned and spent their whole lives in a different galaxy.

    The anticlericals – roughly, the latter two categories above – got that way by observing how religious institutions consistently fail to produce the better quality of human beings predicted by their doctrines. If the preponderance of professional religious workers reached the ethical caliber of Albert Schweitzer, Oscar Romero, or the (public images of) Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, or John XXIII, few of these people would ever worry about First Causes, Grounds of All Being, or all the other Ultimate Absolutes which theologians dream up and scientists debunk.

    However, since religious institutions on our planet have been such consistent social failures, both sets are operating empirically and pragmatically in their rejection of theism, which produces enough epistemological common ground for communication and shared effort.

  53. says

    I’m probably a Mathematical Atheist, which I suppose would be a subset of Scientific Atheist.
    I see evolution as the mathematically inevitable result of the workings of a fairly straightforward dynamical system. (Not that the forms taken are inevitable, just the fact of evolution itself.) Seeing things in terms of mathematical models has allowed me to grasp how complexity arises from simplicity, how components interacting according to a set of rules iterated repeatedly builds complex structures. I see the origin of life as the workings of a similar sort of system, matter organizing and re-organizing itself as energy flows through it. I see the Big Bang in terms of the breaking of unstable symmetries.
    It still requires science, the testing of ideas against reality, but I don’t see where any magic is required.

  54. machintelligence says

    Has he not heard of the secular grace: Two, four, six, eight; bog in, don’t wait.

    Or the barely theistic: “Yea vegetables, yea meat, yea God, let’s eat!
    From a scientific/philosophical atheist.

  55. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    I’m atheist because God means too much big government, and tithing is socialism. Also, I am against compassion and think the markets should sort out how to deal with disabled people, not Jesus.

    I kid, I kid, 70% Scientific atheist here, 30% Philosophical. I certainly have humanist ideals, but according to the above classification, since social concerns and theodicy were not at all the reason why I am atheist, I left that one out. In the meantime, I feel guilty for not being more of a political atheist.

  56. Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre says

    Philosophical Atheist here.
    Yet ‘The God Delusion’ cured me from ‘belief in belief’ and cut through my muddled thoughts on morality and where do we derive it from. So I will always be grateful to the Scientific Atheists for being clear and concise and direct in pointing out reality.

    I wonder if there is some correlation between the starting point (Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc) and the kind of atheist you end up being.

  57. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    I wonder if there is some correlation between the starting point (Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc) and the kind of atheist you end up being.

    Good question. My starting point was completely watered-down european mainstream protestantism of the “Jesus was a good man and there’s really no Hell” variety.

  58. unclefrogy says

    I have no idea how I would characterize myself. I have always been impressed since I can remember the idea expressed by our FF. of natures god and have always had difficulty with a “personal god”
    I fit many of the “categories” at different times. Never heard it phrased as Taoist atheist before funny how I never thought of it in those words before.
    I guess the different parts of my life and thoughts as represented by those categories have been progressing toward this separately and now are coming together.
    the thing I like most about about your blog PZ is the way have of stimulating my thoughts and those of many of the other cementers here.
    thinking about real stuff is really fun!
    bouncing around from thing to thing
    uncle frogy

  59. christinereece says

    @Audley Z. Darkheart:

    Pfffft, I’ve got so much charisma that it’s leaking out my butt!

    I hear you can blame the #FTBullies for that!

    I figured those of us who lean toward the humanist side needed to take a hit on charisma since people usually react negatively to those who agitate for social justice. It’d be easier to chart that out with Rifts ability scores via the “Charm/Impress” and “Invoke Trust/Intimidate” bonuses.

  60. abb3w says

    @28, boredbygod:

    Might there be a fifth category — the aesthetic atheists?

    Would seem a sub-taxa of the philosophical. (“Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”) YMMV.

    @45, knighttyme:

    Of course you don’t get values directly from facts, but I think it is fair to say that values can and should be informed by facts (facts on the other hand should not be influenced by values).

    As a more mathematical/philosophical sort of atheists, I’ll note that the idea of “values” appears to correspond to an ought-ordering relationship over a set of is-choices — a poset. Given the existence of a set of choices, the existence of the set of all poset relationships can be shown under ZF. The question, then, is which poset in the set of posets you’re talking about — which effectively defines or is defined by the is-ought bridge used.

    @56 upprunitegundanna; I’m also kind of interested in a taxonomy of “bad atheists”, although I’d prefer a taxonomy of all atheists that includes the bad atheists as well as the good and the in-between, and simply notes being considered “bad” as a particular feature of some of them. Leaving out the Bandwagon atheists just because they’re embarrassing seems dishonest. It also tends to leave the Atheist position to a blindside for attacks; EG, some theist claiming most of the atheists are in the Bandwagon category. It would be nice to counter with some empirical measure of what fraction of atheists tend to be what degree of Bandwagoners.

    I’ll also note that while you included the Randite Capitalists, you left out their mirror image: Marxist Communists. Communists are a bit of an embarrassment to western mainstream atheists; assorted massacres, plus blind McCarthy-legacy prejudices make even the slightest conceptual association a liability. However, there’s still some Randites and some Marxists out there in the current Atheist movement.

    Nohow, both Randites and Communists seem to be sub-species of the Political or Philosophical.

    @57, DonDueed

    So, are there really any Angry-At-God Atheists?

    I think they’re more commonly Angry-At-God “Nones” — a broader category. They’re empirically a lot rarer than Christians try to pretend to each other; but there probably a few Angry-At-God Atheists out there. Similarly, there probably are some Hedonist Atheists who mainly don’t want to abide moral restrictions (particularly on sex), and thus decide not to believe in God because that would interfere with their fun; again, rarer than Christians proclaim, but I strongly suspect existence cases could be found with a heavy enough oversample.

  61. Rasmus says

    I was born into an atheist family in an atheist community, de facto that is, but no-one would ever speak of it openly unless they were really pissed off about something that religious people do, and that rarely happened. I was also immensely privileged with good teachers in middle school when a lot of your basic thought patterns (for a lack of a better word) are laid down.

    I stayed an atheist because I listened to religious people and I read bits and pieces of the bible. Like many who have done that, I concluded that none of it seemed to have any connection to reality, except when you thought of it as a human construct. Thinking of religion as a man-made thing seems to be the best framework in which to explain everything we know about it.

    I still only identify as atheist whenever religious people piss me off, and it’s usually because they want to oppress some people, so I guess I would be a Humanist atheist according to PZ:s scheme.

  62. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Don’t be so hard on the Marxists. Marx was a really smart cookie, and I would’t want to make him directly responsible for the deeds of the Soviet and Chinese dictatorships.

  63. says

    It all boils down to pragmatism for me. When I was 8.5, 9 years old and sitting on a pew in Catholic church, choking to death on Jesus, my mind raced on the philosophical front. I had been taught that only a priest was allowed to handle the host and touching it was a mortal sin, sure to land my little ass in hell. However, if I chose to not touch the host, and avoid that sin, wouldn’t that be committing suicide, which was also a mortal sin?

    Practicality and a desire to survive won out. I jammed my fingers down my throat and dislodged Jesus. I spent the rest of that afternoon, evening and night until the next morning, sitting in a chair in my bedroom, clutching my bible with tears dripping down in absolute fear of going to hell for eternity. I didn’t pray, I knew what I had done.

    After a night of that, something just burnt out. I started thinking, hard, about every thing I had been told and taught. I read the bible, cover to cover. It wasn’t long before I tossed the whole mess over my shoulder as a bunch of shit.

    Anyway, the practical approach seems to work best for me in general, so I’ll define as a pragmatic humanist.

  64. bubba707 says

    Misanthropic atheist. If humans were created by a being like religions claim he’d have done a better job and actually created a species that was worth a damn, unlike the human species.

  65. LDTR says

    I’m generally primarily interested in the logical fallacies employed by the religious — specifically, identifying them and absorbing the counter-arguments from atheists.

    Along with that, I’m extremely interested in studying the harm that woo, particularly in the form of religion, causes to humanity.

    And I’m also interested in the psychology of how those beliefs get started and spread, and how believers protect their belief in their beliefs. If that makes sense.

    So I guess I’m a philosophical/humanist combo platter, with a side of (social) scientific.

  66. says

    I like this.

    Hm. I noticed while reading the post that the examples (of specific people) in the first three categories are almost all men, and those for the last (“These are people motivated by ethical and social concerns”) are women.*

    I don’t think this necessarily sets up dichotomies, but it’s a bit troubling in the current context, given that there’s a nagging issue with especially the first category (which I fall into as well), who “tend to be dismissive of the other kinds of atheism.” I think the smugness problem goes beyond a mere dismissiveness, and often veers into an arrogance about “scientific” beliefs in realms far removed from atheism. There’s a tendency for many of these scientific atheists not just to dismiss the concerns of humanistic atheists but to believe that these matters are unconnected to science or that the ethical and social motivations of humanistic atheists make them necessarily opposed to science in their areas of concern.

    Since I just wrote a little post updating an older one about Alan Sokal, I’ll link to it here. Contrary to how Sokal’s name is often invoked in these discussions, he’s actually one example (among many) of how scientific and humanistic atheism/skepticism are joined.

    *It also somewhat gives the impression that this is a newer category, when in fact it’s a very old sort of atheist activist.

  67. madphd says

    @31 Azuma.

    I have to disagree. Perhaps my thoughts are naive, but I need no philosophy to come to the conslusion that there is likely no god. There are no data to suggest there is a god. As for getting flattened… why would I get flattened? Philisophical arguments hold no sway… unless you are trying to convert someone on philisophical grounds… trying to win a debate. I don’t care if some philosopher has his/her rationalized thought structure to support his/her belief. It has no bearing on my disbelief. Therefore, I don’t feel I need a mastery of the philosophical arguements for/against the existence of god… also, I guess this makes me a scientific athiest : )

  68. says

    I’m angry, all right: at Christians. Being angry at God is just silly.

    Mostly humanistic atheist here, I think. Some science.

  69. upprunitegundanna says

    @abb3w

    Yeah, I obviously should have mentioned Communism, but I had been rambling on a bit, and didn’t want to bore people! Also, communism – especially in Maoist China – replicated the template of religion (the very worst parts of religion, I should add) so precisely, that I have trouble truly separating the two: the “holy” texts, the fawning veneration of leaders, ubiquitous pictures, statues and effigies of hero figures, the murderous elimination of heretics etc etc.

    Whatever it is about human nature that allowed the religions the emerge, the exact same sociological mechanisms are obviously at play in communism. It’s interesting to also note how communism found popularity in areas where the local religions didn’t generally have formal deities.

  70. says

    Oh PZ-chan, you are such a biologist. :D

    In all seriousness though, the categories are interesting. Most individuals will cross more than one of course, but I think it’s neat that there are now enough atheists that it might seem worthwhile to separate them by subtype.

  71. says

    Esmeralda:

    I wonder if there is some correlation between the starting point (Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc) and the kind of atheist you end up being.

    That is an interesting thought. Having been raised in a secular household, I never became an atheist, but I certainly have become a humanist over the past few years.

  72. says

    and we can get resentful when we’re told that no, there’s more work to be done if we want to win the culture wars.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilence.

    Definitions are awkward. I’m atheist because to be otherwise would be bloody stupid if you’ve read the bible. Where do i fit in… I was also born atheist. I think you have a few more “lightly stapled” labels to give out yet.

  73. 'Tis Himself says

    All of the above.

    Primarily scientific, with a large dollop of political, a good bit of humanist, and a small but noticeable amount of philosophical.

  74. Erista (aka Eris) says

    Oooh. In regards to personal affiliation, I’m a humanist atheist first, and a scientific atheist second, BUT my arguments tend to float around scientific atheism and maybe some political atheism.

    I wonder why I don’t make humanist arguments? Maybe it’s because I don’t expect Christians to respect human rights?

    Ooh, I really like this post.

  75. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Someone should program an online multiple choice questionaire where you answer 100 Questions, and in the end it gives you an evaluation in terms of what kind of atheist you are. Would be fun, wouldn’t it?

  76. says

    @Audley #60:

    Sam Harris, T-footie, Pat Condell… to name a few. And unfortunately there are people I respect who come awfully close to that racism/bigotry. I completely understand the anger at Islam for its abuses generally and especially against women, but it doesn’t justify making sweeping claims about Muslims as a whole. I mean, my parents are nominally Catholic but I don’t blame them for the endemic rape and sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. Especially since they don’t donate any money.

  77. allencdexter says

    I am first and foremost a scientific atheist because I’m a nuts and bolts can the BS and give me the facts kind of guy. Philosopohy tends to go on and on with big words that have to be defined and redefined, with a lot of lofty, hard to get your mind around facets and that makes me very impatient. I tend to avoid philosophiers.

    I’m also very inclined toward political action and promoting human values. So, you can’t categorize me as strictly one or another type of atheist. I tend to think like you do, PZ. That’s why I visit your blog every day, sometimes more than once.

  78. says

    Enlightening post!

    I’m not quite sure where I fit. For me, what pushed me into atheism was the Bible. I had spent a half-century studying it in depth, and suddenly started seeing where it didn’t conform to historical facts. Or to internal consistency. And even less, to Christian doctrine, of any denomination.

    It wasn’t until I came out as an atheist that I even began to see how unethical its rules and practice were, besides.

    Could that be a subset of scientific atheism; real-world facts as opposed to Biblical propaganda?

    Reading other people’s discussions, the arguments that resonate best with my thinking are either scientific or philosophical. Humanist issues are important to me, but then, they always have been, and do not account for my atheism.

  79. says

    All right, I’ll bite.

    For myself, I’d say I was always a humanist and very interested in science, even in the days I still identified as Catholic. But it’s a gradual realization of the lack of consistency of religious dogma, coupled with better understanding of the history of religions, that made me really doubt. So that makes me more of a philosophical atheist.

    Interesting.

  80. julian says

    I don’t really fit in any of those categories. If anything I’m a rebel atheist because I really don’t care if there is or isn’t a god/s. It’s irrelevant to me. Morality isn’t conditional on them and whatever coersive powers they have.

    I’d no more aknowledge the moral authority of a king who can condemn me to the most horrifying toture than I would a god who can condemn me to Hell.

    Another thing is I don’t really disbelieve in gods. My definition of gods includes Thor and Dante from Devil May Cry. I don’t think such people exist but if they did (or some alien equivalent) I’d have no problem calling them gods.

    Anyway, two cents from a philosophically ignorant rebel atheist.

  81. christinereece says

    SC @ #76:

    I noticed while reading the post that the examples (of specific people) in the first three categories are almost all men, and those for the last (“These are people motivated by ethical and social concerns”) are women.

    PZ did mention “Black Skeptics” rather than “Sikivu Hutchinson”, but it’s an interesting point. When I think of scientific atheists, Blag Hag, Bug Girl, and Pharyngula come to mind. Sorry, Dawkins.

    Maybe it’s a subconscious tweak demonstrating where people do their reading?

  82. azportsider says

    I’m in with the Scientific Atheists, but I can see value in all the other three taxa. Alternate phrase might be: Show me the sausages!

  83. says

    Improbable Joe:

    And unfortunately there are people I respect who come awfully close to that racism/bigotry.

    Yeah, once they start to toe that line, I lose all respect for them. I’m kind of a hard-ass that way.

    I mean, my parents are nominally Catholic but I don’t blame them for the endemic rape and sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. Especially since they don’t donate any money.

    I think comparing Catholicism to Islam is pretty problematic for a couple of reasons:
    1) In every single Islamophobic argument I’ve heard, “Islam” is simply a stand-in for “Arab” &/or “Middle Eastern”. There is really nothing comparable when talking about Catholics (at least in the US).

    2) Catholics (once again, speaking of the US) enjoy a pretty fucking privileged position in society, whereas Muslims do not. We’re also not currently in a war with any majority Catholic country, nor are we painting the entire faith as our enemy.

    3) The Catholic church really is the mother of all hierarchies, the way that most other religions are not. I have absolutely no problem calling (practicing) Catholics child abuse enablers because they are with every dollar they give, every second of time they spend and every excuse that they offer in defense of the church.

    It doesn’t matter which Islamic sect we’re speaking of, there just isn’t the same bureaucracy. Without that sort of organization, it’s impossible to label all members as X.

  84. sc_42032cef73176c9867e45905c22e998c says

    Philosophy is extremely careful reasoning

    If philosophy is extremely careful reasoning, then philosophers are charismatic and intrinsically interesting folk

    Ergo, philosophers are charismatic and intrinsically interesting folk.

    What could be more obvious than that?

    By the way, that is not a taxonomy. It’s a shopping list. Nothing wrong with shopping lists, of course, if you are shopping, but it doesn’t exactly map the territory. For example, while I am a functional atheist (I live my life as if there were no deities, apart from computer gods who are eternally angry) I am a philosophical agnostic (I can see no arguments to rule out all possible deities). So why call me a philosophical atheist, when I am at best an atheist in terms of “good enough for jazz”?

  85. shockna says

    Mix of scientific, political and humanist. The political and humanist causes go together like chocolate and peanut butter. In my experience, most sufficiently passionate (And simultaneously not horribly disillusioned) atheistic humanists are political.

  86. says

    @SC (Salty Current), OM #76,

    Maybe that’s a function of a new sort of thinking happening, because while I’m ashamed to admit that I have a hard time thinking of women who are scientists, I have absolutely no problem thinking of the names (and ‘nyms) of women atheists. It isn’t perfect, but it is progress of a sort.

  87. plpryor says

    I think this taxonomy of yours is much better than your previous post regarding this subject (The one that got firebombs lobbed at you). I don’t know if others agree, but Naturalism might fit as a catch-all for philosophical atheism, at least to me. Then again, so does secularism. Hmm, I don’t know a good umbrella term for it, I suppose. That’s why I’m not a philosopher. I don’t sit around trying to decide upon those things.

    Humanist fits me best and I think it should fit everyone best because we’re all humans. There aren’t any ET atheists among us, at least that we know of, correct? Besides of all the terms you listed it’s the only one which accentuates on our positive beliefs. Atheism on its face means lack of belief in a deity, so defining ourselves by it focuses on what we’re challenging and rejecting. Which is fine I guess, but there comes the stage where we need to stand up for what we’re for, and to me Humanism is that banner which flies over us all, regardless of the front, container, or context.

  88. Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre says

    Having been raised in a secular household, I never became an atheist, but I certainly have become a humanist over the past few years

    I was a Needlessly Smug Roman Catholic (‘religion only concerns the moral sphere, it’s not like we believe in miracles like the hoi polloi‘) – which is sooooo embarrassing in hindsight. But that means I was encouraged to think along philosophical lines, and that’s the route that led me to atheism.

    Thanks to the online community, I’ve been able to read about other ‘kinds’ of atheists and I can now find common ground with and be an effective ally to humanist and political atheists.

    I think the only way for this movement to grow and take over the world is for us to develop an appreciation of a synthesis of all of these motivations.

    …I guess it’s working. Good.

  89. Gregory Greenwood says

    I probably first began to move toward atheism because I became increasingly aware during my adolescence that religious truth claims were entirely unevidenced and in fact were rarely even internally consistent, still less consistent with scientific observations of reality.

    So it would be fair to say that my first steps toward atheism were taken down the path of the scientific atheist, and I still find the fact that there is simply no evidence for the existence of any deity (or any supernatural phenomenon of any type, for that matter) to be perhaps the single most telling point against the truth claims of theists, but the thing that spurred me to start talking about atheism openly – to ‘come out of the closet’, so to speak – were the immumerable, widespread and grotesque social injustices perpetrated in the name of religion. It was humanism that turned me from someone who just thought religion was ridiculous and left it at that, into someone who was not prepared to stay silent in the face of the abuses of religion anymore.

    The scientific method made me an atheist, but it was humanism that made me an anti-theist.

  90. Gregory Greenwood says

    ‘Immumerable’? Unless I have just invented a new word, that should be ‘innumerable’ in my last post.

  91. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Immunerable means having the incapability of becoming immunized and /or loaded

    Immumerable means impossible to be silenced.

    Obvious, no?

  92. vargonian says

    As is just about everyone, I’m so much of a mix of these that I have a hard time even assigning weights. Categorization is always a messy, imperfect business.

    I am glad to see this follow-up to the “Definitional Atheists” post, though. I think that reiterating what atheism isn’t is a good thing; it reminds people that atheism doesn’t imply *anything* except for a lack of belief in a deity. I know you hate hearing that, but it’s true, and it keeps people in check when they try to jump to conclusions about atheism.

    To fit myself in a category, it would be a strict rationalist–one who pursues objective truth (whether scientific or philosophical), and, despite your insinuation, convinces them that the truth is enough. If someone has some wishy washy idea that a belief system needs to “feel good”, then I feel obligated to convince them that that’s not the case, and I’ll explain why.

    If being right isn’t enough, then being right plus convincing people that being right is enough, is enough. ;)

  93. peptidix says

    In principle a dictionary style non-theist atheist. But in discussions I end up comfortably as a scientific atheist.

  94. says

    I like this categorisation, though I agree it’s very high level. I’m mainly a scientific atheist, with a good sized dollop of philosophical atheist and a splash of humanist.

    SC (Salty Current)

    As regards the gender split, I suspect what you’re seeing has to do with the fact that women have more to lose personally and politically when it comes to religion. Believe me, when religion calls you a second class citizen and tries to take away your rights, that shit has a way of monopolising your attention.

    I don’t think women atheists are any less motivated by science and philosophy than the men, it’s just that women often need to address the political and humanist dimensions of atheism on a very personal level.

  95. norbury says

    I’m a passive atheist. I don’t believe in God but it defines nothing about me, it is the absence of a definition. Religion will die quietly in a corner all by itself when people stop paying attention to it. I feel no need to hasten the process as it is irrelevant to my life. I think these categories only describe activist atheists, I bet many are like me and don’t really give it much thought or time.

  96. yemangycoyote says

    Okay, so I just had to have some fun with this one. The scientific and philosophical aspects thrive in an academic setting, and perhaps would be best described as belonging to the genus Academia. The humanist and political aspects compliment each other well, as they are both concerned less with the theoretical underpinnings of atheism than they are with its real world implications. Perhaps these two belong to the genus Applicia. So then we have four species of thought in the family Atheistidae: Academia scientifica, Academia philosophica, Applicia humania, & Applicia politica.

    Several undesirable subspecies, including Academia philosophica ssp. randia (the objectivist), Applicia politica ssp. discriminia (the racist atheist), and Applicia humanista ssp. fourchanii (the anti-authoritarian) also occur.

    This is merely a preliminary assessment of systematics in the Atheistidae. We’ll need to do some genetic analysis of representatives from each species before we can draw better conclusions. I’m expecting a hair sample in the mail shortly, PZ.

  97. Eric O says

    It’s kind of hard to see where I stand on this. If you had asked me several years ago, I would have unhesitatingly identified as a scientific atheist, but I’ve evolved since then.

    While my primary reason for being an atheist is still a lack of evidence for the god hypothesis, when it comes down to it, I’m far more interested in talking about social justice issues than whether theists or atheists have a better model of reality.

  98. Tâlib Alttaawiil says

    this humanist/aesthetic atheist (& INTP) wishes to thank pz for his elegant & useful typology:

    knowing : thinking : acting : feeling

    shall we call you ‘pz myers-briggs’ from now on?

  99. reallythisisapain says

    This strikes me more as modes of thinking than types of atheists. Atheists don’t believe, but how they consider their non-belief maps to how they are most comfortable in their thinking. Hence, people who are trained in science will fit the scientific mode, etc.

    Myself, I have a BS in computer science, but very nearly had degrees in math and English literature (one course short, each), and took several philosophy courses (I took the long way toward a degree, but ultimately just needed to get a job). I also worked in theater for several years.

    I pretty much love all things science, and all things art, and I enjoy reading a philosophical argument (though I rarely find them convincing). I don’t like anything religion, but I studied several. And I am generally not vocal about my atheism, though I’m truthful if asked. Some people are a bit taken aback, but it hasn’t been a problem, because by the time they inquire they already know me. I like to think I’m just a data point – a guy who doesn’t believe, but is nice, honest, and has strong personal integrity.

    I like all the atheists you describe. I’m especially fond of the vocal few, who are willing to speak out, where I am not. Speaking out just isn’t my thing. My friends and family know my views, and that’s enough for me. I do donate to atheist causes, but that’s as much as I’m willing to do.

  100. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    I pretty much love all things science, and all things art,

    Haven’t you read the two Cultures, dammit?

  101. drdave says

    @40 tariqata

    the problems that interest me are problems of policy – specifically, crafting housing and urban policies that ensure that all people can access safe, affordable and appropriate housing. I wouldn’t say that I was motivated to do the kind of work that I do specifically by my atheism, but it is the underpinning of my belief that we all have an obligation to work to make this a world where everyone can “live a life of dignity”

    For those of us interested in politics and policy, we need desperately to learn George Lakoff’s insight into the difference between Liberals and Conservatives: Liberals talk about programs that are needed to make the world moral; and Conservatives talk about Morality.

    Liberals talk about the Affordable health Care Act (ACA) by listing the benefits. A majority of people like each of the benefits. Conservatives talk about Government Taking Over Your Private Life and Death Panels. The end result is a majority of people want to abolish the ACA.

    Shorter version: Get Government Socialism out of my life but don’t touch my Medicare.

    The whole political language landscape is framed by 40 years of Republican effort to ridicule the morality of the Liberals.

    In addition to working toward the programs we want, we have to change the Moral Language of politics if we want to get those programs.

  102. reallythisisapain says

    Haven’t you read the two Cultures, dammit?

    LOL! Yes. I just never seem to fit in.

  103. says

    mouthyb

    I’m INTJ too. It would be interesting to see how atheism correlates with personality attributes.

  104. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    How scientific is Myers-Briggs? Is there an objective and reliable way for myself to find out my personality type?

  105. says

    As regards the gender split, I suspect what you’re seeing has to do with the fact that women have more to lose personally and politically when it comes to religion. Believe me, when religion calls you a second class citizen and tries to take away your rights, that shit has a way of monopolising your attention.

    I don’t think women atheists are any less motivated by science and philosophy than the men, it’s just that women often need to address the political and humanist dimensions of atheism on a very personal level.

    Stella, you’ve misunderstood me (and I’m a woman, too).

  106. says

    Tyrant: Objective is not typically a good way to describe personality inventories, what since they’re based on self-report and subject to interpretation. :D

    However, the Myers-Briggs is commonly used and can be useful to understand certain patterns of perception.

  107. says

    Stella: I’m pretty sure there has to be some introversion (for the sake of self-reflection and checking), and a preference for thinking as the guide to responses to situations.

    I’m a little iffy on intuition, unless it’s specifically the result of cross information set assembly (not so much the classical epiphany as connections between information the person already has.)

  108. says

    Caine: Sure, there are systematic problems with those kinds of things. I am emotionally attached to the label ‘Mastermind’, given to my kind of thinker in that system, for the purposes of stroking my ego.

    My mother used to call me one of nature’s own judges: suspicious, demanding of evidence, strong sense of outrage at injustice, etc.

    I’ll admit to wanting to swing the gavel often. :D

  109. says

    Mouthyb:

    Sure, there are systematic problems with those kinds of things.

    I’m actively resentful of any effort to poke at me in an attempt to figure me out. I think that’s most likely due to A’s predilection for having me locked up as a child and tossing me to one psychiatrist after another. I never said a single word to any of them.

    I also have a problem with things like the MB test because my personality is constructed to a great extent. I think those tests are built to assess normal peoples (naturally), which leaves the rest of us with a raised eyebrow and a bit of amusement.

  110. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Depends on which deity I’m rejecting.

    Also, taxonomy is dead ;)

  111. cm's changeable moniker says

    I wouldn’t want to give it a percentage split. If I had to roll d20s for categories, I’d probably come in at:

    Sci: 20 (after 2nd roll, 19.5)
    Phil: 0 (bounced off table and went under the fridge)
    Pol: 5
    Hum: 13 (on a good day)

    this humanist/aesthetic atheist (& INTP)

    Heh. I come out INTP, although very close to evens on I/E. *shrug*

    Once you have physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, it’s hard not to be Sci. Add anthropology and it’s impossible not to be Hum.

    And/or Aesth. ;)

  112. intempore says

    You know why you’re smug (and wrong), and will never take over the world?

    “But what we need is more recognition that a scientific equation is not sufficient for most people, and that there are problems in the world that cannot be resolved by nothing more than an accurate description of reality.”

    Oh, OK, other people are missing something, not you. Most don’t accept your equation because it is incomplete. If it were sufficient, they would sign up, willingly.

    You’re adopting the same strategy as the church: here’s is the Answer, and you must subscribe to be saved!

  113. jenny6833a says

    Let’s not complicate simple stuff: “Atheist” is the shorthand for “doesn’t believe in gods.” There’s no need to say why one doesn’t believe in gods or even to know why one doesn’t.

    Above all, atheism does not require evangelismin in behalf of atheism. I’m disgusted, revolted, and thoroughly offended by this “take over the world” crap.

    I’m an atheist because I don’t believe silly shit. Every religion I’ve been exposed to, or read about, has struck me as silly shit.

    If questioned, I use science, backed by the philosophy of science, to justify my atheism. They’re convenient arguments, but not my real reason. For me, atheism is where one goes when one doesn’t believe silly shit.

    I don’t particularly want an atheistic world. I’d much prefer a religion-optional world where everyone is — in theory and in fact — allowed to do their own thing. I work towards that by advocating a clothing-optional world. First things first. One step at a time.

    Jenny

  114. mas528 says

    The category that I deal with the most is woo atheists.

    This includes anyone that does not believe in a god, but believes in one or more of: crystals, magic, the secrete life after death,reincarnation, that the universe is ‘loving’, and the pseudo-scientific (like “we took a wrong turn in evolution,” or that “we can influence evolution”, or speaks of “lower animals”).

  115. fullyladenswallow says

    How ’bout Passive/Aggressive Atheist?-
    The kind that, while not always itching for a two-fisted exchange with a believer, will most certainly state and defend his or her atheistic stance when confronted, and give as good as get. They will use whatever scientific, logical, philosophical or rhetorical ammunition happens to be at their disposal to defend what they have found to be true.

  116. cm's changeable moniker says

    intempore:

    You’re adopting the same strategy as the church: here’s is the Answer, and you must subscribe to be saved!

    Am I? Citation (and I say this in my most proper voice) please!

    We may never take over the world, but we’ve taken over my country. Seems like a good start.

  117. nonny says

    I was raised in an atheist household. We only went to church for social occasions like weddings and to hear carols at Christmas. All my close family are atheists but for them it’s not an important aspect of their lives. I’d call them habitual or apathetic atheists. I think in Europe many people fit this category.

    I consider myself a scientific atheist. Science is what I’m most interested in. It’s what shapes my worldview the most. After that, I’m a humanist and a philosophical atheist.

    I think communist and buddihist atheists at their best are subtypes of humanist atheist. There’s also LaVeyan

  118. nonny says

    Sorry, posted too soon.

    LaVeyan Satanists are atheists. They’re a weird mix of objectivism, hedonism and mystical playacting. Not really sure where they fit in. They’re not supposed to be big on joining groups, not really humanist in terms of their ethics either.

  119. Akira MacKenzie says

    I’m not really certain.

    As a child I always thought that subjects like astronomy, physics, genetics, palentology, and evolution were so very cool, but science wouldn’t affect my belief in religion what so ever until much later in life. In my family, God was something I was expected to believe in regardless of what science revealed. While my father, who was the “spirtual” head of the household, might be an über-Catholic, he’s no YEC. My WELS Mom, on the other hand, is a creationist, but fortunately she had no control over my education.

    That said, like Arthur Dent, “I’ve always been a great fan of science,” but I lack the higher mathematical reasoning skills to ever have any thing more than an conceptual understanding of the topic. I can grasp what Einstein’s theory of relativity is all about, just don’t ask me to figure out “how” he formulated it. The same goes with life sciences. I know the parts of a eukaryotic cell and what some of them do on a basic level, but don’t ask me to formulate any of the chemical processes that go on within.

    My theism didn’t begin to crack until I was exposed to the philosphical arguments against gods in college, and even then it took a while for those to sink in. I originally wanted to become a high school History teacher (until I balked at all of the education courses I would have to take on top of History) and my studies of the horrors of the ancient and Medieval world eroded my trust in organized religion. As my politics swung from Right to Left, I started to acquire a serious distaste for the GOP’s support for the Bible-beaters. It was only after I graduated that I started to put these pieces together until it occurred to me:

    God just doesn’t make any damn sense.

    So where does that leave me? Scientific? Philosophical? Historical? Political? I don’t know and I’m not sure it really matters. I’m just glad that I’m here.

  120. hacksoncode says

    I can sympathize with the dislike of “dictionary atheists”, particularly when they use that as an excuse to stop discussion.

    However, after considering all of the many many kind of atheists that exist (I, myself, fall into the “religion is absurd, how could anyone actually take that as anything but fiction” category, and am philosophically a Discordian as a result), I have to say this:

    The only definition of “atheist” that actually covers all atheists is “lacking a belief in a god or gods”. Every other definition covers only a subset of atheists.

    It’s the the only core defining characteristic in the same way that “Jesus died for our sins” is a minimal definition of what it means to be Christian, and “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet” defines Muslims.

    I get that this is manifestly unsatisfying. And it should never be used to shut off discussion. But neither should “you have to fit my definition of atheist or you’re annoying” ever be used to shut off discussion or denigrate someone that has a lot in common with all of the rest of us.

  121. says

    I’d say I’m mostly an Anthropological/Historical Atheist (would that be a subset of Scientific?). Growing up, I was basically a religious tourist. I was occasionally put in Catholic school, I attended a Chinese Christian Sunday School for a while, I went to a friend’s Hindu temple, I read about Taoism and Buddhism and Wicca. Then in uni, I majored in History with a focus on the history of religion (more specifically the conversion of Europe from Paganism to Christianity). By that time, I knew that religions were made up by human beings so I got most of the way to atheism via that route (until a couple of years ago, I was a pantheist). It only took a slight push from some Biology Atheists and some Philosophical Atheists to get me the rest of the way.

    I always liked the ritual and romance of religions, but hated, hated, hated their values (the body/mind dualism, the asceticism, the misogyny, and the speciesist superiority complex primarily), so there’s a strong Humanist streak in there too.

  122. Ze Madmax says

    intempore @ #130:

    Oh, OK, other people are missing something, not you. Most don’t accept your equation because it is incomplete. If it were sufficient, they would sign up, willingly.

    You know, that’s the exact opposite of what the passage you quoted said. The problem with focusing exclusively on scientific atheism is PRECISELY that it limits the range of phenomena that atheists tend to focus on. Is not that other people are missing something, but rather than scientific atheists risk being too focused on very narrow issues, which can hurt the development of atheism as a movement in the long run.

    jenny6833a @ #131:

    Let’s not complicate simple stuff: “Atheist” is the shorthand for “doesn’t believe in gods.” There’s no need to say why one doesn’t believe in gods or even to know why one doesn’t.

    For you, maybe. For many (myself included) why we are atheists, and how to do atheism are important questions. And knowing why you don’t believe is important because it can help you figure out what it means for you to be an atheist. I am an atheist because I don’t believe in gods. Is that it? Of course not. It has clearly implications for how I choose to live (e.g., no afterlife, so it’s critical that I live the best life I can, and that I fight to make this world a better place for everyone).

    Above all, atheism does not require evangelismin in behalf of atheism. I’m disgusted, revolted, and thoroughly offended by this “take over the world” crap.

    Except that unlike evangelizing for religions, evangelizing for atheism means spreading truth. Or do you walk around yelling at biology teachers for evangelizing evolution? Or math teachers for evangelizing the Pythagorean theorem? Furthermore, if you think belief in gods is silly shit… wouldn’t you want to make sure as many people as possible avoid wasting their time (and potentially hurting themselves and others) because of beliefs in silly shit?

  123. says

    Caine: I can have sympathy with that. My parents tried to institutionalize me in a Christian institute when I was in my mid-twenties.

    I am very sorry for reminding you of something painful.

    I also sympathize with distrust of an industry which has so many problems. I fully qualify for all kinds of counseling (and several research studies, wheee), but damned if I’m going to go talk to someone about it.

  124. says

    Damn it, mid-teens not mid-twenties.

    They did try to convince a civil court I still merited institutionalization and put me through 6 months of court-ordered psychological testing.

    It allows me to say, with some dark humor, that I can prove I’m mostly sane, with paperwork and everything.

  125. Akira MacKenzie says

    intempore @ 130

    “You’re adopting the same strategy as the church: here’s is the Answer, and you must subscribe to be saved!”

    No, our strategy is much, much different: here are the FACTS, if you’re too stupid, cowardly, or deluded to accept them, don’t expect us not to laugh at your supersticious ass every time you open your cake hole to vomit out another demonstrably incorrect statement about the universe.

  126. watry says

    Hmmmm. I suppose I cover everything except philosophical, but I’m pretty sure the political part stemmed from the humanist part.

  127. nonny says

    The myer-briggs test is based on Jung’s theories and is not the most scientific of tests. I’d suggest the Big Five (OCEAN) personality test as an alternative which is more scientifically rigorous.

    There are people who qualify as atheists under the dictionary definition who don’t identify as atheist. Cultural christians, hindus and jews who have lost their faith but still find the rituals comforting.

    Here’s an example:
    http://www.nontheistfriends.org/

    Those people might not join an atheist movement but they seem like natural allies for political and humanist atheists.

  128. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    ‘Scientific/Humanist’ by default. I knew people were short-sighted, tribal, and myopic, but thought absurdity on the order of religious stories could not be believed absent severe mental illness or systemic miseducation (so most churches/etc in the information age must be just book clubs, and anyone citing a holy book is probably laundering their own opinion with quotes from popular authors).
     
    Sasquatch and visiting aliens were at least imaginable concepts and might be excused as well hidden, but a non-metaphor god was either undefined (nothing there to believe existed) or a brand of miracle-magic that should be spectacularly obvious because anyone could tap into it (not the case).
     
    Then I finally strayed onto the wrong topic with the wrong person and witnessed the compartmentalized crazy come out. Then again, and again with others: same tropes though less belligerent. Cracking open their lauded book… if I were a time-traveller intent on sabotaging an organization, I couldn’t have written better bylaws. Which led to ‘Philosophical’ in studying the history and psychology of such contagious thought disorders. And the bizarre conclusions that’ve accumulated from centuries of fallacy roulette.
     
    A few years ago, if I’d heard Minchin saying “300 years after the Enlightenment, we have to be here having a rally about the fucking obvious,” I would’ve thought it self-aware silliness instead of a desperate imperative to make the world less broken.

  129. peggin says

    I guess I’m a little bit of all four categories, but I’d say that the scientific and philosophical categories are better descriptors of the reasons I am an atheist, and the political and humanist categories are better descriptors of how I behave because I’m an atheist.

    Since I saw a few other people mentioning their Myers-Briggs types, I’m an INFP, but my brother (who is also an atheist) is an INTP, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was a higher prevalence of atheism in NT types than there is the in general population.

    So, about a year ago my nephew (who is now 4 1/2) started asking questions about God. So as not to piss off my sister-in-law (who is a Christian of the rather liberal variety), my brother generally answered with responses along the lines of “some people think X, some people think Y, some people think Z” and so forth. After about a year of these kinds of questions, my nephew has decided that he thinks God is just a story that people made up. Which category would that fall under?

  130. intempore says

    Ze Madmax @ 140

    What a great example of atheistic disunity and confusion!

    I think Mr Myers, who wrote the blog not you, believes he has the (scientific) Answer: “my answer is simple and pure and true.”

    “Is not that other people are missing something, but rather than scientific atheists risk being too focused on very narrow issues.” Ah, so you agree: science it not sufficient!

    And later “Except that unlike evangelizing for religions, evangelizing for atheism means spreading truth.” Which truth is that – yours, Myers’ or mine? The part of the truth you (and religion) miss is that the truth doesn’t need evangelising!

    Ditto Akira MacKenzie @143.

    The FACT the church, for centuries, made shit up to justify their version of the truth and the oppression it wrought, does not miraculously make FACTs sufficient for the truth (you should talk to Ze Madmax!). Human decisions always involve more than FACTS. If not, Myers’ categories would be ruse.

  131. lordyuppa says

    ISTJ

    I’m with hacksoncode #138, and that’s what annoyed me so much about PZ’s first shot at this one. If you meet me on the street and I say I’m an atheist, you know exactly one thing about me.

    PZ seems like he’s really trying to infer all these qualities out of the one word that simply aren’t there. Atheist’s aren’t necessarily skeptical, smart, independent thinkers…

    So for me I have to stick with the dictionary. When I say I’m an Atheist, you can’t infer any other qualities about me. You can’t ascribe any of the taxonomies to me…but that’s okay. Saying you are an Atheist is only the beginning of a much longer conversation (hopefully) which includes that journey to atheism (or for some of us here the default position of atheism which required no journey).

  132. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I’d have preferred to be a “hobbying pantheist” but the sick and evil time we live in means I can’t enjoy such a position (in public) and have to just be a reg’lar atheist.

    There’s an odd, middleclass “squareness” about atheists, though, that bothers me, slightly but often. And I have no patience when the pitchforks and torches are brought out by ANY group, and that happens seldom but still too often here.

    Still, if I were to guess what group of people I would most easily get along with and find reason to work with, “atheists” would likely be #1 on the list, and by a good margin.

  133. says

    intempore @ #130

    You’re adopting the same strategy as the church: here’s is the Answer …

    This is only true if your definition of ‘answer’ is ‘we’re damn sure that religion/god has been shown time and time again not to be the answer.’

    … and you must subscribe to be saved!

    Huh? Subscribe to what? Atheism, humanism, secularism? I’d be a lot happier if a lot more people merely subscribed to secularism. Humanism would be a nice bonus, and atheism would be a cherry on top, but secularism, ie keeping religion out of my face, my classrooms*, my labs*, my legal system, my sex life and my government would be my own major priority.

    And please define what you mean by ‘saved.’

    *Not literally mine, but my taxes fund many of them.

  134. hieropants says

    Scientific-humanist for me. I could never “quit” being an atheist because there’s absolutely no evidence for the universe having any sort of consciousness or desire and I could never believe in something I didn’t think was true. But I didn’t really see the point in having an atheist movement until I realized atheism and humanism were inextricably linked, that religion was the worst kind of justification for sexism/racism/homophobia/poverty because it was able to ignore reality-based evidence with a flimsy “God wants this” hand-wave.

  135. slothrop1905 says

    It is so heartening to read this post! I am definitely the scientific/philosophical type. Most of the Christians I grew up with (just about all my friends and family) were more socially-justice-minded than I was (and am), and any atheists we met who worked with us at the soup kitchens or night ministries we would just write off as the ‘angry at God’ types, they were never a threat to our worldviews. In the world we inhabited, God didn’t have a negative impact on our lives, so there was no ‘social justice’ reason for us to quit believing what we believed. It was only when the ‘evidence’ I was taught growing up turned out to be false that I had the drive to tear myself away from all my friends and family, which was extremely painful but I had to make the decision that just because something made one happy was just not enough for me to believe it. That said, it’s interesting to see the different backgrounds demonstrated here…

  136. says

    I see myself as a scientific/humanist. More importantly, though, I think that the problem is not a single grouping of atheists, but rather this pervasive meme that humanism can’t be informed by scientific principles.

    The term I keep hearing is diversity of ideas. I don’t like that term, because I don’t see why we should make room for ideas that are harmful to certain groups or not based in reality in the name of “diversity”.

  137. WhiteHatLurker says

    What is with biologists and the need to form taxonomies?

    To the question … dictionary!

  138. says

    Err. Poor quoting on my part, should read:

    I’d have preferred to be a “hobbying pantheist” but the sick and evil time we live in means I can’t enjoy such a position (in public) and have to just be a reg’lar atheist.

    Really, it’s quite awful for you to characterize this as other people being ‘mean’ to you. This is not even to the level of adopting religious practices (like Humanistic Judaism), you’re literally pointlessly fantasizing and then identifying as though you believe this on some level, even though you admit it’s not true.

    Practice is one thing; belief is entirely different, and when you identify with an ideology you are indicating that on some level you believe it. That’s what “-ism” means, and it’s not “sick and evil” to tell you that words have meaning and not recognizing those meanings will cause confusion. It’s up to you to convey that you don’t believe in gods, not for someone else to get that despite identifying as a pantheist on some level you’re not really a pantheist.

  139. Gregory Greenwood says

    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain @ 146;

    A few years ago, if I’d heard Minchin saying “300 years after the Enlightenment, we have to be here having a rally about the fucking obvious,” I would’ve thought it self-aware silliness instead of a desperate imperative to make the world less broken.

    I can’t find the quote (my google-foo is weak, it seems), but a little while ago I remember reading a statement by a group of pretty influencial American evangelists that stated, in almost as many words, that the Enlightenment was the greatest catastrophe to befall humanity because it undermined ‘pure’ faith in jeebus, and that their intent was to roll it back in its entirety, and return to a more pious age.

    They literally want to go back to the Dark Ages, or at least an even more stygian, anti-intellectual version of what Sagan so eloquently termed the Demon Haunted World.

    It should beggar belief that anyone would wish to reject the totality of modernity and scientific knowledge in favour or primitive superstition and rigid religious oppression, but sadly I have reached the point where my cynicism is such that hearing such attitudes come out of the modern American religious Right (and, worryingly, increasingly often even from supposedly more ‘moderate’ groups as the attitude spreads) doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    Minchin is right – it is ridiculous that we are still being forced to refight these same battles centuries after they should have been settled in a rational world, but if we don’t keep on pointing out the obvious about the utter unevidenced drivel that makes up theology (‘sophistimicated’ and otherwise), then it is certain that the fundies will forge ahead at full steam with their efforts to reverse every social advance made since the Enlightenment.

  140. says

    There’s an odd, middleclass “squareness” about atheists, though, that bothers me, slightly but often. And I have no patience when the pitchforks and torches are brought out by ANY group, and that happens seldom but still too often here.

    You are not a special snow flake and your efforts to distance yourself from all groups do not make you superior or special.

  141. FossilFishy (Νεοπτόλεμος's spellchecker) says

    You’re adopting the same strategy as the church: here’s is the Answer, and you must subscribe to be saved!

    I wonder if it’s a religious upbringing or something else that makes these folks incapable of understanding the difference between prescriptive and descriptive categories?

  142. says

    Ing #160: I’m more interested in “hobbyist pantheism”. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes. I mean, identifying with an -ism is a statement of belief, isn’t it? At that point either you’re mistaken about what the -ism is or you’ve got to be argued out of it, because you’ve put yourself squarely in that camp.

    It’s not like there aren’t plenty of atheists who are interested in mythology either. Reasonable Doubts’ Polyatheism segments are quite awesome thank you very much.

    The more I look at it, the more it seems like that the “sick and evil times” are simply the result of someone still clinging to belief being told that words have meaning and the writer is expected to make sure the reader gets it, not the other way around. But are special snowflakes ever any other way?

  143. says

    I’m a Religious Atheist.

    No really! So-called “religions” are a pernicious distraction. Wasting your life as any kind of believer means missing out on this amazing opportunity to investigate the nature of your own consciousness. Religion is actually about conducting an empirical enquiry to extend and enrich your own subjective reality. I’m a mystic, and I’m describing meditation.

  144. michaelpowers says

    According to the article, I could be described as partly philosophical, mostly humanist. Before reading, I would have described myself as a scientific atheist. Although I suspect now that may have been wishful thinking on my part.

    When I think back to childhood, the thing that made first suspect religion was hardly scientific. Although the contradictions I noted in Sunday school were painfully obvious, I might have been able to suspend disbelief for a while, at least, had not been for the fact that, on a base, instinctive level, it just felt wrong. It was that uneasiness that compelled me to explore things further.

    Now, I find it odd that when I tell a believer that I’m not, I see an immediate value judgement in their faces. They actually think that I made a choice not to believe. It’s not that I won’t believe. It’s that I can’t. How can one believe in something for which no shred of evidence exists?

  145. says

    Religion is actually about conducting an empirical enquiry to extend and enrich your own subjective reality. I’m a mystic, and I’m describing meditation.

    D&D is religious. Good to know.

    Seriously what is with the twits clinging to the label “religious” like it’s some magic fucking icon?

  146. says

    Hmmm. To me, one leads to the other. Philosophy (specifically empiricism) demands science. Philosophy (ethics this time) demands humanism, and humanism and science together demand politics.

  147. Suido says

    Left religion due to humanist reasons, was inspired to atheism by scientific and philosophic reasons, and since reading FTB have been made more aware of the humanist side of atheism.

    With regard to taoist/buddhist/etc atheists (comments 22, 23 and any others I missed while skimming), I think to fully embrace those philosophies, you are compromising the scientific facet of atheism. While neither taoism or buddhism have ‘creator’ myths, they have plenty of other woo, such as karma and reincarnation for buddhism and ascribing intent to the universe for taoism.

    Also, those beliefs often incorporate a local history of spiritualism, such as therevada buddhism in Thailand (full of guardian angels and demons etc).

  148. intempore says

    Daz @151

    “This is only true if your definition of ‘answer’ is ‘we’re damn sure that religion/god has been shown time and time again not to be the answer.”

    Fabulous logic: because religion doesn’t have the Answer, it follows by applying the opposite (ie God does not exist), one now possesses it. Compelling stuff!

    Define “saved”. Well, I think your post does it well. You are clearly trying to save others from ignorance about reality. Honourable, but no different to the church. Moreover, isn’t the ultimate ignorance (again, one practiced by those you hate) the belief you can save someone else?

    Or as Setar@155 put it – he is saving me from falling like a rock over a 4000 foot cliff. Thanks for that.

    Humanism and atheism are incompatible, insofar as most atheists are very much into saving others. True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out. Like religion, atheists lack irony and end up justifying this compromise (and practicing the ultimate form of ignorance) on the basis that without it humanity would be lost. Humanism may or may not be naive – but atheism, to the extent it is a political, goal-seeking cause, IS NOT humanism.

    FossilFishy@161

    Prescriptive and descriptive categories are mere abstract notions. What matters is the intent that sits behind the presentation of your Answer. Again, I think Myers is not interested in only describing his version of reality.

  149. lither says

    To be fussy and annoying: to suggest that philosophers might get excited by a discussion of modus ponens is really trivializing the subject. If you don’t want to be called philosophically naive, or be visited by a bunch of blokes called Bruce from Woolloomooloo, you might want to rephrase that. I’d suggest replacing “modus ponens” by “the synthetic a priori”, which at least used to be a topic of genuine interest.

  150. weakswimmer says

    I’m an atheist because I got tired of trying to fit square pegs into round holes. If those ideas don’t fit with what is known about reality and don’t make sense, they shouldn’t be shoved in those places. I suppose that puts me somewhere in the direction of a scientific-philosophic atheist. I’m also a humanist, but my atheism affects my humanism rather than the other way around.

    My grandmother calls herself a militant agnostic, but she fits mas528’s (#132) description of a woo atheist. She sees no evidence for (and, apparently, has no belief in) deities, but she believes in reincarnation.

  151. Akira MacKenzie says

    intempore:

    Remember that “laugh at your supersticious ass every time you open your cake hole to vomit out another demonstrably incorrect statement about the universe…” thing I mentioned?

    Well…

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…..

    (DEEP, GASPING INHALE)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…

  152. Akira MacKenzie says

    Oooooh! Sorry about that folks! My snark seems to have backfired somehow.

  153. Suido says

    @Vijen #164

    You’re included in my grouping above then. Until you can point to some neurological studies that show evidence that your ‘investigations into the nature of consciousness’ aren’t delusions, I won’t stray from my opinion that mysticism is woo all the way down, or inwards, or whichever direction you’re looking for your consciousness.

    Redefining a bunch of words (as you do on your page) doesn’t make them more meaningful.

  154. Suido says

    Weakswimmer, thanks for pointing out mas528’s comment. It’s exactly what I’m talking about.

    Woo atheists should be called out if they claim to also be scientific atheists.

  155. says

    Fabulous logic: because religion doesn’t have the Answer, it follows by applying the opposite (ie God does not exist), one now possesses it. Compelling stuff!

    Fabulous cherry-pick! I said “religion/god has been shown time and time again not to be the answer.” Strictly speaking, yes this doesn’t rule god out, but it does make him/her/it superfluous unless evidence of its existence turns up. And where did I say that atheism provides an answer? All it does is make room for better attempts at answers.

    Moreover, isn’t the ultimate ignorance (again, one practiced by those you hate) the belief you can save someone else?

    In what sense? One thing I don’t fault the truly devout for is their willingness to try to save my putative soul. By their lights, they’re trying to do me the biggest favour they can. Conversely, if I believe someone to be wasting their own life and ruining others by following the illogical dictates of a non-existent being, I’d have to be pretty-well free of empathy if I didn’t try to enlighten them or at least work to make the spreading of such ideas harder. If that’s what you mean, then a better choice of word than ‘ignorance’ might be ‘hubris,’ but I still disagree.

    Humanism and atheism are incompatible, insofar as most atheists are very much into saving others. True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out.

    Really. Care to provide some sources for this definition? The Fount Of All Knowledge™ defines humanism as:

    … an approach in study, philosophy, world view, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.

    Which is pretty much the definition used by all self-described humanists I’ve ever met.

  156. Suido says

    @Intempore

    True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out.

    Citation needed. That’s not a definition I’ve seen before, but I have a feeling that if I post any definition of humanism here that contradicts you, you’ll either move goalposts or get angry about those dang Scotsmen. True humanism indeed.

  157. RFW says

    If I had to categorize my own disbelief, it would probably fall under “Don’t believe, don’t care”. As I believe I’ve said before, having been exposed to classical Greek and Roman mythology as a child, my attitude was that the bible was just more of the same.

    One of my grandmothers gave me a copy of “Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible”, which strengthened the impression that the bible, like classical myths, is just a collection of stories people used to believe but which nowadays are nursery tales akin to Mother Goose.

    Religion used to be a matter of indifference to me, and I’m still polite to the religious[*], but these days, partly fueled by Pharyngula, partly fueled by the vicious lies told by the RCC and the fundies about gays (among which I count myself – buttsecks, anyone?) I’m certainly not indifferent.

    I’m sure there are xtians who strive to lead a Christ-like life of love and charity, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, but they seem not to be represented among the ranks of the RCC and fundie clergy at all.

    Such are the dangers of learning to read and becoming an enthusiastic reader.

    [*] Like the lady and her grandson looking at fantasies in a thrift store after picking up a copy of LotR. The kid was 12 and granny didn’t want him reading books with sex in them, so Ursula LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” was out, but her “Wizard of Earthsea” was in. I did warn her that her grandson probably knew a lot more about sex than she thought he did, but the kid seemed reasonably well spoken, so there was no point making a big deal over the matter. I was amused that granny couldn’t bring herself to use the word “sex”.

  158. bastionofsass says

    When I first started to ask questions about religion as a kid, they were based on my thinking: 1. that doesn’t make sense and/or 2. that doesn’t seem fair. Those are still the two reasons I reject religion and belief in a god.

    I don’t know which category/categories of atheist that puts me in.

  159. wytchy says

    This is an interesting way to examine different types of atheists. I’d say that I am a mixture of the political and humanist types. I came to my atheist perspective through my dedication to feminism and civil rights goals. How many times did I need to see religion and god invoked to justify horrific acts of bigotry and misogyny before I rejected it out of hand? Not nearly as many as I have to see everyday if I bother to open my eyes. :(

  160. says

    @Suido #175
    If you don’t accept subjective validation of external reality (no more do I) then why expect objective validation of internal reality? I suspect we agree that reality is actually undivided, but by implicitly privileging the objective over the subjective you are ignoring a very productive avenue of research. Yes it takes years, more likely decades, to get any useful results, and even then you can’t share them directly, though some hinting is possible.
    You’re right, of course that “mysticism” is woo, all the way down. But Deepak Chopra and his ilk aren’t mystics. Yet mystics exist.

  161. tariqata says

    @117 drdave:

    Thanks for the link to the interview with Lakoff – I was aware of his work and ideas but will be interested to read the new book. I’m in Canada, but the Conservatives here have also done very, very well at shaping the parameters of the public conversation and focusing on key messages (“Stop the gravy train!” *headdesk*), and it can definitely make it hard to explain why Housing First and harm reduction are better ways to deal issues like homelessness and addictions.

  162. Suido says

    @Bastionofsass #180

    1. Sci or Phi, depending on what didn’t make sense.
    2. Humanism

    After considering it, I think any default/lazy/dictionary atheists won’t fall into the political section, as this category requires action. It’s why I don’t consider myself a political atheist, because even though I consider myself a staunch secularist, I haven’t had (or taken) many opportunities for activism, due to the politics where I live.

  163. says

    SC (Salty Current)

    My apologies for the misunderstanding.

    mouthyb

    I’m a little iffy on intuition, unless it’s specifically the result of cross information set assembly (not so much the classical epiphany as connections between information the person already has.)

    Well, I think of N as an analytical trait – making connections between known information and concepts – instead of intuition in the “epiphany” sense. However, I’m not all that familiar with how the Myers-Briggs system was designed. If we do view N as cross informational set assembly, I don’t have a problem with it and I think it makes a lot of sense in the atheist context.

  164. Suido says

    @Vijen #183

    then why expect objective validation of internal reality?

    Because neuroscience has consistently shown that our minds (consciousness, personality, thought processes etc) are governed by our physical brains – alter the brain, alter the mind.

    You’re right, of course that “mysticism” is woo, all the way down. But Deepak Chopra and his ilk aren’t mystics. Yet mystics exist.

    Congratulations, you’re using the No true Scotsman fallacy! Consider me utterly unconvinced by your unsubstantiated opinion that mystics exist.

  165. jfigdor says

    Hey PZ, thanks for a really thoughtful post here. I’m torn between the Philosophical Atheist and Humanist Atheist categories myself. However, I think that the goal of the new Non-religious movement should be to encourage less sniping between groups and more collaboration and cooperation.

    Keep fighting the good fight,

    JPF

  166. Akira MacKenzie says

    Setár @ 189

    “I bet you don’t know how that little box you’re typing these messages was developed.”

    Of course not, that would require facts.

  167. intempore says

    Akira MacKenzie @173

    No worries – you obviously have a sizable cakehole. I’d attribute the mistake to the hand of God, if only I had a “supersticious ass”

    As with Setar@189: I don’t dispute the value of the Western rationalist tradition and its honouring of facts. I, in agreement with heavy thinkers like David Hume, just think it is irrational to believe reason can prove anything in abstract or empirical terms. Provided one finds this ironic, they are not being hypocritical in sharing in the benefits of reason (eg internet).

    Daz @177

    It’s not a cherry-pick, but I’m confused: do you have the Answer or not? Myers thinks he does. On what basis do you say your answer, or making room for it, is better? How can you be sure it’s better if it’s incomplete? Where is the evidence of this superiority (something more than science/reason works, because religion makes the same claim)? Of course, there can’t be any reasoned theory either because the proposition “God does not exist”, by implication, cannot be proved empirically!

    Yeah, hubris is probably a better word, but point still holds. Atheists are counter-salvationists. Yes, this is based on an empathetic feeling, but reason, which you supposedly attach a higher value to, informs us that acting on this collectively is problematic. Only the individual can save their own self. Much of the atheistic movement is about stopping others telling you want to do/think, by telling the tellers what to do/think, via political means. This is about feelings, not reason – because if you reasoned it through, you would conclude that no-one else can control you and wouldn’t be so threatened by flat-earthers and the like.

    The definition of humanism I was “using” is self-defining: it trusts that others can figure it out. This is not just idealistic – it’s pragmatic, since control is pointless and irrational (see point above). The traditional definition is typically used by those needing others to adhere to their way of thinking, something that is justified on the basis that their (incomplete) ideas will free you. Your definition is limited by a distinction between secular and spiritual.

  168. FossilFishy (Νεοπτόλεμος's spellchecker) says

    intempore @170

    Prescriptive and descriptive categories are mere abstract notions. What matters is the intent that sits behind the presentation of your Answer. Again, I think Myers is not interested in only describing his version of reality.

    PZ has made no secret about his intent with regards to his atheism. My point was that this post was descriptive not prescriptive and indeed he went out of his way to show the value of forms of atheism that differ from his own.

    True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out.

    Nice not true Scotsman you’ve got there. Very rational.

  169. danielmoran says

    I would like to say that I am all of them. Least of all may be the humanist or scientist. I love debate and proposing new ideas and solutions too much.

  170. Rip Steakface says

    As with most here, I’m a scientific/humanist atheist, even though I am not a scientist.

    However, I think I’m coming up with a anthropomorphic metaphor for the movement based on these four parts! The scientific atheists are the brain of the movement, keeping the other people in line with reality. The political atheists are the hands of the movement, performing the groundwork we need to be heard and for the rule of religious thinking in the world to end. The philosophical atheists are the conscious, in the sense of the word as a noun. They’re the part that makes sure we’re always consistent in our thinking and actions. And, obviously, the humanists are the heart, ensuring we’re doing what’s right and helping the downtrodden – a sort of check to make sure we focused on problems that concern all people and not just old white men.

    Now, obviously this is not a complete person, but few anthropomorphic metaphors have things like digestive systems, so I don’t feel the need to come up with one. So far as I can tell, the four branches seem to function as a government with multiple branches – a system of checks and balances. The scientists make sure we’re right, the philosophers make sure we’re consistent, the humanists make sure we’re tackling real problems, and the politicians make sure we’re actually doing something about it.

    Thoughts, anybody?

  171. consciousness razor says

    I see four major categories of thoughtful atheists: scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists. I’m going to describe what I think are the major strengths and weaknesses of each; you can tell me whether you think we need more divisions and better defining characteristics, but be warned, taxonomically I’m more of a lumper than a splitter.

    Hmm, these categories are kind of mixed up if you ask me. Maybe it’s just the names. Ethics (whether it’s political, specifically a form of secular humanism, or whatever) is philosophical. I mean, you said people can fit into more than one category (which makes the talk about a “taxonomy” confusing), but that’s not the same as two of them being more like subcategories of another.

    Anyway, like some others here, I’d probably go with a different kind of division altogether, but I haven’t thought about it very much yet.

  172. alkaloid says

    Is there a category for atheists that became atheists because they saw religious people acting so terribly they rejected it wholesale, or would that fall under either political atheism or humanism? Perhaps anti-theist atheists?

  173. zb24601 says

    I came to atheism by becoming a skeptic. As I started to examine the beliefs I had, I found that many of them I wanted to be true, and I could not find any good evidence for the beliefs, and in most cases, I was finding evidence to falsify some of the things I wanted to believe. I soon found my catchphrase: “Wishing doesn’t make it so!” It wasn’t long before I got to the god belief, although it was many year before I told anyone I gave up that belief.

    I can see my thinking in each category above. But I identify most closely with the scientific atheists. Mainly because I don’t think being an atheist is necessary to support separation of religion and government (I have supported it ever since I understood the concept, including the entire time I was a christian). And I don’t think it is necessary to be an atheist to support most social issues. I don’t need to discuss the non-existence of gods to explain why all people should have equal rights. I find that many of the opponents on social issues are religious people who try to use religious justifications for their opposition to progress on social issues. When I get a religion based argument against it, I explain why separation of religion and government is important.

  174. colonelzen says

    Having read a lot of the “Why I am an atheist” articles here, it seems to me your taxonomy is missing the most obvious atheist …

    The “religion is batshit crazy” atheist.

    You don’t need to be very deep into science to see that. You just have to live in the world and see that dead things do not come back to life, gods and angels don’t appear, and that scat, good and bad, seems to happen pretty much everywhere indiscriminately without gods or demons doing anything.

    From there you only need enough “science” to validate your own suspicions.

    I suspect there are really a lot of “religion is batshit crazy” atheists out there, who simply don’t know where to go from there (and if surrounded by the religous, will be fettered in finding out. So they nod and go along wnen somebody urges them into church … and spend a lot of time wondering what’s wrong with them.)

    We need a better way to reach these people. It’s why I love the billboard campaigns.

    Can we get a billboard that simply says “Religion: yes it is batshit crazy!”

  175. says

    intempore

    do you have the Answer or not? Myers thinks he does. On what basis do you say your answer, or making room for it, is better? How can you be sure it’s better if it’s incomplete?

    What is this capital A Answer you ask about? More specifically, what is the capital Q question?

    Where does PZ claim to have this Answer?

    You seem to be assuming that I, personally, have this Answer. I’ve made no such claim. All I said was that religion/god has proved to be a false answer so far.

    Completeness is not the issue. ‘God did it’ is very complete, in that it explains everything, if your idea of an explanation is to hang the tag ‘god’ on it and cease all further questioning. I’d rather have a whole mess of incomplete answers that actually appear to be consonant with the world we see, than one complete answer which doesn’t.

    Only the individual can save their own self. Much of the atheistic movement is about stopping others telling you want to do/think, by telling the tellers what to do/think, via political means.

    Sure, no one should be forced to think anything. Nothing wrong with persuasion, though.

    Humanism is a discussion of values based on human experience rather than divine commandment. Education in how to think, rather than what to think, is generally accepted as one of those values. And again, nothing wrong with persuasion.

    And frankly, I don’t give a rat’s how you define the word. Your definition is not normal usage.

  176. intempore says

    FossilFishy @194

    I love this shit. No, no, no Myers isn’t a fundamentalist, he doesn’t believe he has the Answer or that his mission is to remake the world. He’s a Humanist. See he, described other categories and demonstrated a willingness to work together (well, at least with those in his defined sect).

    You make him sound like those religious leaders who pretend they are into inter-faith causes.

    I’m confused: are you a believer (non-belief is still, as irrational as it is, a belief), a sceptic or both??

  177. RhubarbTheBear says

    Since “artistic atheist” isn’t likely to become much of a subcategory anytime soon, I’m glad to see that I seem to fit in the humanist category. And it’s entirely true that churches offer me more of an outlet for my art than any purely atheistic concern; they’ll even pay me! That’s not exactly something I can glibly turn down without some reflection…

  178. themcnamarareport says

    Weaknesses: Pragmatically fickle. If the atheist movement does not address human concerns, they’ll leave and follow institutions that do. Why be an atheist if an inclusive, progressive church were to do a better job? Why be an atheist if we neglect the concerns of women or minorities, or belittle civil rights?

    What nonsense. As if any of those atheists would begin to believe in gods just because movement atheism fails to recognize civil rights, women, and minorities. If movement atheism fails at those prerogatives, then movement atheism will be changed by people like those you listed.

  179. says

    <meta>
    Vaguely pertinent bit o’ trivia. Dictionary.com’s word of the day, for Monday just gone:

    sumpsimus \SUHMP-suh-muhs\, noun:

    1. Adherence to or persistence in using a strictly correct term, holding to a precise practice, etc., as a rejection of an erroneous but more common form (opposed to mumpsimus).
    2. A person who is obstinate or zealous about such strict correctness (opposed to mumpsimus).

    </meta>

  180. says

    As if any of those atheists would begin to believe in gods just because movement atheism fails to recognize civil rights, women, and minorities.

    amazingly enough, you don’t actually need to believe to be a member of a liberal christian church. many European christians don’t, for example

  181. boobmcnutt says

    I had to ponder a bit on this one. And I’ve decided that there really shouldn’t be a Philosophical Atheist category because the Scientific Atheist category covers all of the ground of the Philosophical Atheist and then some. My own small dip into Myer’s Philosophical Atheist category shows up just when I find myself discussing the validity of theism – in which I’m prone to say something like “The form of your argument is bad and your conclusion from that argument isn’t justified by the argument”…but that’s it — when it comes right down to it I’m an atheist because of empiricism full stop.

  182. intempore says

    Daz @ 201

    Here’s a bit from Myers’ post: “What, just being right isn’t enough? … Oh, screw that, my answer is simple and pure and true.” (If you claim he was being ironic, please read response to FossilFishy)

    Sorry you couldn’t figure what the capitalization meant (I keep forgetting – my perception of reality must be flawed – that atheists are literalists): Answer means absolute, end of story, I am Right. Which usually manifests as something more than a willingness to persuade.

    OK, if Myers/atheism doesn’t have the Answer just better answers, how then can you take the high moral ground? What, are you saying it’s OK because that’s what the church did for centuries, filling the (infinite) knowledge gap with “God”? Or are you admitting there is a Gap (note capitalisation). If you do, please tell me why, then, you label yourself an atheist, rather than an agnostic?

    “I’d rather have a whole mess of incomplete answers that actually appear to be consonant with the world we see, than one complete answer which doesn’t.”

    I don’t think you’re really on top of things here. Are you saying you don’t want a complete answer? Are you happy with an eternal search? Of course you aren’t – no-one is, as much as they say otherwise. But please recognize the militant behaviour this gives rise to: education becomes persuasion, becomes advocacy, becomes you-must-agree.

  183. says

    As if any of those atheists would begin to believe in gods just because movement atheism fails to recognize civil rights, women, and minorities.

    Do you seriously think I am incapable of pretending I believe, or at the very least, restraining myself as an atheist?

    If movement atheism fails at those prerogatives, then movement atheism will be changed by people like those you listed.

    ‘If’? Also, what makes you think movement atheism is my primary concern? Some of us exist in the real world and rather have our hands full as it is with everything else.

  184. alkaloid says

    @life is like a pitbull with lipstick, #205

    I see your point about the ableism in calling religion crazy, but does just saying that it’s incorrect really express all that much about what’s wrong with it? 2+2=5 is incorrect; religion is an ongoing disaster.

  185. petejohn says

    I guess I’m a hybrid scientific and humanist. I try to think very scientifically about all things… that is to say claims must be testable and must be inline with the best available evidence. I also think there’s somethign incredibly anti-humanity about most of our world’s religions and that atheism presents an alternative which could alleviate much (and not all, I concede an atheist could be as big of a douchecanoe as a member of any religion) of the bad in our world.

  186. consciousness razor says

    I see your point about the ableism in calling religion crazy, but does just saying that it’s incorrect really express all that much about what’s wrong with it? 2+2=5 is incorrect; religion is an ongoing disaster.

    Saying it’s an ongoing disaster doesn’t really express all that much about what’s wrong with it.

  187. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    does just saying that it’s incorrect really express all that much about what’s wrong with it?

    Nope, and I didn’t say “it’s only incorrect”.

  188. says

    Of course there are gaps. (I don’t even know what your Gap is supposed to refer to.) If there weren’t gaps, we’d know everything. We don’t know everything, therefore there are gaps. How fucking difficult is this concept?

    The existence of gaps, however, does not mean that we should shove a god into them like some philosophical butt-plug, because there is absolutely no evidence that gods exist.

    If you do, please tell me why, then, you label yourself an atheist, rather than an agnostic?

    I don’t. I’m both. And no, I’m not going to explain that. Do your own research.

    I don’t think you’re really on top of things here. Are you saying you don’t want a complete answer? Are you happy with an eternal search? Of course you aren’t – no-one is, as much as they say otherwise.

    What I’m happy with in the way of completeness has sod all to do with it. The world is what it is. My/our state of knowledge is what it is. My happiness with that state of affairs affects it not a jot.

    But please recognize the militant behaviour this gives rise to: education becomes persuasion, becomes advocacy, becomes you-must-agree.

    Your assertion does not make it so.

  189. says

    alkaloid:

    religion is an ongoing disaster.

    Then say it’s disastrous. CR makes the key point, however – disaster or disastrous doesn’t express the why of what’s wrong. Neither does crazy. However, of the two descriptors, crazy is going to put a lot of people in the position of being immediately resentful at their mental state being put in question.

  190. intempore says

    Daz @ 216

    I have no difficulty at all with “of course there are gaps”. The issue is whether or not there is a permanent gap, a Gap, in respect of human knowledge regarding the purpose of existence, what religion fills with the word “God”.

    “The world is what it is. My/our state of knowledge is what it is.”

    Sounds a bit fatalistic. Why then are do you continue to search, ask questions, participate in blogs? You passing time, or are you hoping to help close the Gap? If you are already happy, wouldn’t you just chill and not get worked up replying to my ignorant posts?

    Most atheists don’t seem very chilled to me. Which is fine, expect it infers they are trying to close the Gap. And if this is the case, they have no sound basis on which to say to anyone else (including creationists) they are wrong because all answers (note small letter “a”) are provisional. If it’s not the case, and they accept the Gap is real, then same scenario (oh, and you also need to explain why it is you are doing anything and disown Western rationalism as a joke).

    Also, everything is an assertion because the Gap is real.

  191. says

    n respect of human knowledge regarding the purpose of existence, what religion fills with the word “God”.

    Why do you assume there’s a purpose?

    Sounds a bit fatalistic. Why then are do you continue to search, ask questions, participate in blogs? You passing time, or are you hoping to help close the Gap? If you are already happy, wouldn’t you just chill and not get worked up replying to my ignorant posts?

    Because it’s fun? Because the blogs I ‘participate’ in and the people who write them and comment under them are trying to help humanity to a happier, healthier state? Why do you assume I’m worked up?

    Also, everything is an assertion because the Gap is real.

    Supporting an assertion with an assertion. You should get a prize of some sort.

  192. colonelzen says

    What?

    Caine @ 218.

    “crazy” rather hints that the subject is somewhat askew to reality. Disasterous can happen on events and plans meticulously carried out on the best possible knowledge. Crazy, with the added emphasis of batshit is quite descriptive of what is wrong.

    LILAPBWL @ 204:

    Crazy. Boyer (from reviews I’ve read) lays out some of why we’re prone to latch onto notions that may differ from reality …. but here and now we have a wealth of evidence for a vastly stronger and better proven epistemology. Failure to acknowledge, credit and adhere to that means of knowledge when and where available is a failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality. Crazy. When there’s a wealth of pointers to that reality *everywhere* around you from your acrylic socks through your cell phone and computers, it is willful refusal to acknowledge reality … batshit crazy.

    “Ableist”? WT flaming F on a trapeze with a midget in a holocost cloak? We are not supposed to acknowledge that there are ideas (and people having them) that are wildly divergent from reality. In other words your idea of political correctness is to deny the reality of those who deny reality? I have to say that I consider that batshit crazy.

    Shove it. I ain’t batshit crazy.

    (Did you notice that I said “religion” … collections of ideas and beliefs involving the supernatural. My requested signage says not a word about people as such. Or is that distinction so reality based as to be discriminatory?)

    — TWZ

  193. intempore says

    Daz @220

    Ah, you finally got there: the safe haven of all atheists (though I note you didn’t actually say outright “there is no purpose” – just that I assumed it). Life is fun, about making people happier. Yeah, right – what a massive cop out, complete intellectual dishonesty. So, we are just here to ride this rock into oblivion. That’s why you get out of bed each day? Why are you worried about happiness, then? Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    Good luck with the continued maintenance of your cognitive dissonance. I now know why atheists hang out together: shared comfort of the same doubts that distress religion folk.

  194. consciousness razor says

    intempore:

    I suppose it’s possible for a theist to have some insight into atheists and atheism, but do you think you could distill yours (if you have some) into something a bit more concise and coherent? Or if you’re just trolling, you may as well start godbotting. That would more entertaining to me anyway.

  195. consciousness razor says

    So, we are just here to ride this rock into oblivion.

    No, we are not here to do that. That is not the purpose of being here, because being here has no purpose. We just are here, and that is what we can do.

  196. Akira MacKenzie says

    The universe does not have to comply with your wishes.

    Or, rather, intempore’s obviously colossal ego.

  197. says

    “crazy” rather hints that the subject is somewhat askew to reality.

    Crazy is slang for mentally ill. Sure, it has other meanings, however, that’s very context dependent.

    Crazy, with the added emphasis of batshit is quite descriptive of what is wrong.

    No, it isn’t. It doesn’t say one thing about what is wrong with religion or religious belief. All it says is that you think a person needs to be mentally compromised to be religious.

  198. colonelzen says

    Intempore: I have no doubts at all. When I die, it’s over. Not even lights out … just not there. And yes there’s a fair to middling chance that it could happen to all of mankind in the next few centuries. Nothing left, no descendants or survivors. Nothing. Nobody and nothing to even think “oblivion”.

    But I get out of bed each morning because I’m a machine that after a period of rest must be doing something. And much of the things I find myself doing – because I have learned to like and have some built in programming to like – is interact with other human beings in varied and various ways. In doing so I have had to form an image, a model of who and what I am, and who and what I want to be. I am at my happiest when what I do and think conforms to that model … that’s how I built the model – how evolution designed and built us to build our self models – after all.

    And that self model includes me caring for other human beings, and me identifying myself with other human beings, including those who will come after I am dead. I am fully and completely aware that “I” won’t be there at the time of these simulated people in this confabulation with their problems in a future that is now just a fantasy in my head, but I am here NOW identifying with them. And so I act here and now, in identification with and intent for the people of the future along with my own present and near future interests and concerns.

    Is this a problem? No, there is no “purpose” that is not in people’s heads. Why is that not enough? My purposes are certainly enough for you. If you think your purposes are not enough for you, then you are deluded. Ultimately you cannot have another’s purposes; you can have only your own and they are all that will *ever* exist for you. And likewise for everyone else. The purpose we create is purpose enough. It always has been and will be for each of us individually until the day of our death.

    — TWZ

  199. Suido says

    @intempore

    Slow clap. I’m impressed by the way you gish galloped past each and every criticism of your unfounded assertions, and to top it off with an apparently straight-faced accusation of atheists living with cognitive dissonance, well, my irony meter just wasn’t up to spec.

    If I were arrogant enough to presume your thoughts, I would end my post with something like this:

    Good luck with the continued maintenance of wishful thinking to allay your existential dread. I now know why you are here in this discussion: nobody else listens to your drivel.

    But I’m not that arrogant, so I didn’t end the post like that.

  200. says

    Crazy, with the added emphasis of batshit is quite descriptive of what is wrong.

    no it isn’t, since what’s wrong with religion and religious people has nothing to do with mental illness.

    Failure to acknowledge, credit and adhere to that means of knowledge when and where available is a failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality. Crazy.

    no. for one, “failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality” it’s normal, healthy human behavior (depressed people for example are more realistic about certain things than “healthy” people, and aspies are less prone to anthropomorphism than neurotypicals). for two, pro-social beliefs, even if they are wrong, are the exact opposite of the sort of beliefs that are classed as mental illnesses.

    When there’s a wealth of pointers to that reality *everywhere* around you from your acrylic socks through your cell phone and computers, it is willful refusal to acknowledge reality … batshit crazy.

    this is bullshit, and everyone who knows even the merest basics of human psychology would know this.

    also, metal illness is not “willful refusal to acknowledge reality”, so even if what you said were true you’d still be wrong.

    We are not supposed to acknowledge that there are ideas (and people having them) that are wildly divergent from reality.

    boring strawman is boring.

  201. intempore says

    consciousness razor @224 and Daz

    You guys are a joke, and unable to see it. Consider your confused position. Tell me this: are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not? You tear into me because apparently this question is of itself immature, circular and irrational, yet other times you claim to be open-minded.

    Who proclaims there is no purpose and then demands I provide “something a bit more concise and coherent”. You’ve just verified my whole case: atheism is a morally and intellectually weak, each-way hedge. You say purpose doesn’t exist but keep searching for it.

    You best get your logic clear.

  202. says

    We are not supposed to acknowledge that there are ideas (and people having them) that are wildly divergent from reality.

    This ^ is an absolute load of batshit. Of course we can acknowledge there are ideas which are wildly divergent from reality. Even ideas that are a little divergent from reality. That has absolutely nothing to do with tossing a blanket term for mentally ill over a group of people.

  203. cyberCMDR says

    I would say first and foremost I am a scientific atheist (and INTJ, if you’re interested), but I am also a reactive atheist. My atheism is in large part a reaction to the repeated injections of religion based stupidity into my life.

    I didn’t care too much about religion when I was younger (mostly an agnostic viewpoint), but people kept getting into my face and telling me to believe. It started with Scientologists coming up to me in college and asking me if I wanted to take a personality test. I told them no thanks, I didn’t have one.

    When I was getting my engineering degree (different college), some people would come up to me and ask, “Are you saved?” When I explained to one that I didn’t really think that much about God, he told me “God spits out lukewarm Christians!” (lovely image there!)

    What really would drive me crazy would be those who completely denied evolution, while obviously not having the least clue as to how evolution worked. Same for the young earth creationists, who discounted any act of logic or evidence.

    The more I encountered the willful stupidity out there, the less I felt I could believe. I just could not see any reason to believe anything these voluntary idiots believed so fervently.

  204. violet says

    I am a lifelong atheist, I guess, as my family had a rather bitter split with the church when I was stills babe and my family was pretty freethinking even before that, so religion was not really a part of my upbringing. I was an atheist before I knew what it was. When a friend secretively confessed to being an atheist in junior high and told me what that meant, I knew that was me as well.

    As a person, I would fall into the humanist and political categories. I have been obsessed with justice and equality since I was a kid, as my mom would confirm with a sigh, and the thing I remember hearing most often as a child was “Life is not always fair!” I accepted that but I’ve always thought it would be possible to make it more fair, and I’ve always tried, in the small areas of my influence.

    I think of them as separate but equal parts of my personality though. I’m not an atheist because I am a humanist, nor vice versa. I am all of those things because I am me. But you could still put me in those categories because that is where I would prefer to focus my activities, as an atheist and otherwise.

  205. Akira MacKenzie says

    intempore @ 222

    Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    Right, says the asshole who has the gall to accuse atheists of being arrogant.

    I’m sorry, that you can’t deal with the fact that you are nothing more than a mere animal, living on insignificant planet, orbiting an average G-type star in a dime-a-billion galaxy. I’m sorry you can’t deal with the fact that you will die one day and all that you are will come to putrescence and decay. I’m sorry you’re so insecure that you must justify your very existence with this “purpose” horseshit and other religious fairy tales.

    Well, that’s your problem, not mine.

    Some of us realize our “place” in the universe (i.e. we don’t have one) and yet we don’t let it bother us all that much. Why? Because we’ve got better things to do, like trying to feed the poor and educate the ignorant. Why? Because we can empathize with those who are suffering. Because existence, as meager and cosmically inconsequential as it is, is better than nonexistence. There is no need for “purpose” in this endeavor, ultimate or otherwise. Even though civilization will one day come crashing down around us and humanity will become extinct, the Earth will be swallowed by our sun as it dies, and any and all good we do will ultimately be for naught, those are things for the very distant future and are no consequence to the present. We, on the other hand, live in the now.

    So, therefore, kindly fuck off.

  206. consciousness razor says

    Tell me this: are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not?

    There is a question of purpose/God/etc.? Would you say “god” means the same thing as “purpose,” and what is included in “etc.”?

    You’ve just verified my whole case

    Sure I did. You’re making an excellent case for trolling. Next step, Jesus. Then, profit.

    You say purpose doesn’t exist but keep searching for it.

    You don’t have to agree, but you could at least get it straight. Purpose exists, but existence itself doesn’t have (or isn’t) a purpose.

    I and other sentient beings have purposes. Sometimes I find out new things about what I or others want or intend, but what else beyond that do you assume I’m searching for? And where did you get such a silly idea?

  207. Tethys says

    Tell me this: are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not?

    What do you mean by purpose?

    Most atheists don’t have questions about the existence of god.
    That is why they are atheists.

    etc? Could you be more precise?

  208. Suido says

    @intempore

    Tell me this: are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not?

    As an atheist, I’m open to ideas about the existence of gods and the nature of the universe.

    Unfortunately, there are literally millions of different philosophies on this subject, so the only ones worth paying attention to are those that are demonstrably relevant to the observable universe.

    Hence, I’m open to any idea that is supported by evidence. The day someone presents evidence for anything supernatural is the day that I stop considering it supernatural. This includes ascribing intent to inanimate objects (such as assuming the universe has purpose, or that a cyclone was punishment for those affected) or the existence of gods, angels, demons, pixies etc.

  209. Akira MacKenzie says

    You tear into me because apparently this question is of itself immature, circular and irrational, yet other times you claim to be open-minded.

    No, we tear into you because, by virtue of your silly comments, you’re an idiot and idiots deserve to be verbally and textually spanked. Idiocy is something the Western world (especially here in the States where all manner of stupid is readily available) has become entirely too tolerant of during the last century and it’s high time we did something about it. If not for our species’ future, then for the entertainment value alone.

  210. Akira MacKenzie says

    Daz @ 242

    Ultimately, what’s the purpose of a theistic universe?

    Why, it’s whatever the deity wants it to be, you silly unbeliever. Of course, if you talk to most practitioners of the Abrahamic faiths (especially Christians, e.g. Rick Warren), our purpose is to kiss Yahweh’s/Jehovah’s/Allah’s almighty ass because it seems that his omnipotent ego just can’t bear not being worshiped by his alleged creations.

    Some purpose!

  211. Suido says

    @Daz #242

    Haven’t you read the Narnia novels? The purpose of that universe is to give everyone a life so they can prove themselves worthy enough for Life V2. However, Aslan knew all along which ones would qualify for Life V2, so maybe it was just so that all those with golden tickets for Life V2 could point and laugh at those who didn’t have golden tickets. Not very charitable of them, but hey, I’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory too, and only one of the kids with golden tickets was nice. Coincidence? I think not. Therefore, our universe was created so that golden ticket holders could gloat about getting into Life V2. I read it in books, so it must be true.

    @intempore:

    Please note, the above is an example of an answer to the question of purpose/god/etc. Does it deserve an open minded analysis?

  212. FossilFishy (Νεοπτόλεμος's spellchecker) says

    …the purpose of existence…

    There isn’t any such thing except in so far as one defines one’s own purpose. If you’re going to assert that there is some universal purpose you’re going to have to demonstrate that it exists. Good luck with that.

    “Also, everything is an assertion because the Gap is real.”

    Ah yes, a literal god of the gaps argument. Very nice. Because we don’t know *everything* we know nothing.

    I was going to address more but these two are more than sufficient to show that intempore is a philosophical wanker who appears to have no interest in observable reality.

  213. Akira MacKenzie says

    FossilFishy @ 247

    …intempore is a philosophical wanker who appears to have no interest in observable reality.

    Which is usually what happens when you smoke a couple of fatties and watch all three of The Matrix movies in one sitting.

  214. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    “crazy” rather hints that the subject is somewhat askew to reality.

    And it hints that people who’ve been diagnosed with mental illness are bad in the way that religion is bad.

    Crazy, with the added emphasis of batshit is quite descriptive of what is wrong.

    Nope. To say that religion is like craziness is inaccurate.

    Religion does not indicate a malfunctioning mind. It indicates a mind doing exactly what minds evolved to do, for evolutionarily adaptive reasons. Healthy minds, functioning normally, pass around complete bullshit all day long, because they’re socially rewarded for it.

    To begin with, healthy children believe what their parents teach them — as Dawkins is fond of pointing out, that’s evolutionarily adaptive. In adulthood, there is social reward for believing in culturally-approved ideas, and for transmitting those ideas to others. There are reasons we should not be surprised by this.

    Boyer (from reviews I’ve read) lays out some of why we’re prone to latch onto notions that may differ from reality

    No. That would be a much bigger project. Boyer, and others working in the cognitive science of religion, talk specifically about why we’re prone to latch onto beliefs in supernatural agents.

    but here and now we have a wealth of evidence for a vastly stronger and better proven epistemology.

    Poor epistemology is not like craziness.

    A person experiencing delusions can know that they are not epistemologically supported; this knowledge does not make the delusions stop.

    Failure to acknowledge, credit and adhere to that means of knowledge when and where available is a failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality. Crazy. When there’s a wealth of pointers to that reality *everywhere* around you from your acrylic socks through your cell phone and computers, it is willful refusal to acknowledge reality … batshit crazy.

    As Jadehawk explains, these are non sequiturs. Craziness is not a matter of willful refusal, and willful acknowledgment doesn’t make it go away.

    “Ableist”?

    Yes.

    WT flaming F on a trapeze with a midget in a holocost cloak?

    Ibid. Evidently you find very short people laughable.

    We are not supposed to acknowledge that there are ideas (and people having them) that are wildly divergent from reality.

    We should strive to be accurate when doing so.

    In other words your idea of political correctness

    Instead of asking yourself whether or not something is politically correct, try asking yourself whether it may be harmful to already-oppressed people.

    Shove it. I ain’t batshit crazy.

    Indeed, you are not crazy.

    You are being selfish and destructive. Tentatively, your problem appears to be something like machismo and/or immaturity.

    (Did you notice that I said “religion” … collections of ideas and beliefs involving the supernatural. My requested signage says not a word about people as such.

    By this reasoning, we might as well say “religion is gay.”

    Or is that distinction so reality based as to be discriminatory?)

    You seem to be proud of making a strawman. Ego-driven failures of skepticism are little tragedies.

  215. says

    I’m scientific by my nerd-nature, but also strongly humanist by my conscience.

    And anybody claiming there’s a purpose to the universe can please first tell me the purpose of a smaller thing or two. Like the purpose of cancer, and the purpose of this. If these things are on purpose, then it must be the purpose of some horrendously evil torturing motherfucker. It’s a relief that the science says no, no such divine evil really exists.

  216. consciousness razor says

    Like the purpose of cancer, and the purpose of this. If these things are on purpose, then it must be the purpose of some horrendously evil torturing motherfucker.

    Haven’t you heard? Huitzilopochtli works in mysterious ways.

  217. FossilFishy (Νεοπτόλεμος's spellchecker) says

    Which is usually what happens when you smoke a couple of fatties

    Heh, intempore sure does come off as someone who’s at the bitter end but is willing to risk burnt fingers for that one last toke.

  218. zedeeyen says

    Can we do a taxonomy of people who don’t believe in leprechauns next?

  219. age87 says

    I’m a scientific atheist, likely due to the fact that I am studying biology, with spinkles of the other catagories. I want evidence but i dont see how any can be attained. I don’t see humans as being disconected from the rest of nature therefore, i cannot believe in an afterlife that does not include the cow, the lettuce, wheat, and tomatoe plants that died to make a delicious burger :)

  220. intempore says

    Ah you guys, you demonstrate the kind of intolerance that must have fuelled the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages. And then when you can’t cope with reason, you claim I’m a Jesus-lover or a troll. Impressive stuff.

    Daz @235 Listen up for the 3rd time. If there is a Gap, the empirical evidence will prove nothing, including the existence/non-existence of God. I know you don’t like this, which I understand. Try to close it. But while you’re doing that, you’ll also have to try to convince yourself you’re doing it for no bigger reason. Make sure you don’t ask people for “something a bit more concise and coherent”. Don’t ask for evidence because that infers a possible answer which will only remind you of the question you’re trying to escape with whatever distraction you can muster.

    The “evidence” of purpose is metaphysical, it is the apparently cruel, incessant questions we must ask ourselves like why do we exist and why do we suffer. Sorry, I didn’t make it that way. Atheists attempt to keep it at bay with the internally inconsistent idea that they know that something doesn’t exist.

    Hate to signoff but I’ve got to attend to other things (relating to our higher purpose). And I know you guys have to too.

  221. John Morales says

    [meta]

    intempore:

    [1] Ah you guys, you demonstrate the kind of intolerance that must have fuelled the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages. [2] And then when you can’t cope with reason, you claim I’m a Jesus-lover or a troll. [3] Impressive stuff.

    1. Bullshit.

    2. You imagine you’re reasonable?

    (heh)

    3. You’re easily impressed, I see.

    The “evidence” of purpose is metaphysical, it is the apparently cruel, incessant questions we must ask ourselves like why do we exist and why do we suffer.

    Well, at least you used the scare quotes correctly.

    (No, I don’t ask myself such question-begging questions)

    Hate to signoff but I’ve got to attend to other things (relating to our higher purpose). And I know you guys have to too.

    Guys and gals, and Pharyngula runs 24-7-365.

  222. KG says

    intempore,

    I’m truly impressed. I’ve never seen anyone with their head quite so far up their own fundament before. You’re sceptical of everything but your own genius, clearly.

  223. 'Tis Himself says

    shorter intempore:

    athiests r teh stoopid cause they dont recognize my grate genius

  224. peggin says

    intempore @ 222

    Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    Because it matters to me, as a person, whether I’m happy or sad, whether I’m full or hungry, whether I’m healthy or sick. And, because I don’t think I’m some kind of special snowflake, I tend to assume it matters to you whether you’re happy or sad, full or hungry, healthy or sick; that this applies to each person on the planet, at least with regards to themselves.

    Because we live in a world where other people exist and I’m not a sociopath, I extend my concern about myself to other people. If I think you’re hungry or in pain or suffering in some way, I care and, if it’s in my power to do something about it, I’d like to try. It matters to me. In fact, it matters infinitely more than it would if I was convinced that this life was just a dress rehearsal before we all got to go to happy-fun place in the sky. If I believed THAT, then it wouldn’t matter whether you were suffering in some way today, because it would just be a temporary inconvenience, like waiting in line to get your drivers license renewed or something. These things matter MORE if this life is all we have.

    Or, if I may quote Joss Whedon (from Angel Episode 2×16, “Epiphany”)

    “If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters…, then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.”

  225. hieropants says

    Ah you guys, you demonstrate the kind of intolerance that must have fuelled the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages

    Wait, I thought we were the Taliban?

  226. mnb0 says

    ” scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists.”
    False dilemma’s. I am all four.

  227. mnb0 says

    @256 Incessant: “we must ask ourselves like why do we exist and why do we suffer.”
    Let me assume you understand these as teleological questions. As far as I’m concerned you may ask about the sex life of dwarves as well. Or why the New Testament doesn’t have the same number of books as the Old Testament. Or the square root. Good luck.
    Rule number one of science: teleology sucks. Major balls. Doesn’t bring you anywhere.
    Now if these questions are meant as “where do we come from” and “how does it happen that we suffer” then science is perfectly capable of answering them.

  228. FossilFishy (Νεοπτόλεμος's spellchecker) says

    intempore spake:

    True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out.

    No true Scotsman fallacy.

    Are you happy with an eternal search? Of course you aren’t – no-one is, as much as they say otherwise.

    Claim to universal knowledge.

    But please recognize the militant behaviour this gives rise to: education becomes persuasion, becomes advocacy, becomes you-must-agree.

    Slippery slope fallacy.

    everything is an assertion because the Gap is real.

    Claim that because everything isn’t known then nothing is known. Literal god of the gaps fallacy.

    Ah you guys, you demonstrate the kind of intolerance that must have fuelled the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages.

    False equivalency. Being motivated to kill heretics is of *course* the same thing as being motivated to point out bad arguments on a blog.

    You best get your logic clear.

    [Phoomp, badump, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle...] And there goes another perfectly good irony meter. Good thing I bought ‘em in bulk when the Soviet Union had its closing out sale.

  229. Amphiox says

    I, for one, am perfectly happy with an eternal search.

    So much for that argument.

  230. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not? You tear into me because apparently this question is of itself immature, circular and irrational, yet other times you claim to be open-minded.

    Open minded doesn’t mean so open your brains fall out. Skepticism, science, and evidence are used to weed out false claims. Like your imaginary deity exists. Show conclusive physical evidence or shut the fuck up about it. There is no purpose to the universe. All morality comes from the tribe, etc. Answers with a small a are there.

    And then when you can’t cope with reason, you claim I’m a Jesus-lover or a troll. Impressive stuff.

    Bwahahahahahahaha, reason from a philosopher???? Nothing but mental masturbation, as no evidence is presented. Bwahahahahaahahaha. There’s a reason philosophy doesn’t add much to the knowledge of mankind, compared to science. Reality checks, which science has, and philosophy doesn’t. YOu need a reality check.

    The “evidence” of purpose is metaphysical,

    More mental wanking, meaning nothing. Wank all you want, just clean up when you are done. I have better things to do, like advance the knowledge of mankind.

    And the net result and changed minds from your mental wanking: we ridicule your fuckwitted thinking with our unchanged minds. Evidence is required to change minds. You have none.

  231. mrjonno says

    I think the article is written from an American point of view which considering the writer is fair enough but I would say most atheists in the world arent any of those categories.

    They are basically people who couldnt care less about religion or god , they basically just get on with life. They may or may not be concerned with others so humanist is probably the wrong description.

    It’s important as I get the impression PZ thinks with education religious theists become atheists which there isnt really any evidence for. What they do become is people who have better things to do on a Sunday than going into church and tend to have less guilty trips about sex

  232. jamesfrancesco says

    My favorite authors/speakers are those like Sam Harris, Carl Sagan, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who are scientific and speak about their conclusions philosophically.

  233. says

    I like this post, PZ. To be frank, I am all of these types of atheist, though scientific is admittedly dominant. It is the springboard REASON for why I chose to be an atheist as a pre-teen.

    Also, I have met and worked with all of these types, and mixtures thereof. And I hate to say it, but you’ve missed ONE crucial category. The Counter-cultural Atheist. With a smidgen of science and politics, but a buttload of attitude, the Counter-cultural atheist LOVES to be the non-conformist. If the majority opinion was atheism, the Counter-cultural atheist would be a Baptist. They thrive on conflict, and their position is not thought out. They are the punks of atheism and I’m sure you’ve met some too.

  234. Kalliope says

    Ahem.

    Scientific and political atheists cannot stand on their own. They can only be subsets of the philosophical and humanist categories (assuming we go with these).

    Okay, so obviously the fact that I even think that way means I’m of a philosophical bent.

    But here’s the thing. So you’re an atheist? SO THE FUCK WHAT? Who cares? Why does it matter? What the hell is the point?

    There has to be a reason why one would be active or vocal or even think that it’s better for the world to be full of atheists, right?

    That means you have to believe that it is better for the world (or yourself, or your work (and by extension, yourself or the world) to eliminate religion. Which means, broadly, that you’re a humanist (or an objectivist*). And of course, you’ve arrived at your conclusion about atheism making the world a better place philosophically. Not whether god exists, but whether we’re better off throwing away the delusion.

    All of which is a long-winded (doh!) way of saying, that these aren’t brands of atheism, merely central focuses of some atheists.

    *I realize that PZ discounted the asshole brands of atheism, e.g., the anti-social types who use the absence of god to rationalize their actions, but the “scientific” and the “philosophical” blocs are teeming with them.

    There are also people who call themselves atheists who aren’t or who just don’t care, in the same way the world is full of Christians who really don’t care that much “feel” god, or whatever. There are people who identify as atheist because they are angry at god and thus act to reject him as a fuck you, or as a fuck you to their communities.

  235. Stevarious says

    I’m probably a Normal type, but I know a few good Poison type attacks, especially when I eat spicy foods… When I was a kid I wanted to be a Rock type, but my parents never bought me that guitar, soooo….

    What? Oh, what kind of ATHEIST! Ummm…. never mind.

  236. jojo says

    I’m primarily a scientific atheist. I still remember sitting through Sunday school listening to them tell stories about miracles that were simply absurd. Even at 8, it was clear that god and the bible didn’t fit in with what I knew about how the world works. And my continued education only supported that. I need evidence, or I don’t believe it.

    I’m also a humanist, but because I dismissed religion as silly and pointless, I never really investigated the role that region plays in so many of the issues I’m concerned about. I was content with the idea that religion “makes people feel better” and left it alone. That was a mistake, and my humanism suffered for it. I’m still mostly a scientific atheist. The harm that belief in a god or gods cause would not make me question the existence of gods, so I don’t think I ever would have arrived at atheism through humanism. But, now that I combine my atheism and humanism, it’s certainly making me more of a political atheist.

  237. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Like Esteleth said, science is my “why”, humanism is my “how”.

  238. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Fun post, although I have to go back and read most of the comments.

    I suppose that I’m a Science Fiction/Fantasy Atheist, truth be told, as pretty much everything in that genre – including the crap – has people/robots/deities with more entertaining superpowers then this Jehovah idiot who seemed so… provincial. And supposed holy books are just so badly written. Pah!

    As for the definitions I think that I’m a scientific atheist, although more of a mechanical or engineering one because I don’t see the need for any magic of any description to make shit work. I do like listening to philosophical atheists and wish that I was an organised thinker, but as I don’t really do the people thing I don’t get the political side. Intellectually I do, but I get nuts & bolts far better than I get humans. Humanism is a weird one as it really shouldn’t be needed. Why do people need a specific label for actually being nice to each other??

  239. colonelzen says

    Hmm. Crazy Kat, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, Crazy 8, Heart’s “Crazy on You”. It seems to me that “crazy” has been a general adjective for things bizarrely out of ordinary and unrealistic for longer than I’ve been alive. I don’t see that it has *ever* been used *excusively* as a derogation of the phychiatrically distressed. Perhaps we should circumscribe any word that has ever been used to unjustly exclude someone. So what do we use in place of words like “ugly”, “fat”, “scrawny” …. What do we do the first time our new circumlocution is used to inappropriately derogate someone? Find another word? We’ll run out of words sooner or later … at least if we want to finish a sentence in less than an hour.

    Ok, I’ve thought about it. Not seeing it. First qualifying (and it’s a measure of the assininity I now assign to some of the retulars of this crowd that I need make this statement …) I certainly believe that the disabled and impaired should have opportunity for a productive and happy life, and that society should erect no barrier that impedes such be fallacious presumptions. And more so that society has an obligation to see that misrepresentations, bigotry and ignorance are not used as justification by private parties for maintaining such barriers.

    But with that qualification, my general tutor on all things liberal is out of the country. (True – my daughter, grad student antro, is in South America doing something about how coca interdiction and social effects affect native identity …) I need to ask:

    Can someone point me to a resource that has a chance of convincing me that “ablist” points to something real ethical significance rather than just another monkey poo attack code word? Sure I’d like to live in a world where every indigent, quadraplegic, intellectually deficient snowflake could open a combined astrophysics and neurosurgery clinic at the summit of Everest if he/she had a yen to. But that’s a smidgen beyond the feasible for the world I find myself in, I think. Likewise, depending upon their disabilities there are real limitations and upon what the impaired can do compared to the typical population.

    Acknowledging that reality is not ethically deficient. To be sure in accord with what I said in my “disclaimer” above every effort should be made to minimize those limits, but asserting that the world should be normalized to essentially deny real impairments and limitations is absurd. Where would one begin to draw the line … where between here and our friend’s Everest clinic?

    Though of generally liberal disposition, I’ve been insufficiently aware here and there in the past, and slowly come to realize it. PZ’s continued emphaisis on feminism – and some of the things you here I am somewhat disaparaging in the “ablist” instance – has been a positive part of that. I’m willing to learn. But my reaction to “ablist” is that it is Hegelian at best (i. e. the worst of Hegelianism) trying to alter physical realities by wheedling. So point me at something to convince me I’m wrong.

    — TWZ

  240. Kalliope says

    @Intempore

    If there is a Gap, the empirical evidence will prove nothing, including the existence/non-existence of God.

    First off, why shouldn’t there be evidence to prove the existence of god? Because there isn’t any? That’s backtracking logic:

    1) There is no evidence of god
    2) But there is god
    3) Therefore evidence cannot prove god.

    Number two is an unsubstantiated assumption. Like the following:

    1) There is no evidence I can speak Swahili
    2) But I can speak Swahili
    3) Therefore evidence cannot prove that I speak Swahili

    Of course, one CAN prove whether one can speak Swahili, but since I can’t, I cannot provide that evidence. Why wouldn’t the same be true for the existence of god?

    Secondly, there is no evidence for any number of things one can imagine, but which are mutually exclusive. I can imagine the flying spaghetti monster or the invisible pink unicorns, but that doesn’t make them exist, nor can they exist in the same universe as the Christian deity, as defined by Christians. And neither can Baal or Zeus or Shiva.

    Logic and considered thinking will never bring you to the knowledge of an existing deity (as we understand the term “god”). It never will.

    The only place you will get that belief is from inside your own brain, your own decisions, with the influence of those who encourage that belief, from their brains and decisions about how to interpret reality.

    That is a substandard way to understand reality.

  241. Kalliope says

    Apologies for blockquote fail.

    And to answer this question:

    Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    I am an atheist. I think the world should be better for humanity. I am not alone, by a long shot. Therefore, belief in god is quite evidently not required to desire a better world for humanity.

    We could stop right there. It’s simply a fact that non-believers do want to make the world a better place, which means it is simply a fact that belief isn’t required.

    You might not be able to wrap your head around that, but it doesn’t really matter. You already know it’s true, you just don’t know why it’s true. Similarly, I can’t wrap my head around why someone would hurt children, but it is a fact that people hurt children. I may not understand why, but I know it to be true.

    But we can keep going. Here’s why it matters to me. Because it literally hurts me to see others in pain. Probably just the way I’m built, my genetic code. It means I’m a valuable member of the community and society. It literally hurts me to see other people suffering. (FYI, they’ve done studies on this which show that the pain center of the brain lights up for some people when they see physical injuries of others.)

    Secondly, my life is short. Really, really short. I die, and then that’s it. And when I think about what I’m going to do with my time, I want to be the kind of person who leaves the world better than I found it. Maybe that’s my ego. Maybe that’s my way of feeling immortal. I want the world to be a better place because I existed. And also, I was raised that way, with these values, by a fairly long line of atheists, as it happens.

    Lastly, my empathy tells me that others feel about their own lives the same way I do about mine. I am not different than they are. And over the course of centuries a lot of people put in a lot of work so that I could live so well now. People did that for ME and for YOU, or for the idea of you and me. I am so very, very grateful and I feel that it is my duty to engage in the world, the community, the future, the same way it was engaged on my behalf.

  242. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    So point me at something to convince me I’m wrong.

    Me.

    I am a disabled veteran. I react very strongly when someone is referred to as a crip or a cripple. It is a demeaning term used to isolate, segregate and objectify a human being. To refer to a a person with a disability as that disability, ie, to say, “What about the cripple?” as opposed to, “What about people with a disability?”, removes that individual from the collective whole known as the human race.

    I am a human being who is a veteran. I am a disabled human being. Does this mean that my disability defines who I am? defines all that I can be? defines what I can and cannot do or aspire to do?

    I also am a human being who suffers from mental illness. I suffer from PTSD (still officially unconfirmed (though I have gotten the government to admit that I have PTSD-like symptoms)) and have been hospitalized for depression. So, am I crazy? Am I a kook? Defective? Fit for the loony bin? Or am I a human being who deals (with varying degrees of effectiveness) with psychological disorders?

    Which is it? Am I crazy, or am I a person?

    The use of ablist terms is just as effective a tool as the use of sexist terms. Calling a woman a cunt sidelines her — she ceases to be a human being and becomes a thing and can thus be disregarded. Calling me crazy or a cripple reduces me from the status of human being to a thing. Things can be ignored. Things can be used and abused. Things can be thrown away. Being ignored, used, abused or thrown away is something that should never happen to a human being.

    You claim that you respect the rules on this blog regarding gendered insults. Yet you will not extend the same respect to ablist insults. Why? Both achieve, or are meant to achieve, the same result: objectification, marginalization, and silencing. So ‘cunt’ is not acceptable, but ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘retarded’, ‘demented’, and all the other ablist insults used to denegrate people by coopting the terms, archaic and new, of mental illness and cognitive disability are acceptable. Why?

    I realize that this will be dismissed with a wave of the hand. After all, I offer no evidence, no citations. I can, however, offer the viewpoint of someone who has, on occasion, been marginalized because of my disabilities.

  243. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    colonelzen,

    When I was about ten years old, I called some kid a retard. Another classmate overheard, and she said to me — I paraphrase — “my brother has Down syndrome, and that insult is hurtful to our family.”

    I didn’t stop using the term immediately, but the incident stuck with me. I now understand that her request was sufficient reason for me to stop, because it was gratuitously hurtful to people who I didn’t intend to hurt.

    Nobody is asking you to assert that the kid with Down syndrome is likely to grow up to be an astrophysicist neurosurgeon. What you’re being asked is the equivalent of “please don’t use retard as an insult.”

  244. says

    colonelzen

    You need to separate your question into two questions.

    1: Does ableism exist?
    2: Is the use of the word ‘crazy’ ableist.

    FWIW, I think you make a fairly reasonable case in your first few sentences that the word has long had a meaning that isn’t ableist.

    Then you go and fuck it all up by appearing to claim that because one particular word might not be ableist, the very concept of ableism is suspect.

  245. says

    Mmm, looks like we got us — despite their implications to the contrary — a Catho-troll here (Intempore), complete with Latin handle, the ironic accusation that atheists are smug, argument by assertion that atheism is “incomplete,” projection, and, most of all, inability to think outside the god box. Are you going to start blathering about “the god-shaped hole” next? Oh, excuse me, “The God-Shaped Hole”?

    True humanism is having faith in others, believing they will figure it out.

    In other words, a “true humanist” would have opposed, for example, civil rights legislation.

    So, we are just here to ride this rock into oblivion. That’s why you get out of bed each day? Why are you worried about happiness, then? Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    I’m capable of making my own purpose. I’m sorry you’re not.

    We’ve also got us a bunch of veteran trolls here: Jenny the Rape Victim Blamer, ImTheFuckwitICantDoAnythingRight (whose allusion to “pitchforks” is related to his fuckwitted commentary in various sexism threads), the always-incomprehensible Vijen, and of course ColonelZen. I’ve observed before that having “Zen” in one’s username is as much a reliable flag for assholery as having “Rational” or “Logical” in one’s username…

    Setar:

    The term I keep hearing is diversity of ideas. I don’t like that term, because I don’t see why we should make room for ideas that are harmful to certain groups or not based in reality in the name of “diversity”.

    “Diversity of ideas” has been a right-wing dogwhistle for years, a “comeback” to calls for racial and gender diversity. It’s typically used to complain about universities not hiring “enough” conservatives, or the “dearth” of conservative thought in the “liberal” media.

    Gregory Greenwood, I have seen a letter to the editor in a major newspaper from a priest who believed the Enlightenment was a total disaster.

    Zedeeyen, when people who don’t believe in leprechauns are stigmatized and discriminated against in U.S. society the way atheists are, we can then do such a taxonomy.

    /humanist

  246. says

    Addendum: some have chafed that I used the term “counter-cultural” — I want to clarify that I’m not referring to THE counter culture – or hippie movement, such as it remains. I merely meant, like Kalliope observed, that there are anti-social atheists that are thoughtless poseurs no different than unquestioning theists. THAT is the type that is missing from your list.

  247. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    FWIW, I think you make a fairly reasonable case in your first few sentences that the word has long had a meaning that isn’t ableist.

    ? Daz, you’re lending support to the deliberate muddling of an unambigous case. Did you read the exchange thus far? The referent here is mental health, as demonstrated by colonelzen’s mention of “failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality.”

  248. says

    FWIW, I think you make a fairly reasonable case in your first few sentences that the word has long had a meaning that isn’t ableist.

    Look, I’m going to cut to the chase and say “No”. You’re aware of the dictionary definition of a number of slurs, right?

    So, we are just here to ride this rock into oblivion. That’s why you get out of bed each day? Why are you worried about happiness, then? Why do you argue for a better world if humanity is without an ultimate purpose?

    Because I live here, you asshole. It’s the same reason I clean my apartment even though my roommate doesn’t care and my parents don’t visit, just writ a lot larger.

  249. says

    Scientific Atheists – Ravenclaw (of course)
    Humanists – Gryffindor (as the heart)
    Political Atheists – Hufflepuff (since they get the actual work done)
    Philosophical Atheists – Slytherin

  250. says

    life is like a pitbull with lipstick

    I chose my words with care. I didn’t say the case colonelzen made was correct, I said it was fairly reasonable, meaning at least theoretically defensible on grounds of usage. When I referred to it later, I used the words ‘might not be ableist’. (Emphasis added)

    The concern I was addressing wasn’t the case for or against one particular word, but the silly notion that ‘proving’ that the word wasn’t ableist could somehow undermine the idea that any word could be considered ableist.

    Sorry for any confusion.

  251. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    There’s no confusion, and I chose my words with care. You’re lending support to the deliberate muddling of an unambiguous case.

  252. hotshoe says

    Ah you guys, you demonstrate the kind of intolerance that must have fuelled the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages

    Wait, I thought we were the Taliban?

    Unholy Motherfucking Church … Taliban … no difference.

    Murderous religious organizations … “intolerant” atheist individuals … no difference ??? HAHAHAHA.

    Stupids gotta stupe.

  253. baal says

    I’m mostly in the scientific-atheist with a side of humanist. It’s interesting that some of the most ardent humanist-atheists are the ones who I think of as burdened with a pet named hate.

    I was raised Catholic but wasn’t really ever in that camp (I’m just not a camper).

  254. colonelzen says

    Daz @ 283

    You need to separate your question into two questions.

    1: Does ableism exist?
    2: Is the use of the word ‘crazy’ ableist.

    FWIW, I think you make a fairly reasonable case in your first few sentences that the word has long had a meaning that isn’t ableist.

    Then you go and fuck it all up by appearing to claim that because one particular word might not be ableist, the very concept of ableism is suspect.

    Thank you, Daz, you’ve exactly identified my problem.

    It can’t be both and yet it is. Which is why I see “ablist” save in cases of obvious and unrelated to impairment discrimination as just in-group coding.

    Certainly “ablism” exists in the case of exclusion or mistreatment for various disabilities. Both by ignorance of those who in ignorance make erroneous assumptions about people with various disabilites, and those who for economic or just personal discomfort reasons would bar the disabled for no reasons related to any real disability.

    The question is where, in use of words is one condoning or perpetuating a barrier that need not exist.

    “Crazy” is an adjective in wide usage for ideas and events other than related to people with psychological/psychiatric problems. I used it in reference to a sets of beliefs consonant to the common usage of “crazy” as an adjective. Unlike “nigger” it has never been used nearly exclusively to identify people of particular disability.

    When a word becomes a synecdoche, used more or less exclusively to identify, characterize and demean people by a single aspect of their circumstances or being it is time to stop using that word. I’d even grant going farther and say that when it is used nearly exclusively demeaningly (or even pityingly) whenever used regarding people – even if used otherwise in other circumstances – it is at least time to refrain from using in connection with people. Viz, I would never refer to those mentally less capable as “retarded” – but the word has some specific jargon uses in mechanics and electronics and it would be ridiculous to try to bowlderize the language where it is appropriately used to designate slowing something down.

    (But the problem still arises. Crippled was once a designation of an unfortunate circumstance in someones life, not a signifier for a person. Now the association of calling someone “crippled” is impute measurement of the persons whole worth by the word, ergo except for dogs or horses – and disfavored even there – the word is verboten. “Disabled” is quite visibly on the politically correct hit list in line for the newspeak treatment. What word next? And when that word in common usage becomes more associated with the impairment than a single aspect of a complete human being, what then? And the at-first properly sensiteve word after it? That’s not to say we shouldn’t be sensitive to such usages, but it obviously indicates there is a needed bounds on your rules of engagement for discerning the intent of one who uses such words.)

    I have asked for a resource, not examples. I gave examples to prove that “crazy” is a common usage adjective for other than the disabled, even when used in connections with people.

    What I see here is an insistence that “crazy” be treated *exclusively* as a designation for psych problems … and then, when I very speciically used it in reference to ideas rather than people in specific, I am castigated for derogation of people that never happened.

    This is bent over backwards to the point exotic self intimacy.

    I’ve asked for a resource and been additionally abused instead. “Ablist” here, I must conclude, is monkey shit fling by the tribe against someone who rarely posts here rather than any real concern for real people. Another sad, but all too common reality.

    Without a whole lot more reason than I’ve seen so far, I refuse to stop using the word “crazy” for ideas overtly incompatible with reality.

    — TWZ

  255. says

    I think you are missing the hipster atheists, aka the asshole atheists. They are motivated mainly by a chance to feel that they are smarter than all the sheep who just do religion because they are told. Common activities include spreading Internet memes and making arguments that they don’t really understand. They tend to oppose the humanist atheist efforts because they are too cool to care about social problems.

  256. colonelzen says

    ? Daz, you’re lending support to the deliberate muddling of an unambigous case. Did you read the exchange thus far? The referent here is mental health, as demonstrated by colonelzen’s mention of “failure to acknowledge and adhere to reality.”

    No, you and a few other regulars of the horde are demanding, requiring and insisting that an adjective in wide common usage is only and exclusively used in reference to mental health.

    It isn’t and I didn’t use it in reference to mental health.

    Some of us here, are apparently batshit crazy, – no not necessarily in need of psychiatric care, but willfully holding and acting on ideas overtly and explicitly contrary to testable reality.

    I don’t think it is I.

    — TWZ

  257. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    I’ve asked for a resource and been additionally abused instead.

    Who abused you?

  258. Tethys says

    Tell me this: are atheists open to an answer to the question of purpose/God/etc or not?

    Duh, everyone (TM) knows the answer to this question is 42.

  259. says

    Daz @ 242

    Ultimately, what’s the purpose of a theistic universe?

    Once the discussion turns to “You poor atheists, you have no purpose for living!”, I usually roll my eyes and fast-forward. I’ve heard it all before.

    But turning the question on its head, with my reflex answer, gave me pause.

    What’s the purpose of a theistic universe? There is none. None whatsoever, at least in a Christian universe. According to the teachings, God is entirely self-sufficient. Nothing is lacking; he needs nothing outside of Himself. Even community; He has it in the eternal Trinity.

    So He created the universe, not because of a perceived lack, but because He felt like it. A whim, something to do to pass the non-existent time. If it all disappeared tomorrow, He wouldn’t lose anything.

    He had no purpose in creating us.

    We’re the product of a whim, a bit of background noise, nothing more.

    Poor, purposeless Christians!

  260. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    “Crazy” is an adjective in wide usage for ideas and events other than related to people with psychological/psychiatric problems. I used it in reference to a sets of beliefs consonant to the common usage of “crazy” as an adjective. Unlike “nigger” it has never been used nearly exclusively to identify people of particular disability.

    The use of the word “crazy” in reference to an inividual or an idea implies, explicitly, that the individual, or the individual espousing the idea, is menally ill and is thus not a real full human being and either the person or the idea can thus be dismissed. For me to write that you, colonelzen, are crazy explicitly dehumanizes you (since you are mentally ill, you are not fully human) and, by extension, negates your argument or idea. Using sex, race, religion, or disability as an insult in order to silence someone is wrong. Why is this so difficult?

    No, you and a few other regulars of the horde are demanding, requiring and insisting that an adjective in wide common usage is only and exclusively used in reference to mental health.

    We are asking that you not use gender, racial, religion or disability based slurs. Why is this so difficult?

    So, are my writings disposable because I deal with mental illness? Can my ideas be tossed because I am crazy?

    In your view, apparently.

  261. Tethys says

    colonelzen

    Without a whole lot more reason than I’ve seen so far, I refuse to stop using the word “crazy” for ideas overtly incompatible with reality.

    You are being asked not to use it here, and you are offending people by making this argument. This is more than enough reason to stop and apologize. Do you actually think that your opinion is more important than other peoples feelings?

    What is so difficult about a simple request to refrain from using a word that people find offensive? Are you familiar with the adage “When in Rome,…”?

  262. says

    Some of us here, are apparently batshit crazy, – no not necessarily in need of psychiatric care, but willfully holding and acting on ideas overtly and explicitly contrary to testable reality.

    That’d be you, if you’re going to seriously keep pretending this shit doesn’t rely on perceptions of the mentally ill.

    I hear “Illegals” technically only means illegal immigrant, even though it’s used on hispanic people of any descent and national origin, and regardless of the legality of their presence. Asshole.

  263. csinman says

    You identify one of the weaknesses of humanists as being “Pragmatically fickle. If the atheist movement does not address human concerns, they’ll leave and follow institutions that do. Why be an atheist if an inclusive, progressive church were to do a better job?”

    I’m unaware of anyone who has decided to stop being an atheist because they felt that joining an inclusive, progressive church was better at helping them achieve their humanist aims. I’m not sure its even possible to choose to believe in God for purely pragmatic reasons.

    It is possible to join a religious group and still be an atheist (Unitarian Universalist, humanistic Jewish, and some Quaker congregations, for example). How exactly is a willingness to join such religious groups a weakness? Do you believe it is not possible to constructively maintain these affiliations in tandem with involvement with the more exclusively secular groups of the atheist movement?

  264. colonelzen says

    Oggvorbis @ 301

    “Why is this so difficult?”

    It’s difficult because you are wrong. I’ve given counterexamples, and others are easy to come by.

    “For me to write that you, colonelzen, are crazy explicitly dehumanizes you (since you are mentally ill, you are not fully human) and, by extension, negates your argument or idea.”

    Because that is an ad hominem, a long designated and well known rhetorical fallacy. An idea is not right or wrong by who says it. Surely that affects who will listen to it by the individual listeners’ own decision, but none of that affects the meaning and congruence of the ideas expressed.

    “Using sex, race, religion, or disability as an insult in order to silence someone is wrong.”

    Agree wholeheartedly. Whom have I attempted to silence? By calling religion batshit crazy I convey the notion that much of what religious ideas say, and their collaterals by believers, are overtly differing from reality. I am encouraging those who may have noticed that despite being surrounded by many who *seem* to believe, to speak out, to give voice to their doubts.

    Tethys @ 302

    “Do you actually think that your opinion is more important than other peoples feelings?”

    I think reality is indifferent to people’s feelings, and am here defending the right to speak about reality whether or not some are offended. Newspeak interdiction. Frankly, I don’t think theres much offense going around here. I think there is rampant poo flinging **far** more than anything else.

    “You are being asked not to use it here, ”

    You are not the owner of the blog. If PZ so asks or indicates I’ll try to avoid thus using it should I post again. Otherwise, without evidence that my usage and understanding is incorrect, sorry, no.

    And I see much more an attempt to drive off an “outsider” than any indication that there may be ill or harm towards anyone by casual use of the word “crazy”. Clutch those pearls! Bring in feinting (intentional spelling) couches for the whole horde, stat ( – to use the local imagery much of which I frankly adore, thank you).

    ruteekatreya @ 303

    “Asshole”.

    Champion. Count on it. The question is whether any of you can actually demonstrate what you claim. I haven’ts een it.

    But I’m getting bored. Unless one of you has a real defense for the notion that “crazy” is not a common usage adjective, not – even in connection with people – used exclusively to designate and derogate mental illness, could you please find something interesting to talk about?

    — TWZ

  265. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    . Unless one of you has a real defense for the notion that “crazy” is not a common usage adjective, Ah, the old “prove me wrong”, typically used by true losers without evidence to positively back up their arguments. And I see nothing cited….

    And initials at the end of a post are another sign of pompous affectation. Talk about attitude….

  266. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    colonelzen, again, who abused you?

    You asked for a resource at #278.

    At #295 you claimed “I’ve asked for a resource and been additionally abused instead.”

    This means someone abused you between comments #278 and #295.

    Who abused you? In which comment?

    Since all the evidence is available right here in this thread, if you cannot point to it, we must assume that you are a liar.

  267. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dang blockquote failure #307. First sentence is Col.Zen, the rest is me.

  268. colonelzen says

    ChasCPeterson @ 305

    Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”

    Willie Nelson’s.

    Now that’s what I call crazy!

    — TWZ

  269. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    colonelzen, again, who abused you?

    You asked for a resource at #278.

    At #295 you claimed “I’ve asked for a resource and been additionally abused instead.”

    This means someone abused you between comments #278 and #295.

    Who abused you? In which comment?

    Since all the evidence is available right here in this thread, if you cannot point to it, we must assume that you are a liar.

  270. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    I’ve given counterexamples, and others are easy to come by.

    The etymology fallacy is fascinating. So, because some definitions of ‘crazy’ do not involve mental illness or insanity, you make the claim that all uses of the word ‘crazy’ are now divorced from allusions to insanity? So, because some git in England uses ‘cunt’ to refer to anyone, male or female, who does not act in an intelligent manor, then the gendered insult is no longer gendered?

    I disagree that I am wrong. All I have seen from your writings is that you are special and that, when others ask you not to use a type of insult, you can safely ignore it because you, and only you, are the sole arbiter of acceptable language.

    Because that is an ad hominem, a long designated and well known rhetorical fallacy. An idea is not right or wrong by who says it. Surely that affects who will listen to it by the individual listeners’ own decision, but none of that affects the meaning and congruence of the ideas expressed.

    So now you claim that it is okay for you to use crazy (or other terms denoting mental illness) because it is an ad hominem fallacy? Are you joking? I will put this as plainly as possible: when you use a gendered, or ablist, or racist, insult, you are implying that, since the person in question is female, or black, or crazy, then their idea, their writings, their comment, their whatever, can be ignored because of what that person is. In other words, by claiming that another commenter is crazy, you are dismissing that commenter’s argument out of hand based on your diagnosis that they are crazy. You are declaring the idea wrong based on you assessment that the commenter is crazy. Mentally ill.

    Whom have I attempted to silence?

    If you use a gendered insult, you are silencing the women in the conversation. If you use a racist insult, you are silencing people of colour in that conversation. If you use an ablist insult, you are silencing those who are disabled. But for you, two out of three are not acceptable, but the third is. I notice you have consistently refused to answer when I asked why you approve of ablist insults while, at the same time, claiming to condemn racist or gendered insults.

  271. pipenta says

    Looking for clarification from the group.

    Is crazy considered unacceptable in any context? Is it a word that you simply do not use? Or are you talking about the specifics of a “Religion is Batshit Crazy” billboard or bus advert?

  272. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    “The group” is not in agreement about every possible aspect of the matter.

    I’m saying it should not be used as an insult. I have more I might say about it, but I think this is the most important thing.

    (The defense that “religion is crazy” is not an insult is equivalent to the defense that “religion is gay” is not an insult.)

  273. pipenta says

    Okay, that seems fair. I do use it in several contexts, some of them whimsical. But I have also used it as insult, but not in my most shining moments.

    And as a billboard, it would not help promote atheism… except perhaps on a reddit board.

  274. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    pipenta:

    I’m not sure.

    Personally, I lean towards no.

    I have been consciously trying to avoid the gendered and ablist insults I, until recently, felt quite comfortable flinging around, and words like crazy, moron, idiot, and others, while distanced from their original diagnostic meaning, are tough to remove. Once I understood the damage (including silencing) that these insults can do, I began seeing them everywhere (including in my own speech).

    Then again, in this case, you are referring to a collective idea, not an individual idea. Not sure if that makes a difference.

    So, for me, I would say no (however, that is just me, no one else). There are clever and creative ways to point out that religion and reality are mutually exclusive which do not use language that can silence or hurt people.

    (Sometimes I almost wish I were a right-wing authoritarian for whom the entire world was laid out in black and white, good and bad, yes and no. These gray areas can be annoying.)

  275. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    And lilapwl put it far better than I did.

    The key is, is the term used as an insult? If yes (and in your example it is), then no, it would not be appropriate.

    Thank you lilapwl for putting your finger on the part I was flailing to grok.

  276. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Even RWAs get confused sometimes, when two or more traditional authorities disagree, or a novel question arises.

  277. pipenta says

    Thank you Ogvorbis and pitbull w/ lipstick, for taking the time to explain.

    I use a lot of words in a lot of contexts and sometimes decidedly inappropriately. The venn diagram of my atheism has a many-layered overlap area. But one of the kinds of atheist I am is the kind who is angry when religion (and society as a whole) props up child abuse by supporting parental rights even when parents are mentally ill. When you have parents who foam at the mouth and a church that threatens you with hellfire, you either lose your faith or you crumble. When people say they are ashamed that it took them until they were x years old to realize they were atheists, and they feel bad about it, I want to tell them that figuring it out early is often a matter of necessity, rather than precocity.

    Half a century later, I’m still pissed off about how institutions stack up to support abusive parents and I am not always reasonable when I express myself, even when my concerns are valid. When I see children experiencing the same kind of misery and worse, I have been known to lose my shit, as they say. And at those moments I am not at all concerned with the feelings or rights of the adults in question, I just want them to leave the kids alone. Not happy stuff. But more to the point, not productive stuff. I might have urges to write dreadful things on a billboard, but that isn’t going to help the next generations the least little bit. So hey, I try to rein it in, and learn as I go along.

  278. pipenta says

    Oh and, along the lines of, “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” When you give a pitbull a lipstick, he’s gonna eat it. At least, if they are as much like bull terriers as I think they are. Bull terriers just LOVE to snack on Chapsticks because they are crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle. And if the lipstick tube is made of metal where Chapstick tubes are plastic, hey, that just means there’s more crunch.

  279. Ant Allan says

    Re nonny’s comment @ 162, there are – very many – apathetic atheists, who aren’t thoughtful atheists of any kind. I think any taxonomy should include them, that it shouldn’t be restricted to only thoughtful atheists. I see that many thoughtful atheists don’t think enough and profess to or implicitly speak “for all atheists”. Should it be a goal of thoughtful atheists to encourage apathetic atheists to “think”? And to openly criticise religion? (Most seem to take a laissez faire stance on religion, and are therefore passive rather than active accommodationists. This is their WEAKNESS. They have no STRENGTHS.)

    I think that there may also be many anti-religious or apostatic atheists – those who are antagonistic towards religion and have done with God because of some personal or vicarious injustice or injury by clergy or others, but may not have found a way to rationalise their atheism. These might be glommed with political atheists at a pinch… ?

    /@ ~ Scientific, humanistic & philosophical atheist (45:35:20)

  280. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    angry when religion (and society as a whole) props up child abuse by supporting parental rights

    Oh, I agree.

    even when parents are mentally ill.

    But I worry that this clause is unnecessary.

    If a parent is abusing a child such that the state should intervene, then the state should intervene whether or not the parent is exhibiting symptoms associated with mental illness.

    And if a parent is nurturing a child, providing for the child’s needs, and not abusing or neglecting the child, then the family should not be separated even if the parent is exhibiting symptoms associated with mental illness. Such a parent may need more help than most (maybe not, it really depends on the type and severity of symptoms), but mental illness per se does not an unfit parent make.

    When people say they are ashamed that it took them until they were x years old to realize they were atheists, and they feel bad about it, I want to tell them that figuring it out early is often a matter of necessity, rather than precocity.

    *hugs* if you want ‘em.

    Oh and, along the lines of, “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” When you give a pitbull a lipstick, he’s gonna eat it.

    LOL

  281. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @pipenta:

    when religion (and society as a whole) props up child abuse by supporting parental rights even when parents are mentally ill. When you have parents who foam at the mouth and a church that threatens you with hellfire, you either lose your faith or you crumble.

    FWIW this is what I was referring to by communicable thought disorder (an oxymoron). The existential threats of hell and meaninglessness, the social coercion, the emotional manipulation, the misinfomation… to subjugate someone’s will with a prescribed role, to cultivate second-order belief or closeted doubt, to make them terrified of critical thinking, and to compel them to induce this in others.

    Some people find their way out. Others… haven’t.
    “Can’t” or “won’t” don’t really apply, and while conservative religions aren’t a true disease, “memeplex” seems inadequate for the traumatic hold they can exert on minds – in some cases even long after deconverting.
     
    I should also say I wasn’t attempting to equate disorders with people being broken (as if there were an unreachable ideal fixed state those currently neurotypical have). I was in a low mood, and “make the world less broken” came to mind instead of “make the world a better place”. The ‘crazy’ tangent had me berating myself for any resemblance to ablist othering.

  282. meursalt says

    @colonelzen:

    But I’m getting bored. Unless one of you has a real defense for the notion that “crazy” is not a common usage adjective, not – even in connection with people – used exclusively to designate and derogate mental illness, could you please find something interesting to talk about?

    What are some cases in which “crazy” is applied to people without denoting mental illness, or at least behaviour or ideas resembling it? I’m having trouble thinking of any.

    I suppose the Beat writers may have used it without exclusively negative connotations.I vaguely recall Neal Cassady being described as a “crazy cat” or something along those lines, but on further reflection, he was very likely suffering from amphetamine psychosis, so the implication of mental illness is still there, even though the term is used affectionately.

    Is there some other usage I’m not familiar with?

  283. weakswimmer says

    @Meursalt:

    There was a Beanie and Cecil cartoon where a guy who was supposed to be a beatnik type used “crazy” (always with the “a” drawn out) as a synonym for “cool” or “groovy”. I’ve only heard that usage of it in that cartoon. It was a weird cartoon. The other times I’ve heard the word “crazy”, it implied mental illness or behavior resembling it.

  284. meursalt says

    I don’t have a reference for this, but I think some of the Beats tried to reclaim ethnic slurs by using them in positive ways to some extent. These guys had their hearts in the right place, but the judgement wasn’t always sound. And of course most of them had some form of privilege working in their favour.

    But since so many of the prominent Beat writers are known to have suffered from various mental afflictions (Kerouac with alcoholism and depression, Cassady with amphetamine psychosis and probably bipolar disorder, Burroughs with the obvious junk habit, with Corso being the only relatively healthy guy out of the bunch), I’m willing to grant them a bit of leeway. At the same time I’m not in any hurry to resurrect their usage of “crazy.”.

  285. says

    Very good post. Personally I sort of fit into all the categories, to a greater or lesser degree.

    On the discussion board I co-administer PZ sometimes causes a certain amount of controversy, with some people being very critical of him, others very supportive and me something over the ‘two cheers for PZ’ position.

    This post should take some ammunition away from the PZ haters, and pushes me up to something over ‘2.5 cheers for PZ’.

    David B

  286. julietdefarge says

    I fear I must remain a “dictionary atheist” until I leave this part of VA. I’m in my late 50s, and can’t remember any ‘aha’ moment of becoming an atheist; I just realized that I was one sometime in my teens. Until very recently, I’ve not had the luxury of learning about or discussing philosophy with anyone. (Thanks, Meetup.)
    My Daughter is a dictionary atheist, too, simply because nobody has ever cornered her and asked her to give religion any serious thought. This is my hope for the future- that nobody will have to spend time debunking proofs of God, that all religion-related blogs will wither for lack of interest, and that superstitions are of concern only to archaeologists and historians.
    In the meantime, you could characterize my family as Resentful Atheists- we resent religion claiming energy that would be better spent on – anything, really, and we resent its intrusion into our lives.

  287. colonelzen says

    What are some cases in which “crazy” is applied to people without denoting mental illness, or at least behaviour or ideas resembling it? I’m having trouble thinking of any.

    That’s rather the problem. People, including pretty much everybody, have times, circumstances or things in their lives where and about which they will behave irrationally, contrary to reality, sometimes incoherently, and even in ways that all around them will perceive as destructive to his own self interest. But there is and must be a word for that class of behaviors. Colloquially there is – “crazy” (of course there are others, each with its own nuances).

    But of course some forms of mental illness in extreme, especially untreated or badly treated, include episodes of extended and particularly egregious incoherent behavior.

    Any colloquial word which tags irrational human behavior to which we are all exhibit at some point – and is also a valid description for some belefs and related behaviors – is also, perforce and of necessity, going to be applied – and correctly applicable – to the psychologically troubled exhibiting such behavior.

    So the question is are we *allowed* to have a word or raft of words that designate such behavior, including colorful nuances, or are we forbidden, circumscribed, and precluding from describing real ordinary human behavior (and religion is, even if it is batshit crazy) because it also sometimes describes the extremes of mental illness? What of words designating limited cognitive skill?

    Way upthread I gave examples of “crazy” used as an adjective: Crazy Kat, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, Crazy 8 (child’s card game), Heart’s “Crazy on You”. The first three are older than I am. “Crazy” has been used as a general adjective – including with people – describing unusual or irrational behavior NOT necessarily associated with clinical mental illness, longer than I have been alive. In thread someone cited Willy Nelson’s cover of “Crazy” … I replied *perfectly* in accord with colloquial and every day usage “That’s what I call crazy” – a colloquial expression not implying mental illness, simply that one finds another’s viewpoint incomprehensible

    (Hey, I actually like Willy quite a bit on many songs, I’m not over fond of either version of “Crazy”, but allowing for production values Cline’s was definitely the better artistic rendering!)

    Crazy is in common use, not meaning mentally ill and not derogatory of the mentally ill. If you overhear someone say about someone else “he’s crazy”, you do not automatically assume that someone is declaring the other a danger to self or others, or incapable of day to day function, …. nor even necessarily incapable of any particular job. What you assume – your semantic resolution of the comment absent other information – is that the subject holds ideas and values that the speaker cannot reconcile with his (speaker’s) understanding of reality.

    What you have here is a raging shitsorm in a tea glass of throbbing moral one-upmanship. Those who speak of “ableism” will *say* they mean the (real and needs – badly – to be addressed and corrected) is the exclusion and discrimination against the disabled for reasons other than the limitations of their real impairment. What they *mean* and the shape of their language is to claim righteous indignation over “An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living'”. (www.stopableism.org).

    This is an impossible standard, allowing them to (pretend to) hold the moral high ground in perpetuity. But it is bullshit. Of course society with limited means is going to normalize to the common or normal for any given human capability, and make allowances otherwise as there is need and ability to do so. Economically, pragmatically, there just isn’t any other way to do it. Despite the bullshit it is not parallel to racisim or feminism. There was never any evidence that any “racial” grouping of people were significantly less capable than any other in any normal general skill-set. And women are (more than) half the human race. A diverse minority with wildly differing handicaps and needs cannot be catered to everywhere in all venues as if their disability didn’t exist. But that is exactly what “stopablieism” is demanding. Well, I want real chocolate and cheeseburgers that won’t make me fat(ter). I demand it!

    A bullshit technique to instill guilt and control the gullible. It works too! Up thread just a little bit is someone flagellating themselves for the times they’ve used “ablist” language. Controlling people through guilt? Seems I’ve seen that game played on a different field …

    Sorry, but I’m prime grade A, tough and gristly Asshole. Not gonna work on me. And I raised my daughters to know “Whenever you feel shamed or embarassed, someone is trying to control you. Don’t give in. Get somewhere where you can stop and think through whether what you are doing or have done is right or wrong. And then YOU choose, not them.”

    Hopefully I’ve left enough of a stink around that at least a few passing readers will recognise the moral posturing claiming “crazy” as ablist is its own kind of stink.

    I’d like to add that this kind of bullshit posturing is at least a part of why liberalism in the US has always been anemic. The intelligence of the general population really is quite low … but these king-of-the-moral-hill games are so stupid that Joe the Plumber can see through them. And they, no more than I like being controlled or patronized.

    Demand that we only speak in emasculated ambiguous code while our opponents speak plainly (if not necessarily very intelligently) and they always win. At least if we’re so stupid that we can’t learn to tell the honest truth. “English, motherfucker! Do you speak it?”

    — TWZ

  288. Ogvorbis: Dogmaticus sycophantus says

    colonelzen:

    If you are using ‘crazy’ as an insult, it is ablist. You are using it as shorthand to say that since a person is menally ill we do not need to listen to them.

    There are other uses of crazy that are not ablist, as have been noted above. Using a disability as an insult is ablist.

  289. ChasCPeterson says

    I suppose the Beat writers may have used it without exclusively negative connotations.

    Indeed, and like so much of beatmik culture, it was appropriated from the culture of jazz musicians. Monk and Diz were ‘way-out crazy cats’ as a compliment to their individuality.

  290. ChasCPeterson says

    Willy Nelson’s cover of “Crazy”

    dude, you missed the point. You refered to “Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy'”. I was pointing out that Nelson wrote the song.

  291. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Demand that we only speak in emasculated ambiguous code while our opponents speak plainly (if not necessarily very intelligently) and they always win.

    I called it at #249. Machismo.

    +++++
    colonelzen, again, who abused you?

    You asked for a resource at #278.

    At #295 you claimed “I’ve asked for a resource and been additionally abused instead.”

    This means someone abused you between comments #278 and #295.

    Who abused you? In which comment?

    Since all the evidence is available right here in this thread, if you cannot point to it, we must assume that you are a liar.

  292. ChasCPeterson says

    I don’t have a reference for this, but I think some of the Beats tried to reclaim ethnic slurs by using them in positive ways to some extent.

    Kerouac uses “spade” a lot, in a positive, almost honorific way.

  293. says

    I am both a scientific atheist and a Humanist. Scientific concerns led me to atheism, while humanist ethics show me how to better live my life.

    I got to Humanism via political liberalism; I was a liberal before I admitted to myself that I was an atheist. Concerns over civil rights, women’s rights and environmentalism became part of a coherent worldview once I added atheism to the mix.

  294. colonelzen says

    Re, ChasCPeterson @ 336

    I did not know that, thx! Still like Cine’s better! (Actually I didn’t know Nelson was writing songs that far back).

    — TWZ

  295. says

    I suppose that I fall under the philosophical atheist category, because I’ve always thought that there was no need to believe in any gods. I acknowledge that there is no evidence (as the scientific atheists do), and that theism is socially harmful (as the humanists do) and that religion makes for bad policy (as the political atheists do), but when all is said and done, I’m an atheist because reality doesn’t need any gods.

  296. Azuma Hazuki says

    Interesting that the science/philosophy types tend to be mostly men and mostly T-types in the MBTI. I’m a woman (though a gay one…wasn’t there some study showing gay people have brains that look a little like opposite-sex straight ones?) and an INFJ type.

    Do you suppose it’s the introversion more than the thinking that’s important here? I notice that…well…people I peg as E-types don’t seem to like to think so much >>; Introversion means people think a lot, it seems. Extroverts seem too busy having fun :(

  297. great1american1satan says

    I say Ethical Atheist may be a good label, perhaps a substitute for Humanist. Peeps who see it as a moral necessity to take down the idea of god.

    And “Default Atheist” as proposed earlier could be termed also “Animal Atheist” because their belief in god is the same as any animal that hasn’t been tainted by screwy human cultural institutions. Anyone not successfully indoctrinated has as much call to believe in god as a crow or a cat does.

  298. Minnie The Finn, qui devient bientôt vierge says

    50/50 humanist/default atheist.

    Also, 100% bandwagon atheist, because Brownian.

  299. lpetrich says

    Here’s a clssification that I’d come up with some time ago, using Lucie Hall’s work and several comments:

    Nihilistic atheists: never-thought-about-it, don’t-care, other-interest, lazy, waste-of-time, troll, royal-lie/noble-lie, and party-line ones

    “Mad at god” atheists: mad-at-religion, proud, depressed ones.

    Philosophical atheists: logical, emotional, religion-deficiency ones.

    Scientific atheists

    Reared atheists

  300. cityzenjane says

    What kind of atheist am I? I suppose it depends on what sort of theist I am arguing with…:D

    But seriously – I was a matter of fact non-believer raised by an ex-Catholic non believer and a non-aggressive Catholic believer who is no longer much of one… They divorced when I was sixteen and suddenly someone thought it a good idea to send me to Catholic school. So I suppose I am a WTF?Atheist.

    Exposed to Catholic doctrine after the age of reason it of course made no sense to me. The first thing I found untenable was that an entire moral schema was built on convincing people they would burn for eternity for not believing. To me that was not a moral system but a blackmail. Should I become a believer it was not because I had become a moral person…it was because I did not want to be barbequed. This is not morality. This is not ethics. So early on I suppose I was in the philosophical camp. I also did not see doing the rosary or dancing for rain as distinct in any way.

    Getting upruptly sent to a Catholic school against my will turned me into an angry political teenage non-believer surrounded by other teen girls raised together who were believers. The “because I said so” basis of most of the rules in their system were not based on anything but abuse of power as far as I was concerned.

    I grew up into a political atheist with strong secular humanist framework having worked many times with people of various faiths on social justice, peace and equality campaigns. Also a young defender of my reproductive autonomy I became well aware of the more kooky elements of political the-ism focused on suppressing women’s reproductive autonomy and the civil rights of LGBTQ folks. I also have a strong attachment in particular to the development in the US of the thinking around the secular/civil space we enjoy becase of the separation of church and state here…

    I also have been surrounded all my life by many Catholics deeply committed to social justice…so as much as I dismiss the Vatican etc… it’s tough to right off the people who have done work beside me for justice. Nor would I try.

    Any references I make to science are a much later layer…

    I like the taxonomy development a lot but agree it should include the less savory types…with the addendum that if there is a segment written about “communist atheists” – it should not be written by knee jerk or misinformed anti-communists…rather perhaps by a Trotskyist with a decent critique of Stalinism embedded. Too much to ask perhaps…

  301. cityzenjane says

    @Mrjonno – yes there is a lot more foment in the U.S. around all of this because of the rise of overt theocrats in the U.S.. Many U.S. politicians pander to them. It’s affecting women’s rights, science education, LGBTQ lives, medical research….

    Many of us care a lot because a resurgent fundanmentalism is impacting our public life in ways most of us find oppressive and basically appalling.

    We cannot afford to “not give a shit” about religion here…because it clearly gives a shit about us….and not in a good way.

  302. cityzenjane says

    RE: crazy

    Are you hurting real people (here even)by being sloppy with language?
    Does it cost you anything to be a better more expressive, more particular writer?
    What are you gaining by being a jerk?
    Why are you defending the right to be a jerk? or a bad writer? You have both rights…but are they worth defending?
    What do any of us gain by a long discourse on semantics?
    How hard is it simply to take the request to be a more thoughtful person at face value?
    Why are people so invested in spending DAYS in these arguments over problematic terms (retard, crazy, cunt etc..) rather than being invested in simply responding to a request – Why is the pattern to double down so often?

    I have a brother with developmental disabilities who has had to hear this shit all his life so perhaps having seen the damage ablism does to real people I am concerned not with semantics but with real people.

  303. says

    Yeah, I also thought about including Bandwagon Atheists (only there because the cool people are), Dumbass Atheists (anti-authoritarian jerkwads), and Racist Atheists (because…ISLAM!), but then decided to confine myself to just the thoughtful atheists.

    I assume this dismissal is the reason your “Important Correction!” post was “Important”?

  304. says

    @Brad 326 –

    So Deep Rifts(tm) are the blue and red endings, and we want the green one?”

    Nope. The endings we’ve been offered don’t logically follow from what we’ve previously discovered an established, so we’re calling them out as Indoctrination :-) And quite a few of the more prominent critics are, um, writing fanfic endings, many of which have drawn praise for being much more consonant with the actual universe, its history, and how it works. Meanwhile, the Casey Hudsons and Mac Walters of the world are whinging and crying about how no one respects their “artistic integrity”.

    (Just in case anyone is saying “Wha…?”; the comment and response are a reference to Mass Effect 3 – though I’m sure many people got it.)

  305. alanwilliamson says

    I am a lifelong atheist. I am also a humanist. A person doesn’t need to be atheist to be a humanist. I suspect many people are humanist, but they don’t really know it.

  306. says

    I identify with all of the branches of atheism other than Political, which I have merely a tepid enthusiasm for. I find empiricism highly important; it is an objective measure for claims to reality. Atheists like Lawrence Krauss, who disparage the value of philosophy, I find to be extraordinarily narrow-minded. Philosophy is a means of thinking critically, the predecessor to empirical science. Even reading the oldest philosophies can give one new insights, as they are interpreted in a slightly different way with each generation. As I’m in danger of fulfilling PZ’s prophecy about Philosophical Atheists, I’ll stop before this becomes a treatise!

  307. jflcroft says

    I made a new account especially to say I appreciate this post – both it’s topic and the way you’ve addressed it. I think it’s really important to keep in mind the different strands of the movement. Just as you are working to think more about Humanist issues I’ve been trying to think a lot more about the concerns of scientific and political atheists, as you call them..

  308. Ant Allan says

    @ alanwilliamson #351

    How do you define “humanist” then?

    The BHA describes a humanist as, inter alia, someone who “trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)”.

    (And we all know that people who self-identify as agnostics are really agnostic atheists. No agnostic theist would describe themself as an agnostic!)

    /@

  309. funcharge says

    Definitely a scientific atheist. I’m one of those pesky people who’s always asking for evidence.

    Humanism could be an umbrella term that covers the rest.

  310. armillary says

    I’m mostly scientific these days, but became an atheist for philosophical/ethical reasons. Simply put, I found that Xianity has a lot of old baggage that I did not agree with, and wasn’t about to suspend my judgement just because it was in the Bible. I also had big issues with the whole “you’re only a good person if you do good because of Jesus” idea, i.e. original sin. And BIG issues with anti-feminist, racist, anti-LBGT attitudes – those predate my serious thinking into these matters by about five years.

    Guess that makes me a humanist.