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Atheism and the real search for meaning

Almost every day, I get a pugnacious email or a tweet saying something like this:

Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. Period.

It’s been that way for about three years now, ever since I gave a talk in Montreal in which, in a brief aside (at about the 18’30” mark), I decried the dogmatic dumbness of “Dictionary Atheists”, a talk I followed up with a post in which I explained why dictionary atheism is wrong.

I had made the mistake, you see, of pointing out that atheism is more than just disbelief. I suppose I could have mentioned that a painting is more than pigment on canvas, families are more than just small groups of people, and that people are more than ambulatory arrangements of carbon compounds, but let’s not go crazy here — it was heretical enough that I expected atheists to do more with reason and rationality than simply deny god. How dare I confront people with history and context, and meaning and consequences, when all they wanted was a simple statement that made them better than other people?

I was actually surprised and disappointed at the volley of denunciations that followed that post, and like I say, almost every day I get reminders from indignant atheists who insist that their ideas are meaningless and inconsequential, and must be interpreted in the narrowest way. Sadly, another kind of email I get (with lower frequency, fortunately) comes from people who are growing disenchanted with atheism, precisely because so many dogmatists refuse to apply reason to their lives and everyone’s lives, while demanding that they be acknowledged as “True” Atheists, that is, Dictionary Atheists.

Dictionary Atheists disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it. The fact that the universe is an uncaring place, that we’re products of chance and necessity rather than benevolence, that we only have each other to help ourselves through this life…none of that matters. So when you say that reason demands equality, when rationality dictates community, when justice ought to be part of the godless agenda, they reflexively throw out that dictionary definition to deny any expectation that there ought to be more to atheism than cussing out gods. They’re intellectual cowards who run away from the full implications of living in a godless universe.

So I get despairing letters from people who once saw atheism as a shining promise, and now see it as a refuge for the same old haters, the same old deniers, the same old reactionaries trying to use their received wisdom as a too to silence new voices and new ideas. And sometimes I feel a little despair, too.

But I haven’t given up. I still think atheism is the best path to comprehending our world and making it better — better in all ways, not just scientific and technological, but also socially. The atheist movement is not in the hands of dictionary atheists, and it’s not growing by recruiting more narrow-minded deniers; it’s growing by helping people realize that it’s something more and something beautiful.

There are also still plenty of people who appreciate the depth of freethought, and are willing to discuss its roots and meaning. And one of my favorites is Susan Jacoby, who really gets it.

This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.

It’s not just speaking that we need to do: we need to find common cause in human concerns. And rejecting religion just isn’t that great a concern — it’s a side-effect, not a goal, of realizing how the world works, as a great natural, material process. You lack belief in the existence of gods? That’s nice, you’ve taken your first tiny baby step. Now what does that mean for human affairs? What will you do next? When will you stride forward and do something that matters with your new freedom?

Freedom is the word, after all. Many of us have noted that rejecting god and religion is a liberating act. But now that you’re free, you should do something, and being an atheist means we are enabled to do more.

The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.

Today’s atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary.

There’s the step the Dictionary Atheists don’t want to take — that once you’ve thrown off your shackles you’re now obligated to do something worthwhile with your life, because now all of our lives shine as something greater and more valuable and more important. That with freedom comes responsibility.

We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.

But not as clergy, as privileged people set apart from others by a special paternalistic relationship. How about as a community of equals? What if every atheist, rather than some particular special subset of atheists, were to acknowledge their part in building a better society?

Maybe then this movement could change the world.

(By the way, Jacoby has a new book, The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought which I’ve ordered. She has always been a brilliant contributor to atheism.)

Comments

  1. Dick the Damned says

    I agree, wholeheartedly.

    Isn’t what you’re proposing what Humanism is all about?

    If you don’t already belong, then join your local or national group. We’ve got to be organized, (as little as we like that).

  2. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Dictionary Atheists follow a Prime Directive mindset

  3. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    @Dick

    Many Humanist groups are openly hostile to atheists. No I do not feel inclined to join them either.

  4. says

    I haven’t felt much hostility from humanists. Sometimes there’s reluctance to accept the atheist label, but that’s about it.

  5. Ogvorbis: Good at pretending? says

    PZ:

    I agree wholeheartedly. As was discussed on another thread, I see atheism as a way to rid the world of the toxins on patriarchal religion — including, but not limited to racism, sexism, homophobia, biogotry and the promulgation of rape culture. Others (such as yourself) say it much better, of course.

    @Dick:

    My local humanist group doesn’t really like atheists. And my local atheist/freethought group is run by J. Vacula. Online is my friend.

  6. says

    I would put money on there being a large overlap between dictionary atheists (with their feelings of superiority) and the accomodationists. They feel so smart at having realized there isn’t a sky fairy that they don’t want to apply their reason any further. Otherwise they would have to face being wrong on other fronts.

  7. says

    The problem is that any proposal about how to make the world better will be contested over grounds that have nothing to do with atheism. Evangelical vegans and meat eaters, socialists and liberals, gun owners and gun banners, and many others who oppose each other on political, cultural, or moral issue, may all be atheists, and rationally so, without that providing any way to resolve their different normative convictions.

    Or to put it another way, atheism isn’t so much a “path to comprehending our world and making it better” as perhaps the removal of a needless barrier to that. That barrier removed, there’s still a lot to making that path, and much dissent over its direction, with atheism no longer providing any help.

  8. says

    With the accommodationists? No, I haven’t seen that at all.

    There is overlap with the sexist contingent, though. Once you’ve got atheism, you don’t need to worry about that social justice crap, you know.

  9. says

    Damn humanists seem to be afraid of the atheist label. Media tends to tell them that the New Atheists are big meanies while experience tells them that dictionary atheists are excrement.

  10. hexidecima says

    some atheists are no more than cheap nihilists, in that they want to be amoral, unresponsible twits. The “promise” they supposedly saw in atheism is the means to do this, a group that no one would hold them accountable. When they are called upon their actions, they get upset, thinking that “all” atheists should support them and only them. It is a problem of thinking they own an issue. But they should not despair, no one will mistake them for anything but what they are, for bad or for good.

  11. iiandyiiii says

    I think I agree, but then I’ve probably made the same mistake- I’ve had discussions like this:

    Christian: “what religion are you”
    me: “I don’t have a religion, I’m an atheist”
    Christian: “You’re an atheist?!? Why do you hate Jesus[/God/America]?”
    me: “no, you don’t understand- being an atheist just means I don’t believe God exists”

    I don’t think I’m a “dictionary atheist”, am I? Should I handle this kind of conversation differently? If I understand PZ correctly, he’s saying that it’s incorrect to “demand” that atheists limit their public conversation and advocacy to just not believing in God, but rather it’s appropriate that atheists advocate for all things tied to reason, equality, and human rights because they’re all linked. Am I understanding this right?

  12. says

    @PZ

    I am thinking along the lines of accomodationists insisting on a separation of atheism from social justice. They seem like they don’t think atheism is fit for the masses and that it has no implications beyond a lack of belief.

    Or it could just be I can’t tell their shrieking apart from the rest of the atheists who hate New Atheism. They all whine a lot.

  13. says

    Back when I first discovered that their was a label for me, an atheist, I did find myself concentrating on atheism quite a bit, too much. I probably gave far too much weight to atheism in my appraisal of others, thinking that atheism and my broadly humanist ideals (not that I am a member of a humanist group or anything, but I think the term gives some ideas about my viewpoint) usually went together. They were certainly part of the same package for me.

    In the end I have no interest in hanging out with atheists that just march around yelling about how much better they are because they are atheists. Meh, so you are an atheist, congratulations for possibly having thought about these issues and hopefully you came to that conclusion in a well reasoned way. It does not really make me feel much solidarity with you, it is not really enough to make me even want to have a beer with you.

  14. says

    The latest person to show up in the ‘an experiment‘ thread was using dictionary atheism as a defense against feminism in particular and social justice in general. It seems to be becoming a more common whinge among those who dislike the uppity bitches – “eeuuuw, you’re getting social justice in my skepticism! Tainted!”

  15. says

    @iiandyiiii

    That is less what PZ means, I believe. The dictionary atheists who complain about atheism having no connection to social movements are the ones that bewilder me, at least. Although it may come close sometimes, since social justice is the antithesis of the most popular religions.

  16. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What many dictionary atheists can’t seem to get, is that with the rejection of deities and holy books, there comes the problem of what to replace what is a contributing factor to many of the structures and policies in our society. By rejecting deities and religion, we also reject those societal structures. But the dictionary atheists can’t see that due to their blinders.

    For example, the morality of the babble can be replaced with a better, more egalitarian and servicable morality. One that doesn’t involve making half the population second class citizens, condones genocide, slavery, and extreme tribalism. One that isn’t authoritarian “this is the way it is, and it can’t change as our deity said so”. Never mind it was the scribes of 2,500 years ago writing down what the priests told them to, so the priests prejudices are now unchangable.

    So, we do need to discuss what to replace those societal structurals and morals with. Personally, a good place to start is to actually apply the golden rule so ignored by many religious people.

  17. consciousness razor says

    Dictionary Atheists [claim that they] disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it.

    A claim which isn’t true: they have lots of other beliefs just like any other person. Even nihilists cannot literally believe in nothing whatsoever, unless they’re unintelligent robots. Besides the implications of atheism, any atheist should have other beliefs and concerns about all sorts of things, because completely rejecting morality itself is not one of the implications of atheism. But it’s not just they should — I’m sure they in fact do, without realizing or admitting it.

  18. says

    Ugh I never could identify with skeptics or humanists. Skeptics tend to wibble around evo psyc too much, along side “truthers” and other self identified skeptics, while humanists are too… weak? Humanist organizations seem content to play philosopher in the background from what I have seen.

  19. stonyground says

    I think that some people need to know just how shitty their lives would be without the tireless work done by agnostics and atheists over the last two hundred years. Just one example, there are so many others. In the nineteenth century, ordinary people had to work like dogs six days a week. At that time, the clergy were very powerful and did their best to make sure that these people got no enjoyment whatsoever from their one day of freedom. Every form of pleasurable activity was banned on Sunday. This was no problem for the well off who could enjoy themselves any day of the week.

    The fact is that atheists and agnostics have been chipping away at this kind of stuff for a very long time, and you dictionary atheists have benefited immensely. There is still work to be done, to tear power and influence away from those who would make life a misery for everyone who disagrees with them if they could. That is why I see atheism as far more than just not believing in gods.

  20. Sastra says

    ‘Dictionary atheism’ is technically correct — but so what? Most atheists are atheists for reasons, and these reasons always involve moral commitments — even if only a commitment to following a chain of reasoning to a conclusion and being reasonable about it. A “citizen” could be defined narrowly as well, but advocates of good citizenship are not met by protests that no, being a citizen only has a legal meaning and entails no actions in itself.

    As others have pointed out, the main reason humanists were not speaking at all the public services in the aftermath of the school shootings in Sandy Hook is that we were not invited. But I hope that eloquent editorials like Susan Jacoby’s eventually help change that.

    It has always seemed to me that implausible reassurances about heaven and God’s Plan aren’t ways to cope with death, but to avoid coping with it. Psychological denial is being twisted into a virtue. It’s like listening to grown adults brightly insist that they took their old cancer-ridden dog to the animal clinic so the vet could take him to a farm where he is now running and playing with all the other animals. There’s something rather creepy and pathetic about it — like a childhood held on too long and a responsibility shunned. A person who does this is unhealthy; the same thing holds when its the culture.

  21. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    These past few years have been a rude reckoning for me and many others. What seemed —and really, it was—so refreshing, liberating, and inspiring is shot through with hellaciousness. The burst of activity following Dawkins’ and Harris’ books really did accomplish something. Atheists and seculars really are making progress in public discourse. This is unabashedly a good thing and no one should be sorry that it happened.

    But I certainly wasn’t expecting the train to come to such a fast halt when social justice issues (the very things Dawkins, Harris, and others were bringing up themselves as consequences of a religion-besotted mindset) got real. Oh, let’s face it. It wasn’t social justice in toto, it was feminism and the refusal to take the bullshittery any more. This wasn’t a massive reaction against gay men, lesbians, or transgendered people (I hasten to add that I know racism and transphobia are right there, ready to pop out any time the scab is nicked). This was a full-on rhetorical and political assault against women and men who had enough of the patriarchy in all its forms. Not just blatantly sexist rhetoric, but the whole metronomic pulsating background level patriarchy mess we live in.

    I was an enthusiastic fan of Dawkins, volunteered for him at conferences, loved me some Sam Harris, etc. And yes, of course, I still admire much of what they did; turning out to be badly wrong or a douchebag on other issues does not retroactively invalidate the correct and righteous things done. But a whole faction of people I thought were “my people” got stuck in time and intellect and planted their flags. Thus far and no farther.

    Discovering how viciously some folks would defend their turf was genuinely astonishing to me. Wow—you really are a privileged fucker and you really, honestly don’t care about the harm you engage in.

    Sigh.

  22. Dick the Damned says

    Where are the Humanists that aren’t atheists or agnostics? Not in the UK, & they didn’t used to be in Canada either. (I’ve only recently returned to Canada, so haven’t gotten to know the score, yet.)

  23. says

    @Nerd

    Shouldn’t “god is dead” have been resolved by now :( Most of the founding philosophers and activists of post enlightenment atheism addressed the question of what now.

    I read a lot of Nietzsche as a teenager. And despite the Ayn Rand version of his ideas, the main premise of his (and by extension existentialism) was that we should replace religion with a new set of morals and ethics. What better way than to use the empirical rationalism we claim led us to reject religion to begin with?

  24. says

    Dick the Damned, there are a whole lot of theists who are also humanists, which is fine. However, it’s one of the reasons I’m not okay with simply labeling myself a humanist.

  25. Sastra says

    logicpriest #7 wrote:

    I would put money on there being a large overlap between dictionary atheists (with their feelings of superiority) and the accomodationists. They feel so smart at having realized there isn’t a sky fairy that they don’t want to apply their reason any further.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “accomodationists” here, but as I see it the dictionary atheists who deny that atheism has a natural connection to social concerns are the opposite of accomodationists, who generally want to stop our arguing about the existence of God and the problems with religion in order to concentrate only on social issues and outcomes.

  26. Dick the Damned says

    Caine, are we divided by a common language? Humanism once was applied to the more-enlightened churchmen of the Renaissance. Nowadays, it is used exclusively for the non-religious, in British English, anyway.

  27. says

    Dick, I live in Canada and have met plenty of religious humanists. I have also never heard of humanism being exclusively for the non-religious.

  28. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Shouldn’t “god is dead” have been resolved by now :

    Maybe by your philosophers, but not by the mass of people who ignore philosophy because of insoluble dilemmas it gets itself into by not being reality based. We’ll just have to keep struggling with the issues.

  29. Dick the Damned says

    Travis, i belonged to the Toronto Humanist Association back in the 70’s. It was avowedly atheist/agnostic, & not at all theistic in those days. After being very lively, it just sort of fizzled out, though.

  30. says

    I really don’t get it. If they’re interested in an injustice done in the name of religion, how can they not be interested in that, or equivalent, injustices done for other reasons? And if they really aren’t interested in injustices—if atheism to them means literally nothing more than a personal disbelief in gods—why get all hot and bothered about what other atheists are doing? Indeed, why even bother joining any kind of atheist movement at all?

  31. says

    @Nerd

    Well it obviously isn’t really resolved. Even philosophy seems to have backpedaled, with theologians still somehow getting PHDs. But the beautiful atheist utopia imagined by dead Europeans has not come to pass.

    As for accomodationists, what I mean is that they, too believe atheism to be unrelated to social causes. They , like dictionary atheists, tend to treat atheism like some private medal of theirs while the unwashed masses still cannot handle it. They, like the dictionary atheists, don’t want any causes in the name of atheists, perhaps for different reasons.

    They see no issues with religion and they don’t believe in a link between atheism and social justice. =

  32. barfy says

    Great message, PZ!

    One key to a positive atheistic worldview is to filter all statements through a skeptical, evidence-based and humanistic filter. In this way, labels like “feminist,” “liberal,” “libertarian,” etc., become essentially meaningless as society strives to work towards an ideal of maximized individual liberty (e.g. as a feminist tenant) with minimized social harm (e.g. an argument for rational gun control.)

    Because stereotyping with labels as above may prove useful in narrow contexts, I do not advocate dumping them altogether. BUT, we should all be actively working against their use.

  33. Sastra says

    From Susan Jacoby’s article:

    Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.

    Yes, this.

    I’m a secular (or scientific) humanist, but denying that I’m an atheist because I don’t like some of the people who self-identify as atheists would be as stupid as a Lutheran refusing to say they’re Christian because of Fred Phelps. What happens is that additional ammunition is being given against an entire group — which includes you. And all you end up with when you do good is the compliment “well, you may be an X, but you sure don’t behave like one.”

    So-called Dictionary Atheists would not be misogynists. That would be taking a position. Even telling other atheists to shut up about feminism would be a position. There is no moral mandate that says that a Dictionary Atheist must spread the tenets of Dictionary Atheism. The only moral mandate for Dictionary Atheism is that there are no moral mandates — and no tenets besides not believing in God. Pristine Purity is an additional value. Can’t advocate it. Have to shut up about it. Zip.

  34. says

    Dick the Damned:

    Nowadays, it is used exclusively for the non-religious, in British English, anyway.

    No it isn’t. There’s a whole hell of a lot of UK people here who will say as much, too. Humanist is still very much a definition many moderate theists use, especially to define themselves as different from the more rabid contingents of their particular faith.

  35. says

    I know a bunch of self identified “moderate Christians” who are atheists in all but name. They don’t believe in a god or anything supernatural, but dictionary atheists (who are as Sastra mentioned actually taking anti social justice positions) are a group scaring them off the label.

  36. myuido says

    Dictionary Atheists disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it. The fact that the universe is an uncaring place, that we’re products of chance and necessity rather than benevolence, that we only have each other to help ourselves through this life…none of that matters. So when you say that reason demands equality, when rationality dictates community, when justice ought to be part of the godless agenda, they reflexively throw out that dictionary definition to deny any expectation that there ought to be more to atheism than cussing out gods. They’re intellectual cowards who run away from the full implications of living in a godless universe.

    I think there’s really 3 types of atheist. Simplified enormously they are:

    Type 1: Doesn’t believe in god, doesn’t care what happens, doesn’t want to get involved in a political discussion of any kind. The apathetic atheist.
    Type 2: Doesn’t believe in god, thinks that secularism should be promoted in society, is against creationism being taught in schools, and is broadly pro-science. I think at the moment this would be your typical movement atheist.
    Type 3: All of the above, also wants tier 2 to adopt a broadly liberal position on social justice ideas.

    I think there’s a slight problem with type 2 but it becomes unbearable as you move to type 3. It’s this: None of the secularist, liberal positions or social justice ideas are the exclusive domain of atheists. Nor is atheism a prerequisite. There is nothing stopping christians, muslims, jews, etc. from accepting these ideas and working with us to achieve the goals that you place so above, and more important than, a mere disbelief in a diety or deities.

    What I like about type 2, the current movement atheist is that it has a laser like focus on issues that wouldn’t usually get discussed otherwise. While its big tent approach makes it more likely for people to sit up and listen in government.

    I would rather be (and am, actually) an atheist within a political party which encompasses the ideas of the type 3 atheist than attempt to change the atheist movement into that party while excluded the believers who agree on the important matters. Just on pragmatic grounds, in the hope that real progress can be made in my lifetime.

    The problem is that reason doesn’t demand equality.

  37. says

    @41 Reason does demand equality. Equality leads to productivity gains, which leads to better quality of life not just for the now equal groups, but for the original groups. Otherwise feudalism would still be all the rage.

    And demanding equality means changing all of society, so why not change a movement first? What is negative about associating atheism with positive social change? This is the same old “don’t scare off allies” sentiment that shows up so often. But if they are opposed to my views in all but one way, they weren’t my allies to begin with.

  38. says

    There is a third position here. One can agree in whole or in part with the program of PZ’s version of humanism and yet deny that it follows from disbelief in the gods. PZ is just availing himself of a familiar rhetorical move, i.e., associating things you support with a more popular idea—well, an idea more popular around here. Thus he promotes feminism, something resisted by many nerdy science types, by claiming that it has something to do with atheism, properly understood. Of course, there are believing feminists who play the game in reverse and claim that feminism has something to do with Christianity, properly understood.

  39. says

    Lemme rephrase PZ for him (sorry PZ)

    While social justice may not strictly follow atheism, it does follow reason. Atheists claim to be atheists by using reason, then we should follow through and keep on using that reason in other areas of life.

    Sure you may not believe in god simply because you want to be rebellious (looking at you r/atheism) or perhaps you were raised without religion, but atheists as a group tend to claim we got there using reason. Reason does imply social justice. Stop playing semantic games.

  40. Ogvorbis says

    One can agree in whole or in part with the program of PZ’s version of humanism and yet deny that it follows from disbelief in the gods

    Only if one is willing to reject god, reject religion, but continue to embrace the sexism, homophobia, racism, bigotry, and embrace of economic inequality that society has inherited from religion.

  41. says

    jimharrison:

    Thus he promotes feminism, something resisted by many nerdy science types

    This has jack diddly squat to do with “nerdy science types”. Christ, way to be an oblivious asshole. What it does have to do with are people who refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are all sexist, it’s inescapable, and deal with their own biases and privilege.

    Try to fucking think, will you?

  42. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    As for accomodationists, what I mean is that they, too believe atheism to be unrelated to social causes.

    You got this wrong. What they, the accommodationists say, is that atheists should not makes waves and needlessly antagonize the religious believers, as it hurts atheism to do so. With needless essentially being anything they can carp about.

    Most accommodationists are too busy saying “play nice” to talk about moral subjects beyond “being nice”.

  43. Sastra says

    logicpriest #34 wrote:

    As for accomodationists, what I mean is that they, too believe atheism to be unrelated to social causes. They , like dictionary atheists, tend to treat atheism like some private medal of theirs while the unwashed masses still cannot handle it. They, like the dictionary atheists, don’t want any causes in the name of atheists, perhaps for different reasons.
    They see no issues with religion and they don’t believe in a link between atheism and social justice.

    Interesting argument. I think I see what you’re saying here, but I still have problems seeing the connection. For one thing, I see no reason why a Dictionary Atheist couldn’t be horrified at the idea of being on an Interfaith Council, whether it was working for a social good or not. A person who emphasized that they were first and foremost an atheist would have some major issues with religion. And, as an atheist focusing on that fact, it seems to me they’re going to focus on arguing for atheism.

    An accomodationist believes there is no necessary conflict between science and religion; faith deserves to be treated with special respect; the real problem with religion is extremists; and religion is so hardwired into the human animal that it’s pointless and/or harmful to try to change people. The sort of “let’s just argue against specific religious bullshit” attitude of the Dictionary Atheist doesn’t mesh with that. A Dictionary Atheist isn’t going to want to set their atheism aside in order to work for social justice if that involves ignoring what defines them.

    I don’t know. Perhaps we’re talking about two different sorts of Dictionary Atheists? There are the DA’s who want to keep social justice issues out of the atheist agenda — and then there are the DA’s who want to keep atheism out of the social justice agenda.

  44. says

    @Nerd

    Hrm. True be that. Manic as hell today so not thinking in straight lines, but that makes more sense.

    But I stick by my assertion they both love to complain. And in effect both are useless.

  45. says

    I suppose I could have mentioned that a painting is more than pigment on canvas

    That is why I don’t call myself a painter.

    …, of pointing out that atheism is more than just disbelief.

    And that is why I prefer to say that I am non-religious, and to not assert that I am an atheist. I presume that is also why John Wilkins prefers to consider himself an agnostic.

    You cannot have it both ways. You cannot object that some of us prefer not to use the term atheist, yet at the same time insist that atheism implies more than we are willing to embrace under that rubric.

    There is, of course, far more to my life than simply a rejection of religion. But those other parts of my life are not part of my rejection of religion – they are independent of it.

  46. says

    @Sastra

    I guess what I really was getting at was they have similar complaints. But I’m thinking now they are coming at it from different directions. As I just mentioned, not thinking linearly today.

    Both deny that reason backs social justice, though. Accomodationists at least don’t deny the use of social justice, but both seem to dislike people saying “I support social justice because of my atheism” or any such “divisive” things.

  47. John Small Berries says

    Somebody once said “we’re a madly disorganized mob, united only by our dislike of the god-thing, so politics isn’t a criterion for being one of us.”

    Amusingly, that somebody was you, responding to someone accusing atheists of all being fascists. Funny how dictionary atheism is okay when you’re using it, but anyone else who uses it is a “dumbass”.

    “But now that you’re free, you should do something, and being an atheist means we are enabled to do more.”

    And that’s the whole point of Atheism+; it’s for atheists who want to make it clear that their expression of their atheism involved more than just not believing in gods.

    Is that why you’ve so studiously avoided adopting the label Atheism+, even though it comports to what you’re saying here? Because to acknowledge that the positive social change aspect is the “plus” part of Atheism+ is tantamount to admitting that the dictionary atheists were right about what atheism (without a plus) is?

  48. Sastra says

    logicpriest #40 wrote:

    I know a bunch of self identified “moderate Christians” who are atheists in all but name. They don’t believe in a god or anything supernatural, but dictionary atheists (who are as Sastra mentioned actually taking anti social justice positions) are a group scaring them off the label.

    Okay, here’s a problem with your claim that there’s a significant overlap between dictionary atheists and accomodationists. “Moderate Christians” as you describe here are not going to be scared off the label of “atheism” by accomodationists.

  49. danarra says

    The day I realized I was an atheist, I was literally down on my knees praying with all my heart to anyone or anything that might listen – and I had the sudden but quiet revelation that no one was listening. I remember the exact phrase in my head was, “The cavalry ain’t coming. It never even existed.”

    It has struck me since that it’s a little odd that there aren’t more atheist organizations and food banks, etc. I mean, we know that no deity is going to intervene. All we got is us. And yet, we don’t seem to band together terribly well.

    Any suggestions?

  50. says

    @Sastra and Nerd

    I formally retract my claim :P

    Seriously though. The similarities I do see are in their similar nature of complete whininess. The overlap I now doubt.

  51. Sastra says

    logicpriest #51 wrote:

    … both seem to dislike people saying “I support social justice because of my atheism” or any such “divisive” things.

    Ok, I see your point more clearly now. Yes, that’s an interesting similarity.

    But as I understand it what-we’re-calling Dictionary Atheists and Accomodationists aren’t united by much else. They’re promoting different things. One group wants to make atheism the central dialogue and the other wants to turn it into an irrelevant sideline.

  52. Ze Madmax says

    John Small Brains @ #52:

    Of course, it would be more honest to note that the quote more accurately reads

    He accomplishes this by ignoring the diversity of political views within the New Atheists — we’re a madly disorganized mob, united only by our dislike of the god-thing, so politics isn’t a criterion for being one of us — and cherry-picking a couple of prominent New Atheists as proxies for all of us.

    PZ is specifically talking about “New Atheists” and noting that there is a broad array of ideological positions within the movement. More germane to PZ’s point in this post, these ideological positions stem at least in part form endorsing atheism and figuring out where to go from there.

    You know, the thing PZ is saying atheists are supposed to do. But don’t let reading comprehension get in the way of looking like a dumbass.

  53. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Why is it so hard for people to follow the logical implications of rejecting god belief? For instance, if you reject gods, a lot of the justification for homophobia is gone. Why continue to be homophobic? Why continue to stand by while your queer friends are discriminated against if you no longer believe in a belief system that has held them down? You shouldn’t, if you care about the queers in your life and the world at large.
    Likewise sexism. Lose the god belief and you lose tremendous support for sexism and misogyny.
    Lose god belief and what does that mean when you see ID being pushed in schools?
    Lose god belief and what is the argument against assisted suicide?

    Yes, atheism is lack of a belief in a higher power or powers. Now that you do not believe, what does that say about the rest of the stuff you DO believe that was influenced by god belief?

  54. says

    You could call me a dictionary atheist. See, the reason I take that position is a little different though. Atheism does not make you more rational. There are anti-vaccination people who are atheists. Atheism does not make you more empathatic. Look at all the misogyny in the skeptic movement. For both of these just look at /r/atheism. Rationality can lead to atheism, but atheism does not lead to rational thinking. Should atheists support social justice? Yes. Do they? Some do. Many don’t. So I don’t think that it is correct to claim that atheism leads to any of the things that you speak of above when we have so many counter-examples. In essence, atheism just means that you got one question right.

    And no, I’m not an accomadationist. I think religion is harmful, and ideally should dissapear. But that doesn’t majiccally make atheists more rational or on the right side of social justice.

  55. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But that doesn’t majiccally make atheists more rational or on the right side of social justice.

    There is a good correlation between more education and atheism. Just as there is a correlation between education and social justice. So there should be a solid correlation between atheism and social justice. Your posts sound like you are afraid of being tabbed as an elitist.

  56. intron says

    e(m), you beat me to it.

    I am atheist because I do not believe in gods. I do all of those other things because I am a good human. Just as christianity does not make one virtuous or well behaved, the same holds for atheists.

  57. says

    intron:

    I am atheist because I do not believe in gods. I do all of those other things because I am a good human.

    Whereas I see a tie between those things. Why? Because an atheist has dispensed with one bit of magical thinking and is more inclined to critically examine and reject other magical thinking, which leads to them seeking to be practical and productive human beings. Voila and all that.

  58. intron says

    @Nerd – oh come now – correlation and causation and all that jazz. :)

    Atheism does not magically lead to rational thought on all, or sometimes any, topics. Just because one was able to break the shackles of religion, it does not follow that they will be rational when it comes to equality. People come to atheism for a variety of reasons and from a variety of different channels.

    I think *all* humans should be able to rationally come to the conclusion that all people should experience equality – but that religion often gets in the way of being a good human. So, certainly, shedding the yoke of religion allows people to explore life more rationally and more fully. But it isn’t *necessarily* so.

  59. Danny Campbell says

    I agree with this comment !00% ( Ugh I never could identify with skeptics or humanists. Skeptics tend to wibble around evo psyc too much, along side “truthers” and other self identified skeptics, while humanists are too… weak? Humanist organizations seem content to play philosopher in the background from what I have seen. )

    Diggers Photo Repair

  60. intron says

    @Caine – I think its making the same mistake the Christians do: “If people can only see things my way, they will be better people. Look, it worked for me.” I have seen some truly horrible atheists, and I have seen a priest do some impressive things in inner cities while living very decent lives with the most honorable of goals. Atheism gives people freedom by removing the social and behavioral directives of religion. Many people may choose to take that freedom and lead a more full and humanitarian life. Others may not.

  61. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Whereas I see a tie between those things. Why? Because an atheist has dispensed with one bit of magical thinking and is more inclined to critically examine and reject other magical thinking, which leads to them seeking to be practical and productive human beings. Voila and all that.

    What I see is that it’s more than just that, though. Because a person is an atheist, precisely because they know there is no cavalry, there never was, as another poster put it above, how can they then justify NOT supporting social justice? If this really *is* the only life we get, if there really is nothing else after death, and if there really is no magical being(s) or magical solutions to make everything fair and right, how can it not logically follow that it is up to us single humans to fix things and make/keep them fair?

  62. harvardmba says

    “Maybe then this movement could change the world.”

    Yeah, right. Whatever. This site — by far — has the most hateful people posting vile garbage that has the intellectual depth (and courage) of a puddle. I wonder why that is? It’s the very thing Meyers is trying to wipe under carpet, namely: The only requirement to be an Atheist is to not believe in god. The bar for entry? Not too high. In fact, almost no other organization has such a low bar, excepting perhaps AA. Even they want to improve things though. One only need read the sick comments here on almost any topic and it’s easy to come to the conclusion: Atheism is not a solid basis for organizing to “change the world”.

    If so, where’s the evidence? All anyone ever does here is the same thing they do on any blog. Talk. Oh, wait …. talking IS doing something, yes? Good luck with that then. The people who actually change the world? They’re mobilized. They’re motivated. They’re funded. They’re effective. They’re resilient. That’s why they succeed in changing things, often for the worse. They don’t sit around and talk.

    Changing things means putting some skin in the game, something most Atheists aren’t even remotely interested in doing. Evidence? Just look all the meaningless blather that goes on here, for instance the back-and-forth with that clown on YouTube about feminism and his posts here. WOW! Riveting stuff there! You can SMELL the change in the air!

    There’s a reason Atheists don’t want to put skin in the game. Not believing in god is no basis for organizing. This site is all the evidence one needs.

  63. Ze Madmax says

    intron @ #61

    How do you know you’re “a good human”? More specifically, do you think that atheism may influence (directly or indirectly) your understanding of what it means to be “a good human”? That is, whatever qualities are necessary for someone to qualify for the “good human” label, if these qualities are at odds with what religious tradition claims is necessary to be a good human (e.g., being a devout believer), then it could be argued that your atheism does indeed inform your understanding of what being a good human means (or vice versa: your understanding of what being a good human means leads you to the rejection of gods, either as antagonistic to good humanness, or irrelevant to it)

  64. talia says

    PZ, you seem to be conflating what you so patronizingly call “dictionary atheism” with nihilism.What you’re doing is attempting to redefine the meaning of the word, and make atheism into an entire belief system which it is absolutely not.

    I consider atheism to be simply the disbelief in a god-figure of any sort, no more and no less, so in your eyes I’m one of those disgusting “dictionary atheists”. So how do you explain that anything else that I believe in terms of the meaning of life, morality, how I should treat my fellow human beings, et cetera has nothing to do with whether or not I’m an atheist? I certainly don’t think that there’s no point to anything, as you suggest. All of the things I believe are a result of using my own common sense, logic, compassion, and personal subjective morality to make wise and humanitarian decisions. Those choices and decisions have fuck-all to do with whether or not I’m an atheist, nor should they have anything to do with my atheism.

    You can try to redefine the word all you want, but it won’t change the facts. Atheism by definition does not address or direct the way in how we as atheists should interact with our world. Atheism doesn’t tell us to be good people, and it doesn’t explain the meaning of life to us.

    All of those things we have to figure out for ourselves, because unlike religion which lays these things out for those who follow it, an atheist has to use their brain and their personal subjective feelings of morality to determine what matters in life, what morality we’ll follow, and whether or not we’ll be good people.

  65. Sastra says

    (e)m #59 wrote:

    So I don’t think that it is correct to claim that atheism leads to any of the things that you speak of above when we have so many counter-examples. In essence, atheism just means that you got one question right.

    I don’t think PZ is saying that atheism automatically leads to rational thinking and positive positions on social justice. I think he is saying that it ought to.

    That is, if one’s atheism is a conclusion derived from careful habits of thought, then those same careful habits of thought should be pursued into other areas — particularly into areas where religious belief is screwing things up. Not believing in God is connected to not believing in a lot of other false things when you look at how and why one does not believe in God.

    Consider this analogy:
    Person #1: “Because I am an evolutionary biologist, I support conservation efforts. My background and training inform and motivate my position on this.”

    Person #2: “Wrong! One could be an evolutionary biologist and be AGAINST conservation efforts. Let me get out the dictionary and show you that there is nothing in the definition of ‘evolutionary biology’ which includes taking any position on environmental issues.”

    Why, perfectly correct, Person #2. Here’s a cookie. But no soup for you — because you missed the freaking point.

  66. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Many people may choose to take that freedom and lead a more full and humanitarian life. Others may not.

    See, I don’t get this. We are all alone on a tiny speck of dirt in this enormous and cold, uncaring universe (as far as we know right now), reliant upon each other to make it through each day. No matter how much one might wish it otherwise, we really are dependent on others, even more so when one removes magic beings and superstition from the picture. I just don’t understand how some people cannot make the leap from NO GODS NO MASTERS to “oh wait, that means no one but us to blame when things are screwed up and kids die of hunger and stuff like that, better do something about that kind of thing”.

  67. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yeah, right. Whatever. This site — by far — has the most hateful people posting vile garbage that has the intellectual depth (and courage) of a puddle. I wonder why that is? It’s the very thing Meyers is trying to wipe under carpet, namely: The only requirement to be an Atheist is to not believe in god.

    And here folks is another hateful idjit deliberately misspelling PZ’s name. Beyond that point there can be nothing cogent. Don’t need to complete the rest of the post.

  68. imaginggeek says

    You lack belief in the existence of gods? That’s nice, you’ve taken your first tiny baby step. Now what does that mean for human affairs? What will you do next? When will you stride forward and do something that matters with your new freedom?

    But herein is the issue that many of us “dictionary atheists” have. You are correct – without a philosophy more than “I don’t believe in god(s)”, an atheist is a pretty shallow person. However, many of the specific ideological criteria you attach to what an atheist *should* be is not something that all atheists will agree with you on. And it is incorrect to exclude them from the definition of ‘atheist’ simply because they do not ascribe to what you think an atheist should believe; beyond the mandatory disbelief in deities.

    An atheist doesn’t have to be rational, nor do they have to be humanists, nor do they have to be in favour of equal rights for women (minorities, etc), nor do they have to be anti-accommadationist – you would like them to, but one can be opposed to/not care about those issues and still not believe in god(s).

    Long story short, if you try to pigeon-hole people into the very narrow definition you’ve set, and exclude all others, don’t be surprised that there is a backlash. If you’re describing a humanist position – call it that. If you’re describing an atheist+, or rationalist approach – call it that. But please don’t pretend that that just because a fellow atheist doesn’t subscribe to the exact same ideology as you that they are somehow not an atheist, or not doing “something that matters” with their beliefs. Part of what I’ve loved about being an atheist is the freedom to live my life on my terms, to give/build those causes which I feel are important – if I wanted to be told how to live my life, how to be a person who “matters”, I’d have staid in my church.

  69. says

    @59: I think the claim being made is that, logically, atheists ought to be on the side of social justice, that the ones that aren’t are being irrational, and that “movement” atheism should emphasize rationality and critical thinking as part of the package, not just “let’s all hate religion and congratulate ourselves on being smarter than the theists”.

    That being said, I do have some trouble making the inference from atheism to social justice myself, though I am unreservedly in favour of both, and will happily combine my advocacies of same. Yes, rejecting religion gets rid of many of the more obviously stupid excuses for things like sexism and homophobia, but people manage to find other reasons for being one or both of those, and those reasons need to be challenged on their own grounds. Also, I see social justice as a moral issue, and I am not persuaded that morality can be justified on purely rational grounds (but that’s a large can of worms all by itself).

  70. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    imaginggeek But is rationality not the POINT of atheism? The thing that makes it not just another religion?

  71. cp3o says

    “….rejecting god and religion is a liberating act. But now that you’re free, you should do something, and being an atheist means we are enabled to do more”

    ——————————————————–

    “There’s the step the Dictionary Atheists don’t want to take — that once you’ve thrown off your shackles you’re now obligated to do something worthwhile with your life, because now all of our lives shine as something greater and more valuable and more important. That with freedom comes responsibility.”

    ——————–

    PZ is wrong – he said something just a little wrong and won’t let go. There is a massive difference between “should do something” and “obligated to do something”. The first is morally correct – the second is factually wrong.

    I don’t believe in fairies – does that mean I have to become an advocate for whatever is currently arousing the ire of those who are regarded (with however much justification) as important figures within unbelief in fairies? No – of course it doesn’t.

    Being an atheist is “not believing in a god or gods”. Many atheists are also humanists, freethinkers (note that word free), antitheists, communists, republicans (small r), antisupernaturalists etc.. For many atheism is the first step to an active involvement in matters PZ and I would both support – but no-one has to do (is obligated to do) any d*mn thing just because some people want to redefine atheism as some further -ism.

    Calling people Dictionary Atheists apart from sounding childish) is a bit like calling people American Constitutional Americans – there is a definition of atheism and there is a definition of American. Just because you’re american doesn’t mean that you have to be xtian – however many american leaders think it should. Similarly being an atheist is just that – not being more (though one would hope that most are).

  72. says

    Intron:

    @Caine – I think its making the same mistake the Christians do: “If people can only see things my way, they will be better people. Look, it worked for me.”

    Nope, I’m not doing that at all. I said I make a connection between atheism and social justice, being a decent human being and all that. I’m not out to convert others, I’m not knocking on doors and I’m not telling people that if you aren’t ‘+’ they can’t be an atheist.

  73. Ze Madmax says

    talia @ #70

    All of those things we have to figure out for ourselves, because unlike religion which lays these things out for those who follow it, an atheist has to use their brain and their personal subjective feelings of morality to determine what matters in life, what morality we’ll follow, and whether or not we’ll be good people.

    That’s exactly PZ’s point though. Dictionary atheism suggests that endorsing atheism has no consequences (e.g., having to figure out what is moral instead of relying on religious teachings), which is patently false. You may disagree on the conclusions (e.g., whether it is moral to push for greater social justice), but at the end of the day, to say “atheism means not believing in gods, period” is to ignore the fact that atheism has consequences for how you view the world.

  74. intron says

    @ Gen – “I just don’t understand how some people cannot make the leap ”
    You have never met an atheist who is an asshole?

    Ze Madmax @ 69 –
    Its the same way I know anything – by my observations which collectively present evidence that I tend to want to do nice things for others. But then how do I know its “nice”? I have society telling me that the things I want to do are generally considered nice. But my society could be a huge pile of poo and because I am informed largely by that society I cannot disentangle what I *think* is nice from what is really just horrible behavior that my society has informed me is nice. Tis true, in the end I don’t *know* that I am a good human, just as science doesn’t *know* how old the earth is. It has estimates based on lots of observations – many of which probably suffer from ascertainment bias, just like I do.
    So, in the end, being an atheist may have informed my world view except I suspect that it is informed just as much by religion as I went to a catholic school for 8 years. Which one should I credit with me being a good human, if indeed I am?

  75. Sastra says

    harvardmba #68 wrote:

    This site — by far — has the most hateful people posting vile garbage that has the intellectual depth (and courage) of a puddle. I wonder why that is?

    Possibly because PZ doesn’t automatically ban dissent.

    If so, where’s the evidence? All anyone ever does here is the same thing they do on any blog. Talk.

    Some of us sometimes go offline. And do stuff.

    You really should have suspected that was possible, even if you don’t know this from your own personal experience.

  76. says

    This site — by far — has the most hateful people posting vile garbage that has the intellectual depth (and courage) of a puddle.

    Yes, you would say that, given your trolling and comments of such idiocy that people have dared to mock them. Oh my! Actually, as you hadn’t noticed, we’ve all been having a nice discussion of these issues. Well, it was nice until you came along.

  77. intron says

    Caine @78 – No, you aren’t knocking on doors and trying to convert. And I didn’t suggest you were. I suggested that what you said :

    “Because an atheist has dispensed with one bit of magical thinking and is more inclined to critically examine and reject other magical thinking, which leads to them seeking to be practical and productive human beings.”

    is similar to saying:

    “Because a Christian has God in their life, they are more inclined to think about the goodness in the world and bringing the love of Jesus to others, which leads them to being better human beings.”

    I would argue that neither are correct. Just because you don’t believe in god doesnt mean that you will seek a way to be a more practical and productive human. And just because you believe in god doens’t mean you will be a kinder, better human.

  78. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Intron

    You have never met an atheist who is an asshole?

    Sure I’ve met asshole atheists. Sometimes I *AM* an asshole atheist. For me, though, there’s a difference between “asshole” (which includes unnecessarily rude or self-absorbed or loud or whatever but not bigotry necessarily) and bigot (which means by definition discriminating, even if ‘only’ in word and thought, based on uncontrollable traits like gender, sexuality, gender performance or race, to name a few).

    I don’t understand bigot atheists (although of course I’ve met plenty of them). I don’t understand how it is that they can not make the connection I talked about. If atheism really isn’t a religion, if it really is a conclusion derived from rationality, then isn’t it really, really strange if that “rationality” thing is not applied to anything other than “Gods and Bigfoot: the existence of”?

    And if a person’s atheism is NOT derived from rationality, how is their atheism different from a religion/supernatural belief?

  79. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I came to atheism at a very young age and continued through the expected social engagements demanded of a very social Anglicanism until about the age of twelve. It was then, that, as someone who would become an out and proud gay man, I developed a deep and genuine hatred for religion (not since diminished, just less new). First, for the lies, the intolerance and the institutionalised bigotry and injustices, both ancient and contemporary, and then for the outright denial of reality, the anti-science bent and the fake intellectualism of clergy and realigious ‘thinkers’. The clincher, of course, was that the religions closest to me, the ones that informed my peers and my elders, were set against me and insisted that me and people like me were inhuman monsters.

    Atheism, for me, has been about not believe in god(s) and more than that it’s been about what is entailed by that lack of belief. I could hardly believe in a god that hated me and instructed others to hate me, to deny me my humanity, let alone for all the deep intellectual reasons that I disbelieved. I was never just an angry atheist, but I was (and am) very angry. It seemed only natural that as a gay man (and, for a time, I thought it was natural of all gays) I would be atheist and that I would be anti-religion and it also seemed natural, and it is indeed naturally reasonable, that social justice was the purview (though not solely) of atheists.

    It was a direct step for me, in my early teens no less, to go directly from atheism to social justice, because without religion there was no way to reason that I shouldn’t be considered a full and equal person. It was a direct step for me, but then I met with a reality I hadn’t know; I found other atheists online and I found sceptics and the myriad others who claimed to be atheists and who stood for ‘rationality’ and ‘science’ and other things and yet parroted the bigotry, ignorance and fake intellectualism of the religions and religious I criticised and had set myself against. They weren’t the majority, but they existed and though I found many more people who agreed with me, who really were champions of reason, I learned that atheism and reason are sometimes farther separated than they ever should be. While I saw atheism a clean slate upon which a rational society and culture could develop, an enlightened point from which current society and culture could turn toward a better place, I realised that for some people atheism was merely an alternative to god-belief, free of world-changing implications, a kind of rhetorical identification that did not set them free (from religion or anything), but served only to separated them from theists. I feel like those atheists have missed something, that something fundamental must be missing from their atheism, because that direct step I took is right there in front of them and they insist that it doesn’t exist*.

    *Which is funny, because, of course, their defense is to quote the dictionary definition of atheism, thus begging the question, in the fallacious sense.

  80. intron says

    @Gen –

    But there is the disconnect – just because someone is able to come to atheism by a path of rational thought does not mean that either a) they will be equally rational about all things or that b) even if they think rationally about other things that they come to the same conclusions as you – even about things you feel are evidently obvious.

  81. Freodin says

    Consequences of atheism…. yes, there are and there should be.
    Doing something worthwhile with your atheism… obviously correct.
    Connection between social justice and atheism… based on the social unjustice that is based on religion, certainly.

    But let’s say there is someone who don’t give a damn for consequences, is too lazy to do anything worthwhile and is a racist, misogynist, as-social-unjust-as-you-can-be asshole…. and doesn’t believe in deities.

    Is this person not an atheist?

    Or is he simply not a “true atheist”?

  82. says

    cp3o

    Wouldn’t you say, though, that if an atheist is speaking out—is part of a movement—then they are almost by definition concerning themselves with social justice issues, even if only at the level of discrimination against atheists and the like? The genuine 100% dictionary atheist whose atheism consists of nothing but “I don’t believe in gods” almost certainly isn’t active/outspoken, whatever you want to call it.

    What these people seem to be complaining about isn’t really the concentration on social justice issues, but rather the suggestion that if they’re concerned about issue-x in cases where religion is behind the problem, they should naturally be concerned with issue-x no matter what the cause. For my money, to be concerned about, say, sexism when a priest is sexist, but to ignore it when a non-religious figure is sexist—well, sorry, but that’s hypocritical.

  83. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What I’m seeing is that some atheists are afraid that other folks will presume their social positions based on simply hearing they are atheists. Like that doesn’t happen now, where they are thought of as nihilists, with nothing to stop them from raping and killing. Which actually is a position not held by almost all atheists.

    From a PR point of view, having atheists seem socially progressive would be be a big improvement.

  84. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    @Gen –

    But there is the disconnect – just because someone is able to come to atheism by a path of rational thought does not mean that either a) they will be equally rational about all things or that b) even if they think rationally about other things that they come to the same conclusions as you – even about things you feel are evidently obvious.

    a.) That makes sense, actually, but do we then just shrug our shoulders and say “meh” or do we encourage and expect from them to look at other things more rationally?
    b.) In certain cases this may be true, but there are things that are just plain factually wrong where, if you apply rationality to it, there really is only one conclusion to draw. See: creationism / ID, homeopathy, conspiracy theories, birthers, anti-vaccers, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, racism, etc.

    That brings it back to a.) territory.

  85. intron says

    @91 – Nerd, *that* I can understand. But we have to be sure to take a position that is based on truth, since that is what we are all about. I think the large atheists groups should focus not on campaigns about how there is no god but campaigns talking about: crime rate among atheists vs society as a whole (or the religious), and the same with things like charitable giving, incarceration, income, how many care for an ailing parent vs put them in home, etc. Things that *most* people would agree are positives. Progressive isn’t seen a positive where I live. Progressive does indeed already equal atheist here and neither is a good thing. Showing that atheists are damn fine members of society is what is need, imho. I say this as an atheist in a sea of people who hate me for that.

  86. Ze Madmax says

    Freodin @ #89

    Is this person not an atheist?

    Or is he simply not a “true atheist”?

    My personal take on that question is that such a person is an atheist, albeit an intellectually lazy one*, either because it accepted atheism unthinkingly, or because it didn’t bother to go beyond the atheism conclusion to figure out the next step, so to speak.


    *And although intellectual laziness may not be a bad thing per se, it can have negative consequences in terms of sustaining and perpetuating systemic inequality.

  87. talia says

    @Ze Madmax:

    That’s exactly PZ’s point though. Dictionary atheism suggests that endorsing atheism has no consequences (e.g., having to figure out what is moral instead of relying on religious teachings), which is patently false. You may disagree on the conclusions (e.g., whether it is moral to push for greater social justice), but at the end of the day, to say “atheism means not believing in gods, period” is to ignore the fact that atheism has consequences for how you view the world.

    I disagree. Atheism has absolutely no consequences for how I view the world, since it dictates nothing other than whether or not I believe in a god. Morals existed before religion did, and are not reliant upon religious belief. In exactly the same way, morality/worldview, et cetera have nothing to do with whether or not I believe in a god. What PZ is trying to do is make atheism into a belief system, which it most definitely is not. That’s as ludicrous as claiming that a disbelief in Santa Claus has consequences and should dictate a world view. He’s teetering on the brink of the No True Scotsman fallacy implying that if one is truly an atheist, then one must agree with his definition of atheism, otherwise they’re “just dictionary atheists”.

    Bottom line is, he can’t change the meaning of a word, and it’s very clear exactly what the word atheist means. Anything else that an atheist chooses to apply to their life is clearly covered under other definitions such as secular humanism, rationalism, naturalism, whatever. There is no need to redefine atheism to include something it doesn’t apply to.

  88. Sastra says

    intron #84 wrote:

    “Because an atheist has dispensed with one bit of magical thinking and is more inclined to critically examine and reject other magical thinking, which leads to them seeking to be practical and productive human beings.”
    is similar to saying:
    “Because a Christian has God in their life, they are more inclined to think about the goodness in the world and bringing the love of Jesus to others, which leads them to being better human beings.”

    The distinction between these two positions is brought out, however, when the question is asked: “what if your position is wrong — and you discovered this?”

    A rational atheist would become a rational theist in that case because the higher commitment was to reason.
    A compassionate Christian would become a humanist in that case because the higher commitment was to compassion.

    So the first sentence isn’t negated: the emphasis before and after is on the same thing — critical examination — which will lead to being more practical and productive. The “because” was the method, not the conclusion, so the goals still follow.

    But the second sentence is negated: God didn’t matter, nor did belief in God. The goal was goodness and love. The “because” was a conclusion which, when falsified, did not do away with the goals.

    (Of course, if a Christian were to say that, if God does not exist and they discovered this, then they would lose all their desire to be a better human being, then they’ve opened up a nasty can of worms for themselves. But oh, surely people who are so motivated towards love and compassion would not say that.)

  89. Minestuck says

    I think a certain level of pragmatism is lost on many atheists. H.P. Lovecraft has a quote that I love:

    All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.

    In the same way that we are all agnostics yet use the label atheist for practical purposes as a better descriptor of our position, we are all also (mostly) progressive when it comes to social issues and for practical purposes we can use the same rationality we derived atheism from to reach our conclusions to show the world that atheists aren’t just bigfoot deniers, but people who follow the logical conclusions of their ideology into helping others. The worst that could happen is that, oh noes, religious people won’t be able to keep saying that we do nothing but deny god! They might actually have to admit that we do good! Pragmatically, there is nothing to lose here and everything to gain. Atheism has a public image that has been manipulated by the religious for centuries but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can improve our own public image by loudly and proudly showing the world that we do good for all the right reasons.

  90. says

    Thus he promotes feminism, something resisted by many nerdy science types, by claiming that it has something to do with atheism, properly understood.

    All right then. Tell me how living a rational life where we make decisions based on whether they are humane or not fails to lead to regarding women and men as equals. You’re playing a game here: you’re assuming that atheism is simply the disbelief in gods, and therefore it is detached from wider views about how people should regard one another. You’re ignoring my main point, which is that NO ONE has such an attenuated, Spock-like view of atheism. They’re lying if they say they do.

    If we’re all evolved animals together, then there is no rational basis for claiming women must be automatically assigned a different, and usually lesser, role in society.

    None of the secularist, liberal positions or social justice ideas are the exclusive domain of atheists.

    And…? So…? Are you suggesting that because, for instance, liberation theology got there first that somehow atheists should be excluded from sharing a cause with them? That is a most pathetic argument.

    You cannot have it both ways. You cannot object that some of us prefer not to use the term atheist, yet at the same time insist that atheism implies more than we are willing to embrace under that rubric.

    Why, yes I can. Because I am not dictating what conclusions you must reach, only that they should be rational and supported by evidence. I am saying that deciding that there is no god, which is that minimal definition of atheism, has consequences, and that the one thing you cannot do is deny the implications.

    If you’re afraid to embrace a universe without a benign superintelligence ruling over it all, then fine, you’re not an atheist.

    Atheism does not make you more rational. There are anti-vaccination people who are atheists. Atheism does not make you more empathatic. Look at all the misogyny in the skeptic movement.

    Yeah? Do you seriously think I am not acutely aware of that? I am not saying calling yourself an atheist automatically turns you into a good human being — I’m saying the opposite of that. It’s stupidly easy to adopt the dictionary atheist label and not put an iota of further thought into it, and then you get a movement full of assholes. I’m saying that everyone ought to be conscious of the implications of their positions on the god question.

    Is that why you’ve so studiously avoided adopting the label Atheism+, even though it comports to what you’re saying here? Because to acknowledge that the positive social change aspect is the “plus” part of Atheism+ is tantamount to admitting that the dictionary atheists were right about what atheism (without a plus) is?

    Look on the right sidebar. There’s a great big red “A+” there. It’s been there for months.

    And no, you’re yet another narrow twit trying to impose an interpretation on something fairly casual. I stayed away from A+ because even now, with next to no involvement, I’ve got swarms of morons assuming it’s my little fiefdom and that I’m the big boss of Atheism+. If I actually got involved, it would be far, far worse — and the last thing an egalitarian movement needs is to be tied to an imaginary cult of personality. Which is exactly what the asshole A+ haters have been trying to do anyway.

    The only thing it can be an admission to is that your kind have so tainted what should be the good name of the atheist movement that it takes a real effort to try and break away from the public misperception.

  91. says

    Dictionary Atheists disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it.

    But but but “Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. Period.”, not the dislike of religion.

    For that matter “the lack of belief in the existence of gods” is something that goes on entirely in one’s head, so as soon as it goes out of one’s head then the small confine of their definition of an atheist is exceeded, so they shouldn’t be calling themselves atheists either then.

  92. intron says

    justawriter @92 – nice opus!

    Gen @93 – I definitely agree that we should both expect and encourage atheists to think more rationally. Now, how to do that? I am not sure that just berating those who disagree as “dictionary atheists” is the answer. Of course, I can’t blame PZ. I am sure he gets an amazing amount of hate mail from any number of idiots – and that surely must jade him and color his thoughts to some degree. But I would argue that the continued subdivision of atheist groups into “those like me” and “others” is not good.

    Also, I understand what you are getting at – that we need to make atheists a positive term. Progressive people already accept atheists. We have to convince the middle of the road folks that we are good people. Its always about the mushy middle, unfortunately.

  93. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But we have to be sure to take a position that is based on truth, since that is what we are all about.

    TRUTH or truth? Since we reject deities the absolute TRUTH is out. We deal with relative truths. One relative truth is that atheism is not seen as a positve by lots of people. Another is that atheists tend to be socially progressive. That isn’t an absolute, as everybody knows. The problem for me is that the dictionary atheists, who are a loud minority, attempt to impose their limited definition upon everybody else to the detriment of the overall movement.

    As I tell folks, if you don’t want to join A+, you don’t have to, which explains why I consider the dictionary atheists party poopers. I haven’t joined because I don’t have time to give it, but they have my vocal support.

  94. says

    Atheism has absolutely no consequences for how I view the world, since it dictates nothing other than whether or not I believe in a god.

    Amazing. So it makes no difference to you or anyone else whether the universe is ruled by a benevolent lawgiver with the ability to hand out immortality, vs. a universe of great supernatural beings who will use you as pawns in a war between pantheons, vs. a universe with a barbaric cosmic dictator who doles out eternal punishment for trivial offenses, vs. a universe where you are a side-effect of natural laws? None of these different scenarios have any implications at all?

    What a weirdly oblivious, unaware, and impervious mind you have.

  95. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Really, PZ?

    What tires me out are the people – VERY well entrenched here at PH – who won’t take “yes” for an answer. I agree, usually fervently, with the herd of cats that gather here, but get the same tiresome shit thrown at me for simply not being self-righteous and unforgiving in my fervor (or for not loving the same SF author and having the nerve to say so politely).

    We’re not talking about disagreement about philosophy, or discussion about policy, but of a LOT of people here simply abusing others because they are so right they can, they think, since whatever pack they’re traveling with on a thread will pile on.

    Atheists: just ordinary people, but way too many are always better than thou.

    Not that I, or anyone but Fearless Leader, would be missed, but it’s gotton harder to even drop in on most topics given how furiously right people get – they’re all like Thunderdome.

  96. intron says

    Nerd@102 – Let me rephrase – we need to be as truthful as we can with the tools at our disposal. ;)

  97. says

    To whoever claimed PZ confused Dictionary atheists with nihilists:

    Nihilists realized there wasn’t a god and then… wait for it… acted on the consequences they saw from that. Now I disagree with their conclusions, but at least nihilists admit there are consequences to living in a godless universe.

  98. myuido says

    [blockquote]None of the secularist, liberal positions or social justice ideas are the exclusive domain of atheists.

    And…? So…? Are you suggesting that because, for instance, liberation theology got there first that somehow atheists should be excluded from sharing a cause with them? That is a most pathetic argument.[/quote]

    This is the exact opposite of my argument, which was that progressively minded atheists would be best off joining with believers on these issues right now and making real change than wasting time and energy attempting to fashion the atheist/skeptic movement into something that it currently is not.

    I assume that you have no option to quote without gumby and comic sans?

  99. Sastra says

    talia #96 wrote:

    That’s as ludicrous as claiming that a disbelief in Santa Claus has consequences and should dictate a world view.

    It does have consequences: it means now you have to buy presents for other people, for you can no longer rely on Santa.

    As I see it:
    Is PZ advocating a version of scientific humanism? Yes. Is he claiming that a reason-based atheism ought to entail and/or lead to scientific humanism? Yes. Is he claiming that all atheists who aren’t scientific humanists aren’t really atheists? No.

    So does the above mean PZ is “equating” atheism with scientific humanism? Saying they’re the same thing? No, I don’t think so.

  100. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This is the exact opposite of my argument, which was that progressively minded atheists would be best off joining with believers on these issues right now and making real change than wasting time and energy attempting to fashion the atheist/skeptic movement into something that it currently is not.

    Ah, an accommodationist. Something one steps in and needs to clean off before entering the house.

  101. says

    “How about as a community of equals? ”
    That would be a wonderful thing, but I really don’t feel it very often.

  102. cerberus says

    @myuido @41

    That doesn’t seem like the real conflict zone. I’m sure there are legitimately disengaged atheists who really have no investment or thought about things other than they don’t believe in Gods because they don’t happen to believe in Gods.

    But those aren’t the atheists bitching to PZ Myers about how social justice and skepticism about cultural assumptions are unnecessary add-ons by evil cootie-delivering feminists.

    There exists a 4th group. By your hierarchy it’d be Type 0.

    This group has no belief in deities, but wants to stop there because they want the way that not believing in the dominant God of their culture makes them feel special and more powerful and don’t at all want to lose any of the social privileges given by that dominant God-based culture to people like them.

    That means they want to be able to go “yeah, that prayer sure is stupid when you look at it from the outside” but will run screaming from the notion of looking at issues of race in a similar way. They want to laugh at how religious people self-destruct their own lives because of the bullshit their pastor says without having to grow up and acknowledge the issues with our culture’s attitudes to sex and sexuality. They want to get all the kudos of noting how religious fundamentalism harms women, while failing to examine their own views of women and how they have been poisoned from swimming in the toxic stew of our larger culture.

    They want atheism to be some unique artifact carefully protected from reality and humanity. Where people are just skeptical in society to recognize how awesome the Type 0 atheist was to bail early, but not so skeptical that they are asking about double-standards, cultural baggage, and diversity in the community.

    And the truth is you can’t do that. Regardless of personal desire, people are going to notice that other things don’t seem to correlate with reality, people are going to exist in their diverse life experiences, and people are going to want atheism as a community rather than as a word to mean something.

    And frankly, at the end of the day, the community is going to be defined by those members who want more than to feel special and smug and otherwise change nothing. Because that’s not a goal, that’s an arbitrary stopping point and a hissy fit.

    But it is the reason why this fight means so much more than the Dictionary Atheists want to pretend it does. And to be frank, the way they pretend it is a minor skirmish is pretty much exactly the same way anti-gay-rights groups pretend that their arguments are simply arguments over words. Because it doesn’t help your case to go “I want X group held down so I can continue to pretend to be superior because I was lucky enough to be born Y” and it’s better to seem like the type of weirdo who just randomly really cares about the sanctity of words, man!

    But sadly for them, like all minority groups struggling with the same necessary schisms by people who want to believe intersection of oppressions is real, this will eventually bend in favor of those who want to push on.

    And we see that by how the “Dictionary” atheists are sadly regressing more and more towards the regressive bigoted people they wanted to feel so superior to for being apart from.

  103. says

    And frankly, at the end of the day, the community is going to be defined by those members who want more than to feel special and smug and otherwise change nothing. Because that’s not a goal, that’s an arbitrary stopping point and a hissy fit.

    QFT. It’s good to read you again, Cerberus.

  104. Sastra says

    myuido #7 wrote:

    This is the exact opposite of my argument, which was that progressively minded atheists would be best off joining with believers on these issues right now and making real change than wasting time and energy attempting to fashion the atheist/skeptic movement into something that it currently is not.

    The gnu atheist position is between that of the dictionary atheists and the accomodationists. It is that progressively-minded atheists would be best off ramping-up the arguments against the existence of God, in good part because faith and religion are at the root of many social injustices.

    Progressively-minded believers are simultaneously working for social justice while feeding into the idea that these root causes are true, significant, valuable, and useful – just mishandled by ‘people who don’t understand God.’ A rational atheism leads to a desire for progress in how we think about how we live. Joining with believers on these causes is fine — but not at the expense of losing sight of the fact that fighting belief is neither a waste of time nor energy. It’s important work. And religious progressives aren’t going to do it.

  105. fentex says

    I have a long running debate with someone on a mail list over the meaning of atheist. He insists that to call one self an atheist is to be stating you have positive proof gods don’t exist where I maintain it simply means to be without a god.

    I mention this because in this argument I’ve come to suspect that to say you’re atheist in the U.S.A is a very different thing to my home of New Zealand. And this post reinforces this for me – calling yourself an atheist in the U.S.A seems to have implications for people beyond what I experience in my culture where it’s nothing of note. People seem to find it speaks to your place in society.

    It seems trivial to me to say that I am atheist, and to know that if someone says that they are not saying anything about their politics, social attitudes or prejudices. So I’m left a little confounded by this posts insistence that to say one is atheist must also mean more.

    I can follow logic that says because atheism rejects gods the implication is we must rationally approach problems and be reasonable in dealing with other people for no supernatural force will support us in our endeavours.

    But that doesn’t lead me to think everyone will, from their differing circumstances, agree on what is right and proper.

    PZ writes…

    So when you say that reason demands equality, when rationality dictates community, when justice ought to be part of the godless agenda, they reflexively throw out that dictionary definition to deny any expectation that there ought to be more to atheism than cussing out gods. They’re intellectual cowards who run away from the full implications of living in a godless universe.

    …which seems to me to be part of an argument that because atheists don’t rely on gods they must reason to the same conclusion as PZ Myers as to what is right, best and demanded by reason.

    And I don’t think that follows. A hedonist, for example, will come to different conclusions than an ascetic about the proper organisation of society.

    A psychopath and atheist, by definition lacking the empathy much morality proceeds from, may quite rationally disagree in almost every detail with others about what is best. And while one may be tempted to disregard them as an edge case not to be used as an example for anyone we are all different across a spectrum of our abilities and concerns.

    Demanding one simple statement about our worldview must define how we answer other questions about our will and desire seems a bit excessive.

  106. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Again:
    No god?
    Don’t treat gay people bad.

    No god?
    Recognize that women have the right to fully participate in society and are not subservient to their husbands.

    No god?
    Creationism/intelligent design are eliminated.

    These are some of the logical implications of not believing in god. Fuck. It isn’t that hard.

     

    Yes, I realize the systems of oppression are not supported solely by religion. However religion gives those systems tremendous support.

  107. cerberus says

    And yeah, I think a lot of the dancing on edges comes from how shitty English is as conveying meaning. Of course bigoted, racist, sexist, lazy, douchebag fucks who don’t believe in deities is probably an atheist in the same way that a homophobic smear-spreading bigoted closet-case who happens to be sexually attracted to the same sex is probably gay.

    But that doesn’t really mean a fuck.

    The “gay community” is not really defined by those hateful closet-cases and people talking about things the gay community has done or is doing will likely not even mention those people, because while they may be gay, they aren’t really gay in a way that matters much outside of making other gay people intensely hate them.

    Similar things are happening with the atheist community.

  108. says

    And it is incorrect to exclude them from the definition of ‘atheist’ simply because they do not ascribe to what you think an atheist should believe; beyond the mandatory disbelief in deities.

    PZ is not excluding them as atheists as he’s not saying they’re not atheists, he’s saying thy’re useless atheists (or rather that their atheism is useless).

  109. intron says

    @cerberus – what if I don’t have a “goal” associated with being an atheist? What if I don’t need to belong to a community of atheists to feel fulfillment in my life? Does that make me less of an atheist? To me, it means that I don’t feel obliged to participate in A+, nothing more, nothing less. I am happy for them and wish them well but does my thinking about a particular thing mean I need to belong to a group surrounding that idea or that I need a goal? I feel very strongly that children are given way too many electronic games to play, diminishing their ability to communicate with other humans or sit still long enough to read a paragraph, let alone a book. Must a join a group about this and have a goal other than to do better with my children and discuss it with others if they ask? I must admit, I have a goal as an atheist – that religion isn’t a dominant force in society. That I can admit I am an atheist on any given day and not be hated for it by my community. I don’t think that any of this accomplishes that.

  110. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    Yes, I realize the systems of oppression are not supported solely by religion. However religion gives those systems tremendous support.

    Not just support, but justification, legitimacy, a veneer of ‘having a point’ in some way. It’s in a way, as if it’s woven into the very textile of our world, as if it’s a meme that no one even remembers is actually just a meme, not really “truth” or “common sense” any more. Like people a thousand years in the future thinking that Nick Cage is/was really a God (since there is a meme that he’s god of the internet).

    The religious attitudes INCLUDING bigotry are so deeply ingrained and have come over so very many millenia that now as we can plainly see, even when one no longer buys the religion itself, the attitudes still linger unseen and unevidenced, yet not unexpressed, in one’s mind unless one takes care to examine one’s attitudes critically and rationally.

  111. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    intron, it’s not as if we atheists have membership cards that can be taken away. If you don’t want to particularly become involved in justice, that’s fine, just STFU about social justice issues then and let the people who *do* want to become involved do their thing without trying to shout (and shut) them down. (I’m not saying that that’s what you are doing, I’m just saying that as long as you don’t try to stop people from applying social justice or support those who are against social justice, the fact that you personally are not personally involved in these issues matters very little to anyone).

  112. intron says

    @117 – “PZ is not excluding them as atheists as he’s not saying they’re not atheists, he’s saying thy’re useless atheists (or rather that their atheism is useless).”

    Useless to his cause, and the cause of those who agree with him. But they may subscribe to other causes. :)

  113. myuido says

    The gnu atheist position is between that of the dictionary atheists and the accomodationists. It is that progressively-minded atheists would be best off ramping-up the arguments against the existence of God, in good part because faith and religion are at the root of many social injustices.

    That’s fine, but it doesn’t require any additional liberal beliefs to achieve this. The arguments there can be contained there.

    Progressively-minded believers are simultaneously working for social justice while feeding into the idea that these root causes are true, significant, valuable, and useful – just mishandled by ‘people who don’t understand God.’ A rational atheism leads to a desire for progress in how we think about how we live. Joining with believers on these causes is fine — but not at the expense of losing sight of the fact that fighting belief is neither a waste of time nor energy. It’s important work. And religious progressives aren’t going to do it.

    I think it is important work, which is why i’d rather have a large-tent atheist movement with a singular goal of advocating for a secular society even if we disagree on everything else.

  114. says

    intron:

    what if I don’t have a “goal” associated with being an atheist? What if I don’t need to belong to a community of atheists to feel fulfillment in my life? Does that make me less of an atheist? To me, it means that I don’t feel obliged to participate in A+, nothing more, nothing less.

    What it makes you is someone who is happy to sit on the sidelines while others push that Overton Window. It makes you someone who would rather expend energy in defending being an atheist in name only, which going by your own arguments, makes you rather silly.

  115. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Fentex:
    PZ is arguing that issues of social justice SHOULD come from applying atheism to the world. He doesn’t say that everyone does this.
    Also, he hasn’t changed the meaning of atheism. He, like myself and others are simply applying that the lack of god belief to the world.

  116. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    intron @118

    No.

    Anymore than if you were a gay man who wanted to bitch about “dem queers” and just nail some dudes in a truck stop once in a while.

    But you also won’t be defining what the “gay movement” looks like.

    And I think that’s what the issue is really about. Not who is and who is not a “true atheist”, but rather how the movement and the community is publicly going to look and be about.

    Will it be a short-lived temper-tantrum of privilege to be forgotten and replaced by a new movement that acknowledges the reality of intersection of oppressions?

    Or will it be a pervasive movement that grows, shifts, changes, and adapts to the realities of its diverse population and the nature of the world and reality?

  117. fentex says

    PZ is not excluding them as atheists as he’s not saying they’re not atheists, he’s saying thy’re useless atheists (or rather that their atheism is useless).

    Isn’t this why some have taken to referring to Atheism+? To make the point explicitly that they mean to speak of atheism as beyond the simple label describing absence of gods in ones life? That they mean to include an application of rational compassion ion their broader philosophy?

  118. myuido says

    There exists a 4th group. By your hierarchy it’d be Type 0.

    This group has no belief in deities, but wants to stop there because they want the way that not believing in the dominant God of their culture makes them feel special and more powerful and don’t at all want to lose any of the social privileges given by that dominant God-based culture to people like them.

    If your aim is to irradiate the immaturity and stupidity, then you are fighting a losing battle. I don’t really care about them, I care about how useful they can be.

  119. says

    I’ll add, intron, that you’ll end up benefiting from all that pushing of the Overton Window others are doing. Which makes sitting on the sidelines carping about the people doing it a pretty crappy thing to do.

    If you aren’t interested, fine. Go off and do something you do find interesting and worthwhile.

  120. mnb0 says

    “it implies atheism is simply an intellectual vacuum”
    I wonder what you think about atheists who are also racists. I know a couple of Dutch examples. As for me, I have some positive goals and values (whatever you mean with positive – after all those Dutch racists think their values positive as well), but I just don’t think they are a consequence of my atheism. There are other issues that prevent me from converting.
    So I guess I’m a dictionary atheist after all and I’d say you have a blind spot here, PZ.

    “Now what does that mean for human affairs?”
    Nothing. My standpoint here is not based on my atheism, but on my view what a world that makes me feel comfortable looks like .

    “What will you do next?”
    Nothing. When I decided that I was an atheist some 25 years ago nothing changed.

    “When will you …”
    A question based on a wrong assumption. I already did before I even knew what atheism was.

    “a greater moral importance to our actions on earth.”
    An arrogance typical for believers, something I therefore refuse to take over. The moral importance of my action does not depend on my atheism, but, I repeat, on my view what a world that makes me feel comfortable looks like. To me you resemble way too much those believers who argue that atheism is a religion too.
    Then I rather be a dictionary atheist, thank you.

  121. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Demanding one simple statement about our worldview must define how we answer other questions about our will and desire seems a bit excessive.

    Then you’re missing the message. All atheists won’t share the same conclusions on social justice, etc. There is no party line. But they should be aware that disbelief in deities does have ramifications, and accept responsibility for those ramifications. The dictionary atheists avoid taking responsibility for the results of their disbelief if they never ever, consider what those results are.

  122. strange gods before me ॐ says

    (e)m,

    You could call me a dictionary atheist.

    But should we? Are you using the term the way it’s used here?

    Dictionary Atheists. Boy, I really do hate these guys. You’ve got a discussion going, talking about why you’re an atheist, or what atheism should mean to the community, or some such topic that is dealing with our ideas and society, and some smug wanker comes along and announces that “Atheism means you lack a belief in gods. Nothing more. Quit trying to add meaning to the term.” As if atheism can only be some platonic ideal floating in virtual space with no connections to anything else; as if atheists are people who have attained a zen-like ideal, their minds a void, containing nothing but atheism, which itself is nothing. Dumbasses.

    If I ask you to explain to me why you are an atheist, reciting the dictionary at me, you are saying nothing: asking why you are a person who does not believe in god is not answered when you reply, “Because I am a person who does not believe in god.” [...]

    I am saying that a dictionary entry is not sufficient to explain our goals and purposes, especially an entry that is so broad that it verges on meaninglessness.

    None of the people who claim to be dictionary atheists actually are dictionary atheists. They have reasons for not believing in gods. They’re just not talking about them. [...]

    I’m saying that just claiming you’re an atheist because you meet that minimalist definition is not sufficient to explain who you are, and that everyone who says they are an atheist actually has other issues beneath that claim that are more important in establishing their position.

  123. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Intron:
    God, this feels like a rehash of the A+ arguments again. There, as now, participation is wholly voluntary. If you want to be an atheist unconcerned with isues of sociial justice, you’re stil an atheist. No one can take that from you, nor is the term being redefined.

    (The following isn’t directed at you; it is to all those who oppose atheism being applied to the world and working through the implications of rejecting god belief)

    For my part, I am really curious WHY people oppose applying atheism to isues of social justice. What, is that going to lead to a zombie apocalypse? The opposition seems to boil down to “keep my atheism and social justice separate”. Fine. No one is forcing you to do anything, so why the vehement opposition? What is at stake? If you do not have to participate, exactly what harm is being done? Especially when great amounts of good can be done!

  124. fentex says

    PZ wrote…

    I explained that there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it’s actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It’s a consequence, not a cause.

    Others however may not be atheist because they rationally contemplated gods and discarded them. They might be simply not-gullible and simply find childish stories incredible.

    The argument that PZ is rational and values evidence therefore PZ is atheist and because PZ is also compassionate PZ believes in equality, community and justice does not have to work for others such that because AX is atheist AX also believes in equality, community and justice.

    AX might be selfish and find community unneccessary.

    Surely PZ ought to have argued that claiming one is rational and compassionate has implications rather than claiming one is atheist has the same implications?

    If his atheism is a side effect of being rational and compassionate should his cause not be to encourage rationality and compassion rather than atheism?

    Does not starting at atheism and proceeding travel the wrong path and encourage misunderstanding and confusion with those who came to be atheist by a different route?

  125. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    @129:
    You reject god belief, no?
    What are your feelings about gay people, and why?

  126. strange gods before me ॐ says

    imthegenieicandoanything,

    but get the same tiresome shit thrown at me for simply not being self-righteous and unforgiving in my fervor (or for not loving the same SF author and having the nerve to say so politely).

    You should cite your claims.

    Also, unless you can explain how you are not derailing this thread — explain how your comment was at all on-topic — you should be making your complaint on Thunderdome.

    If you prefer, I will initiate the discussion there by calling you a bullshitter.

  127. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    myuido @127

    My point was more that that’s who the majority of the people who are raising the loudest fuss at PZ Myers are at the moment.

    They want to look like a silent majority of Type 1s or Type 2s abandoned by radical liberal interlopers in their country movement, but the truth is that for many of them (not all), the driving motivation is a desire to stop the movement cold before it becomes something not overwhelmingly dominated by white straight males and before it no longer feels any need to place “off-limits” social attitudes of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc… from skeptical rational analysis and deconstruction.

  128. says

    I wonder what you think about atheists who are also racists.

    I really wish I understood why this topic makes some people so obtuse.

    What do I think of racist atheists? They are ignorant assholes.

    Think, people. You should know by now there is no way I would ever argue that being an atheist makes you automatically wise, rational, and good. There are huge numbers of jerks who are also atheists.

    So what do we do? Just give up on atheism as meaningless, adding no value to our behavior as human beings? Or do we aspire to be more than just people who reject god?

  129. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I think it [fighting belief] is important work, which is why i’d rather have a large-tent atheist movement with a singular goal of advocating for a secular society even if we disagree on everything else. – myuido

    And you’ve somehow managed not to notice that this is impossible while a significant proportion of atheists regard and treat women with contempt?

  130. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    Tony @132

    Simple. They don’t believe in God(s), are not invested in religion, and have no stake in religion on its own being mocked, deconstructed and savaged in their presence.

    But they are heavily invested in the benefits of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc… The automatic acclaim and social rewards they get for being “default” in our society. And thus they don’t want to have those mocked, deconstructed, and savaged in their presence or in “their” movement.

    Why is it “their” movement despite not being overly invested in maintaining it and watching it evolve? Because as “default” people in society, things are always assumed to be “theirs” by “default”.

    Or shorter me: Because they don’t want atheism to do good in the world because they’re worried that they won’t make the “good guy” team or that they’ll have to personally change or undergo personal growth and other things that require actual work and something beyond just going “I don’t believe in fairy tales, I must have a brain the size of a planet worthy of infinite blowjobs from heterosexual cissexual women.”

  131. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    PZ @137

    Yeah, definitely the limitations of English right there.

    Of course you and most of the atheists here acknowledge dickweasels atheists are atheists, but we just don’t have a separate word for definining what an atheist community and movement strives to be and mean and what cultural meaning atheism has (is it a home of white smug douchebags who think they are better for arbitrary meaningless reasons or another minority community growing, evolving, and mattering in the world).

    And the dickweasel community loves to hide in that limitation because it looks better than earnestly standing up for what they really believe (insert heavy-handed reference to the well-documented tactics of other dictionary-burrowing dickweasel communities).

  132. says

    intron:

    But we have to be sure to take a position that is based on truth, since that is what we are all about.

    Who’s that we you’re talking about? It can’t be atheists given that “Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. Period.”. What does truth have to do with “lack of belief” in anything?

    After all you can lack belief in things that are true (as far as we can tell), like evolution or the oblate spheroidicity of the earth, so truth does not have anything to do with the proposed definition of atheism and thus cannot be assumed to be what atheists are all about. So who’s that we you’re talking about, then?

  133. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    I should also comment more directly on how the Dictionary Atheists don’t actually believe in “atheism and just that”. Nearly no one can believe in just one thing and literally nothing else.

    We carry with us such an untapped wealth of untapped social diarrhea that it will take generations of our descendants to unpack just how full of shit we really are. All sorts of assumptions about minority groups, the way the world works, unexamined biases towards dominant groups, hierarchies, and social norms because they’re what we’re “used to”.

    By claiming to be for “atheism and nothing else” they are deliberately angling for the continued dominance of a specific political worldview by arguing that it is “nothing” while its opposite political worldview is portrayed as a “foreign interloper” destroying the “unity” of the movement.

    The default is not neutral. The norm is not harmless. And fighting for “atheism and nothing else” is fighting for atheism and a shit ton of other crap. Because outside of being born a second ago from a tabula rasa cloning template, there isn’t anyone on our planet who really is “atheist and nothing else”.

  134. Cerberus from Time Forgot says

    Caine @143

    Apologies, allow me to substitute “douchemaster general community” in its place.

  135. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    A consistent dictionary atheist surely cannot oppose religion; on what grounds would they do so? Not on the grounds that it’s false, because that requires a commitment to truth and rationality. Not on the grounds that it’s oppressive, because that requires a commitment to justice. Not even on the grounds someone above raised, that they’d like to be able to say they are an atheist without being hated for it. Why? How would that be of any importance to anyone, what would be the drawback of simply not mentioning one’s lack of belief in gods, in the absence of a commitment to freedom of thought and expression? Even if you live in a society where repulsive or tedious and time-consuming religious observance is legally or socially required (which few if any of the dictionary atheists we see here do), surely it would be easier to campaign for the right “to worship god in my own way, alone and in my own time”.

  136. says

    Cerberus:

    It’s good to be back. Got tired of just not having the energy to wade back in and just decided to try doing it.

    I understand. Especially lately, we’ve had a lot of those threads. It’s hard not to feel utterly exhausted.

  137. Sili says

    Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. Period.

    Really?

    I don’t see telling others “UR DOIN IT RONG” as part of that definition.

    But perhaps the people writing to you don’t consider themselves atheists anyway.

  138. mildlymagnificent says

    The big issue for people who claim to be ‘pure’ or dictionary atheists is not how they got there, but how they defend or justify or rationalise that position.

    As soon as they claim it is ‘sensible’ or ‘rational’ or ‘logical’ to think that way, they must face (if not answer) what is or isn’t sensible, rational or logical about other topics which are, like it or not, affected by religious claims. What rational, sensible or logical arguments are there about how women are treated in various circumstances or how children are raised or how homosexuality is regarded or what responsibilities we have to other people in our communities once you knock away the religious supports from the views of society at large?

    When you get to the position of saying you ‘don’t care’ or ‘have no views’ on such things, you then have to say that you have no interest in politics or in wage/conditions negotiations or in healthcare. Or what??!? You ‘don’t care’ if laws are passed that impose particular burdens on one party but not the other in marriage or divorce or in what is or isn’t acceptable in inheritance or other legal matters.

    To me, and others are open to disagree but I just can’t put the words together otherwise, this amounts to little more than an adolescent “you’re not the boss of me” rejection of some pesky adult insisting that you have to show your work (at school) or you must think about the consequences (anywhere). Making a choice that you don’t want to have to choose is really a bit feeble. And that’s what it amounts to.

  139. says

    Why would a pure dictionary atheist be searching out other atheists to talk to on the web, anyway? Wouldn’t the conversation be a little boring?

    “I don’t believe in god.”

    “Nor me.”

    “Nice chattin’ to ya.”

    “Yeah, you too. Bye.”

    “Bye.”

  140. says

    PZ,

    Early in the Montreal talk, you asked what would count as sufficient proof of God’s existence. The problem with that is, of course, what is meant by “God” (as you note – angels existing wouldn’t prove any particular religious dogma).

    But if the idea is for someone to prove that something that is omniscient is communicating with them, how about this? “Predict the times (to ten seconds) and locations (to a milliarcsecond) of the next thousand supernovae that we will see from Earth.” All of those supernovae have already happened, but the light has not gotten here yet. If someone were able to do this, they would either have access to something omniscient or they would have time travel (and FTL, since the two are equivalent).

  141. cm's changeable moniker says

    I’m sorry, I fucking hate this computer, the trackpad and keyboard are shot.

    But those aren’t the atheists bitching to PZ Myers about how social justice and skepticism about cultural assumptions are unnecessary add-ons by evil cootie-delivering feminists

    I’m a little surprised that two “bitch”es got through but a “dickweasel” was called out. :-/

  142. says

    cm, bitching was used in the context of complaining/whining, not as a gendered insult. I don’t think it’s a good thing to use it in that way, either, but I have a tendency to let that one slip by because I still use it myself. (I’m trying to stop.)

    As for dickweasel being called out, yeah. That’s a specific gendered insult. It’s also one to the male side, which assholes and idiots crawl out of the woodwork for any and every example, so they can claim that we don’t care about gendered insults if they are male based. Is that enough for this stupid derail now?

  143. says

    cm:

    Posting from dictionary corner, here.

    You know, I can’t figure out why it’s so fucking important to all you in name only people that anyone even know this. You all keep insisting it has nothing to do with anything, so why do you fucking care if anyone knows about it?

    Seems to me it means more than you think, because you all spend a shitload of time arguing about it.

  144. vaiyt says

    Just because you don’t believe in god doesnt mean that you will seek a way to be a more practical and productive human.

    But you should. You have no reason not to. If you don’t, you have nobody to blame but yourself. That’s the point.

  145. vaiyt says

    @myuido

    I think it [fighting belief] is important work, which is why i’d rather have a large-tent atheist movement with a singular goal of advocating for a secular society even if we disagree on everything else.

    You mean a large tent as long as it doesn’t contain women, minorities, disabled, trans and non-heterosexuals, right? Fucking asshole. Go rot in a basement with your useless “secular” society that changes fuck-all for the people who need change the most. Fuck you.

  146. ethicsgradient says

    My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It’s a consequence, not a cause.

    Maybe the confusion arises because atheists can have different conceptions of what are ‘positive values’. Perhaps it’s better to be clear about what each of us regards as a positive value, rather than assuming that it’s all the same; if non-belief in gods is a consequence, then it seems silly to be defining our actions in terms of that one consequence, rather than our actual opinions of what are positive values.

    For instance, ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’ are positive values to most of us (that many here are saying ought to flow from atheism). Does that mean equality of opportunity for the whole world – should we be pushing for a transfer of our taxes to poor countries so that all children all over the world get as good an education as our own? Or should we go further, and say that its equality of outcome that we ought to support – that everyone in the world should be equally wealthy, and we should set up society to ensure that? I can’t derive either position from my non-belief in gods.

    I would say that, if equality is something anyone feels follows ‘logically’ from atheism, then that has to mean wanting the abolishment of all national governments, because they are a clear barrier to equality between humans, whether of opportunity or outcome. Strangely, I haven’t seen any of the atheists who think equality logically follows from atheism talk about a movement for a whole-world democracy, with monetary transfers to the world’s poor (because almost all of us, posting on the internet in English, are richer than the median). But I suspect that our ideas of equality aren’t really as logical as many in this blog have claimed; and I don’t think they flow from atheism.

  147. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But I suspect that our ideas of equality aren’t really as logical as many in this blog have claimed; and I don’t think they flow from atheism.

    They do flow from atheism and rationality, but don’t include the obvious strawman world communistic bullshit you tried to equate it should be. That is the problem with ridicule. If you carry it too far, as you did, you merely look stupid, not those you are trying to ridicule…

  148. ethicsgradient says

    Nerd of Redhead,
    Give us your definition of “the golden rule”, since you’ve said you want to apply it – to all of humanity, surely. Does “social justice” only apply in one country?

    How have you decided that communism is bullshit? Does atheism preclude it in some way?

  149. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    cerberus/cm. Very good to see you back. A sniny internet for all of your contributions so far.

    You know what Dictionary Atheists remind me of?

    The anti-slavery people from the 1820’s – 1860’s who said that slavery was BAD, but that, once the slaves were freed, they didn’t want their anti-slavery confused with you know, advocating for the EQUAL TREATMENT of nig–er–blacks. Oh no, they were against nasty slavery, but they didn’t want former slaves to be their neighbours, go to their schools, enter their universities, compete with them in the job market, own businesses, get rich, vote, achieve political office, marry their daughters (or their sons) and EVERY FUCKING THING ELSE that would be a natural consequence of “freeing” the slaves.

    And we all know what a toxic sludgeheap the resulting 100+ years of institutional racism created; murder, lynching, Jim Crow, oppression and segregation in a thousand form — but, boy howdy, we weren’t “slave owners”, and blacks weren’t “slaves” by dictionary definition!

  150. cassandro says

    Alright, here goes: I agree with PZ’s premise, but don’t agree with his conclusion, and I’ll try my best to explain.

    First, I line up with PZ, politically, on pretty much every issue. I mean, I haven’t read everything he’s ever written, but I can’t think of anything I have read that I disagreed with. I hold humanist truths to be self evident truths, the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the differently abled, oriented, gendered, and the similarly discounted, and I think PZ would agree. Additionally, I hold the non-existence of paradoxically cosmic and small minded monarchs to be key, even necessary to understanding and properly upholding these standards. I am proud to share common societal goals with PZ, and when I refer to myself as an atheist, I’m fine with people assuming I’m a supporter. It’s true.

    But PZ and Skepchick won’t always be the primary forces in this community. Parties change, often so gradually as to be imperceptible. I’ve seen people say that the word “atheist” isn’t being redefined, that the “dictionary” meaning will always be the primary association, but I would ask them this: how many times have you had to assert that you didn’t identify politically with Christopher Hitchens, or didn’t agree with Dawkins on harassment policy, or any number of other things simply because you’re an atheist? Ponder this, and the ways this movement could take shape in the future. Because for better or for worse, it’ll be a force no one can ignore.

  151. strange gods before me ॐ says

    cerberus/cm

    Cerberus and cm are different people. I’m not sure what happened at the end of 155, but I assume it was a cut&paste accident, or the beginning of a comment addressed to Cerberus which wasn’t finished.

    It is good to see Cerberus again.

  152. hostilecyclist says

    I have nothing in common with Bill Mayer except atheism. I have nothing in common with the Libertarian atheists except atheism.

    They embarrass me.

  153. rustybrown says

    So, why exactly is it bad to correctly define atheism? I apologize, I’m coming in late to the conversation and this is my first time posting, but is it a requirement that we include all the thoughts and dreams of what (some atheists) think the term should mean; can’t we just agree on the correct definition (disbelief in gods) and let individuals work it out from there? Why the offense at an innocent definition?

  154. says

    hostilecyclist:

    I have nothing in common with Bill Mayer except atheism.

    I suspect you mean Bill Maher. This highlights a point – the wider atheist community is a reflection on all atheists. Seems to me it matters what that reflection happens to be.

  155. Arren ›‹ idée fixe oblique says

    (Only up to #53 — apologies. Will continue reading, but feel compelled [uh-oh] to comment…..)

    As far as meaningful points, as is so often the case Sastra has said just about everything I’m fain to say — without my doubtlessly tiresome tendency toward labyrinthine sentence structure.

    Semantically, I can’t help but see as fruitless the attempt to claim atheism qua atheism as encompassing the broad consensus hereabouts inclusive of secular-humanistic social-justice positions. Let me be clear that I don’t at all disagree, personally, with this consensus (it is in fact what makes Pharyngula so appealing to me); nor do I take exception to the aspiration to incorporate this consensus into a collective identifier.

    That said, to my admittedly middling mind, laboring to establish “atheism” itself as reflective of this consensus seems quixotic in the extreme, because of the definite denotation that the word already has. I guess this makes me a “dictionary atheist” — again, most definitely not in terms of my own ideology, but in terms of semantics.

    For PZ and others who regard this position with such scorn: why does A+ even need to exist if not to differentiate the shared platform of atheistically derived, rationally informed ideology (inclusive of social-justice) from mere atheism? I understand the derision directed at straw vulcans who want to keep icky, privilege-impinging concerns such as feminism out of their precious super-skeptical club….. but one can question the utility of attempting to radically alter the denotation of “atheist” without being one of these.

    Just my tuppence — back to reading…..

  156. says

    rustybrown:

    I apologize, I’m coming in late to the conversation and this is my first time posting

    Protip: read all the comments first. This way, you avoid the appearance of jaqing off.

  157. rustybrown says

    Caine, do you have a response to my post, or are you just capable of random insults and clam-diddling’?

  158. says

    rustybrown:

    Caine, do you have a response to my post, or are you just capable of random insults and clam-diddling’?

    I did respond to your post. It’s clear what level of discourse you’re interested in, so here’s a suggestion: do your hoggling in private.

  159. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    How have you decided that communism is bullshit?

    I was an undergraduate during the ‘Nam war and the radicalization of the campus. Reminds me of liberturds. All slogans, no workable evidence it is viable long term.

    Give us your definition of “the golden rule”, since you’ve said you want to apply it – to all of humanity, surely.

    Try the babble, sermon on the mount. And a couple of other places. If you can’t do your homework, you aren’t worth having a discussion with. Teaching to, maybe…

  160. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    For PZ and others who regard this position with such scorn: why does A+ even need to exist if not to differentiate the shared platform of atheistically derived, rationally informed ideology (inclusive of social-justice) from mere atheism?

    There no mere atheism, just mere practitioners thereof. A+ fills a need of the community. DUH.

  161. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Arren:
    A+ exists to offer a place where atheists can discuss the intersection of atheism and social justice (with a strong focus on feminism), ostensibly away from the wider atheist community, which is caught up in the misogyny wars. It came about in response to the continuous attack by some atheists upon other atheists for daring to criticize sexism or homophobia in the community. For many people, there wasn’t a safe space to go discuss issues of importance without having the pitters or MRAs show up and derail a thread. It was also a direct pushback against the continued bullying and harassment several prominent bloggers have been dealing with from some of the more odious members of the online atheist community.

  162. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So, why exactly is it bad to correctly define atheism?

    But it isn’t. That is our point. There are consequences the definition doesn’t address. Nor the loser who believe that is all that there is.

  163. says

    It is not bad to give a correct, minimal definition of atheism.

    It is dishonest to claim that it is sufficient or complete, or that it accurately reflects the views of the complex human beings who are atheists.

  164. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Rusty:
    Caine didn’t insult you. She was giving you helpful advice. You have come in-laaaaaaate-to a conversation stretching back-in various forms-for several years. It is best to inform yourself before jumping into the deep end. At the very least, have you clicked on the links in the OP? Read through the thread?

  165. Arren ›‹ idée fixe oblique says

    OK, caught up. Thanks to SGBM for linking the original Dictionary Atheists post, I now see that folks such as myself demurring over the trivial semantics are not Dictionary Atheists per se — though perhaps we are still perceived as obnoxious around here with regard to this issue.

    Just to clarify before I shut up, I vehemently was not questioning the existence of A+ in the sense of derogating it. I think it’s absolutely essential, and I unequivocally support it. My point was that if “atheism” as it’s commonly used meant what PZ’s asserting, then there’d be no need for A+….. which obviously isn’t the case.

    Ironically*, this seems to me an echo of the prescriptive vs. descriptive debate among lexicographers. To the extent this debate is about usage (as opposed to ethical obligation or logical consistency of ideology), I can’t help but be a descriptivist here as well.

    (Won’t clutter up this or any future threads on this topic with further….. obtuseness.)

    * cf. “dictionary”

  166. cassandro says

    PZ, why should we wish to give this grand new movement of logic-driven social justice a name that defines it so poorly, referring only to it’s foundation, and carries with untold amounts of baggage?

  167. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    PZ, why should we wish to give this grand new movement of logic-driven social justice a name that defines it so poorly, referring only to it’s foundation, and carries with untold amounts of baggage?

    What do you mean? This is confusing.

  168. says

    It came about in response to the continuous attack by some atheists upon other atheists for daring to criticize sexism or homophobia in the community.

    I think this is something that needs to be pointed out again and again. It is not just that some people want to talk about atheism and not really bring up issues of social justice when this is going on (though as Daz pointed out in #153, I am not sure what they would talk about), but that there is apparently a fairly significant number of atheists out there that are bigots and really, really hate to be called on it. They dislike that people have realized they exist and are not going to quietly sit and let them be bigoted without commenting on it.

  169. strange gods before me ॐ says

    ethicsgradient,

    Strangely, I haven’t seen any of the atheists who think equality logically follows from atheism

    I would call myself one of those, not because I believe atheism alone is sufficient to argue for normative equality, but because I believe normative equality does logically arise from other truths, and atheism precludes the typical objections to those truths.

    talk about a movement for a whole-world democracy, with monetary transfers to the world’s poor

    People here have advocated that, and I would be willing to settle for it,

    and despite what Nerd says, it isn’t communism.

    World communism would mean abolishing economic class — not simply economic transfers.

    “whole-world democracy, with monetary transfers to the world’s poor” could describe stateless welfare liberalism,

    or it could describe worldwide democratic socialism.

    I recall an illuminating discussion a couple of years ago between several people here, including Jadehawk and Nick Gotts, on more or less that very topic (though that discussion was mostly about managing environmental issues, and the proposals were basically that people affected by an issue should be able to vote on it regardless of where they live).

  170. cassandro says

    I mean the actual word “a-theism”, doesn’t even remotely encompass the lofty goals of the secular humanist movement, and it’s currently understood meaning and associations don’t benefit the movement in any way.

  171. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Excuse me:

    stateless one-state welfare liberalism

    I don’t know that it’s necessary to abolish all but one or zero states. It might be, but it’s “possible” that an adequate system could be worked out by treaties.

  172. cassandro says

    As an aside, this discussion has really made me appreciate the term “Atheism+”.

  173. cm's changeable moniker says

    Hairhead:

    cerberus/cm. Very good to see you back. A sniny internet for all of your contributions so far.

    You know what Dictionary Atheists remind me of?

    The anti-slavery people from the 1820′s – 1860′s who said that slavery was BAD, but that, once the slaves were freed, they didn’t want their anti-slavery confused with you know, advocating for the EQUAL TREATMENT of nig–er–blacks. Oh no, they were against nasty slavery, but they didn’t want former slaves to be their neighbours, go to their schools, enter their universities, compete with them in the job market, own businesses, get rich, vote, achieve political office, marry their daughters (or their sons) and EVERY FUCKING THING ELSE that would be a natural consequence of “freeing” the slaves.

    Your contribution is noted. It would even be incicisive, were I an American.

  174. tomh says

    Nerd wrote:

    I was an undergraduate during the ‘Nam war and the radicalization of the campus.

    Big deal, so was I. The only problem with the radicalization of the campus was that it wasn’t radical enough.

  175. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Big deal, so was I. The only problem with the radicalization of the campus was that it wasn’t radical enough.

    Most of the alleged radicals where I attended are likely voting rethuglican these days. They were only radical to piss off their well-to-do parents, get laid, and dodge the draft. They really weren’t true believers, and would revert to type in the real world. I couldn’t tell the difference between the ideologies when “deep rifts” formed. It all sounded the same to me.

  176. rustybrown says

    PZ – Actually, the definition is “sufficient and complete” as a simple definition. There is no need to attach additional motives to it. We’re just talking terms here fer chrissakes. You seem to be pushing an agenda.

  177. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Actually, the definition is “sufficient and complete” as a simple definition.

    Your OPINION. Which we can *POOF* dismiss.

    You seem to be pushing an agenda.

    And you aren’t? Think again. You have an agenda.

  178. says

    Dictionary Atheists disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it.

    In that case there’s no such thing as a “dictionary atheist”.

    All atheists – without exception – are a lot more than just atheists.

    So what’s the point of discussing a category of people that don’t exist?

  179. strange gods before me ॐ says

    rustybrown,

    For your sake, I quote again:

    If I ask you to explain to me why you are an atheist, [by] reciting the dictionary at me, you are saying nothing: asking why you are a person who does not believe in god is not answered when you reply, “Because I am a person who does not believe in god.”

    There is more to being an atheist than not believing in gods. There is also, for instance, the reasons why you don’t believe in gods. And your atheism can’t be completely understood by another person without understanding those reasons why. That is how the dictionary definition is insufficient and incomplete for understanding.

    Do you understand what is wrong with answering the question “why are you an atheist” with the response “because I don’t believe in any gods”?

  180. rustybrown says

    Nerd,
    It’s not my opinion, you can look up the definition for atheism for yourself and find “disbelief in gods” a perfectly serviceable, basic definition. POOF! Google’s amazing!

  181. says

    I’m sort of terrified by how many people cannot grasp that

    Compassion follows from atheism

    is not the argument here. There argument here is that

    Compassion follows from reason, and atheism follows from reason.

    Is this really that conceptually challenging? Or is there a Subtle Troll dance party and nobody invited me?

  182. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    It’s not my opinion,

    It is your OPINION it is sufficient, not mine, PZ’s. or Strange Gods. It isn’t sufficient. But then, your agenda requires it to be sufficient. Which is reason enough to *POOF* reject your OPINION as incomplete.

  183. says

    Sally Strange:

    Is this really that conceptually challenging?

    That seems to be the case, but I think mildlymagnificent got closest with it being a version of “you aren’t the boss of me!”

  184. anteprepro says

    PZ – Actually, the definition is “sufficient and complete” as a simple definition.

    But here’s the problem with your objection: Not all discussions strictly involve dictionary definitions. Sometimes it helps to understand the constellation of other traits that are associated with a defined trait. To look at the drives, motives, and underlying qualities that led to one obtaining that defined trait. To explore the implications of that one trait from various angles. Limiting every discussion of atheists to the dictionary definition of “atheist” is asinine. Atheists are actual people, and a demographic that can be, and has been, examined. Atheists are a group that has traits that is distinct from average in ways that a simple definition of atheist could never convey, just as any demographic differs from average in ways far too elaborate to be included in a definition of that group. Atheists are people who adopt the label of “atheist” by choice and thus have reasons for doing so, such that those reasons can be applied to other aspects of life beyond the question of gods.

    In that case there’s no such thing as a “dictionary atheist”.

    All atheists – without exception – are a lot more than just atheists.

    Yeah, all atheists are more than atheists. Dictionary atheists go out of their way to dissociate their “more than atheism” from their atheism. Whereas everyone else has more to their atheism. I only wish that the dictionary atheists didn’t exist. The constant fingerwagging makes me motion-sick and I get enough people quoting tomes with an air of reverence and superiority-by-proxy without having to hear it from people who supposedly don’t worship anything.

  185. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Talia @96:
    Please explain how there are logical implications of not believing in god EQUALS trying to redefine atheism.
    If you do not believe in god, when you look at the treatment of queers, how should one respond? Continued bigotry despite having no religious argument? Or accepting queers as full human beings because you do not believe in any god?

  186. says

    rustybrown @200

    Soooo, wait, your defense of dictionary atheism is “It be in a dictionary”?

    Um… dictionaries are not conclusive proofs of anything. As you state yourself they are a beginning point to shape the beginning of a notion. They are at best guiding points of understanding, intended to help jog cultural definitions and begin the exploration of the topic.

    That’s why even back in the days when dictionaries as a printed resource were more common, they were never used for much outside mostly being a tool for spelling.

    If you wanted to understand a topic, you would never look in a dictionary, you’d instead look in the encyclopedia and get a much better short synopsis of a word and its larger definition.

    And now in the days of Wikipedia, this is even more stark. Dictionaries are now used exclusively for checking spelling, looking for synonyms, and making sure you used the word you intended to in a written text.

    And really, it has become so common-place at this point to check Wikipedia or Google when we want to understand a concept, that the very act of turning to the extreme reductive nature of dictionary as if it proves anything other than common spelling MUST be viewed with suspicion as an act of bad faith. Simply because nobody does that anymore when the subject isn’t something someone is trying to dismiss.

    And so yeah, people who try and use dictionaries as means of avoiding Encyclopedias, avoiding the wealth of cultural contexts to a subject, and avoiding what people are actually talking about how they are using words, end up often getting short shift because of it because 99% of the time they are deliberately trying to use a reductive, insufficient answer because all dictionary definitions of complex concepts MUST BE in order to advance an ancillary agenda.

  187. says

    And since I can remember the days before the schism, if dictionary atheists don’t like people noting that other things follow from reason than atheism and that atheists being human beings and not bizarre robots are more than a single thing, especially on the community level, then they really shouldn’t have tried to kick out all the diversity and then whine about how “they are the real movement because they only believe in atheism”.

    You tried to force a battle between the douchemaster general atheist community and the infinite spectrum of the human condition atheist community and found yourself on the losing team hanging out with the losers from the MRA community. That’s not really our fault.

    And us noting that it’s silly to try and stop so abruptly on a fallacy to define our community isn’t going to change how silly it is or where this atheist community is going to eventually end up.

    Again, like every other minority community where the more privileged members had a giant temper tantrum about the “others” in the community wanting a voice.

  188. rasholm says

    It is a rather pointless excercise PZ. You are of course free to define words as you want. So are others. However it still leaves you with the need to use the term dictionary atheist to refer to what most people outside the Pharyngula crowd mean by atheist.

    We could of course put dictionary in front of all dictionary words if we want to refer to the dictionary meaning of dictionary words in the dictionary dictionary,

    Let’s instead focus on the struggle you beautifully as always put forth in your post about dictionary freethought. Not focus on whatan atheist is or is not. It detracts from the goals you mention.

  189. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Not focus on whatan atheist is or is not. It detracts from the goals you mention.

    How? It adds to his goals. What is your agenda?

  190. says

    Ok, this comment helped…no really!

    It is not bad to give a correct, minimal definition of atheism.

    It is dishonest to claim that it is sufficient or complete, or that it accurately reflects the views of the complex human beings who are atheists.

    In some previous incarnations of this argument I sided with the ‘dictionary atheists’ but I don’t think that I need to anymore. Although I use that argument, I only use it for arguing a certain point with believers: they like to equate theism with atheism, call them both belief systems or religions. At that point it is useful to point out the minimal definition of atheism as correct, and the rest is (technically) unnecessary.

    Past that, though, I agree about it being a consequence of some ideas about science, evidence and rationality, and how those same qualities spun off into forming some ethics without religion and an interest in some issues less essential to my dictionary definition/state of being, but inspired by it.

    Anyway thanks for bringing it up again. I don’t feel the same need to be protective of the dictionary this time round. It has its place, but otherwise, for me it doesn’t end there. It’s just a technicality not worth wasting a lot of time talking about, but some believers will try most anything to try to score a point in a debate.

  191. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Let’s instead focus on the struggle you beautifully as always put forth in your post about dictionary freethought. Not focus on whatan atheist is or is not. It detracts from the goals you mention.

    My translator implant is broken. Help please?

  192. says

    rasholm @209

    Well, isn’t that the rub? What atheism culturally means to different communities of outsiders? How the movement is seen from the outside? What is the meat of atheism as it were?

    How are we seen? Are we seen as a subversive self-anthem creating issues by our very existence for entrenched dominant religious thought (much like other minority groups)? Are we a crowd of up-our-own-ass white men trying to paint the same old dogma with new colors? Are we a diverse community that tries to support the various people who are non-religious even if that means having to sacrifice the douchemaster generals among us? Are we people with nothing to say and nothing to add who simply exist as an interesting aside in the tide of history?

    Who are we as a community? As seen from the outside? How will we be defined?

    How should we be defined?

    It is indeed an interesting topic, how we are seen and will continue to be seen as a community, as our enemies continue to circle and other minority rights communities and niche interest communities size us up? Are we a disappointment or simply going through the same transformative struggle most movements and communities go through?

    And all things that the dictionary definition tells us nothing about. Heck, we don’t even get the wealth of baggage people currently bring to the notion of “not believing in deities” with the dictionary, so how could it even begin to cover what we’ll be, how we’ll look, and what we’ll really stand for.

    What “not believing in deities” will actually mean to be exact.

  193. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    IMHO the atheist speakers spend too much time complaining about social justice issues when religion fucks up to then turn around and say it’s not their magisterium. If they don’t actually care and are making it a core issue they’re repulsive human beings using atrocity to score points.

  194. says

    Sorry about the late response, I just got home from work.
    @ nerd 60
    “elitist” Yes, this line cook who is probably the least educated person on this blog who is not still in high school is so worried about being considered an elitist. I know only one other atheist outside of the internet. He is someone who I work with. He is a homophobic, racist, misogynistic, bullying asshole who has repeatedly harassed me. Forgive me if I question if atheism makes you a better person or more rational.

    @ 67 Gen, Uppity Ingrate

    how can they then justify NOT supporting social justice?

    You have to first make the assumption that they are good people to begin with. If someone lacks empathy and is only looking out for themselves then the rational thing is to only fight for their own group.

    @ 71 Sastra

    I don’t think PZ is saying that atheism automatically leads to rational thinking and positive positions on social justice. I think he is saying that it ought to

    The problem is that it often doesn’t. Yes it should. But my desires do not negate reality. I wish that all atheists valued rational thinking. I wish that all atheists had empathy. But they don’t. As much as many christians wish they weren’t, members of the Westborough Baptist church are still christians. The anti-vaccine and anti-feminist atheists are still atheists. And many of them are prominent atheists.

    Atheism can be a result of rational thinking, and it does inform your world view, but it does not lead to rational thinking. Atheism alone is not enough.

    @ Ze Madmax 95

    it accepted atheism unthinkingly

    Please don’t refer to people as “it.” That kind of thing is used against trans* people like me.

    @ PZ 99, Yes I know that you are aware of them.

    It’s stupidly easy to adopt the dictionary atheist label and not put an iota of further thought into it, and then you get a movement full of assholes. I’m saying that everyone ought to be conscious of the implications of their positions on the god question.

    and I agree with you. What I’m saying is that the movement is already full of assholes. What I’m saying is that atheism alone is not enough. I think we agree in substance, and are disagreeing on semantics. I’ll take that as my fault. I apologize.

    @ 131 No, I guess you shouldn’t call me a dictionary atheist based on that. I apologize for my confusion.

  195. vaiyt says

    @209: If you think this is about definitions, you’re already off the rails. Read the OP again, and pay attention.

    @213: Nailed it.

  196. says

    Ing @214

    This!

    We lose all moral authority to argue that the holding of illogical beliefs in service of oppression makes religions suck unless part of atheism is not doing that.

    Otherwise we’re just like Evangelical Christians who say Islam is evil because they mistreat women while whining about how feminazis are destroying traditional gender roles. And no one wants to be that.

  197. texasaggie says

    I’m sure at some level there is a difference between an atheist and a secular humanist, but I’m not sure it is all that important. As any scientific oriented person knows, actions are the things that influence the world around you, not beliefs. If two people do the same thing for totally different reasons, the real world doesn’t notice that there was a difference. It just realizes that the actions of both people have the same consequences. Secular humanism, as I understand it, is so close to what Dr. Myers is advocating that any differences don’t really matter. And I haven’t seen any of the ill-feeling towards atheists on the part of secular humanists that some people seem to have experienced.

  198. says

    (e)m @216

    Those are some good points there and yeah, it’s a shame we don’t have enough robustness in the English language to talk about the basic meaning, the cultural meaning, the aspirational meaning, and the plural meaning of things without resorting to the same words and inviting arguments over semantics.

    Aspirationally, atheism must be at least partially about the big liberal progressive package in as much as that allows diversity to mean anything beyond “we have every variety of bigoted white straight male”. Otherwise, it simply will not survive as something to have a community and movement around and other words shall end up encompassing the subject better.

    …Sigh, these are certainly interesting times for the atheist community as various sides fight for what we mean and with whom and for what we stand…

  199. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    To the dictionary atheists:
    Under theism, wasn’t your worldview shaped by your belief in god?
    If you reject god, what shapes your worldview now?

  200. consciousness razor says

    It is a rather pointless excercise PZ. You are of course free to define words as you want. So are others. However it still leaves you with the need to use the term dictionary atheist to refer to what most people outside the Pharyngula crowd mean by atheist.

    We could of course put dictionary in front of all dictionary words if we want to refer to the dictionary meaning of dictionary words in the dictionary dictionary,

    No, “dictionary atheist” means the kind of clueless douchebag atheist who doesn’t understand that words meant things before dictionaries were invented. People use the word “atheist” to mean all sorts of things, but not typically that.

  201. maddog1129 says

    Danarra @#54:

    It’s only been very recently that athesm is no longer a sentence of death, incarceration, exile, ostracism, opprobrium, or other serious negative social consequences. The claim of religionists that, eg, hospitals, schools, and other charities are religiously based is, to the extent true, because they had a monopoly or were the only game in town. Atheists could not possibly have proffered services or operated such charities on an explicitly atheist basis.

    The ideas of the Enlightenment, however, included many humanist notions such as the “Social Contract,” famously expressed in the American Declaration of Independence as the governmental power residing in “the consent of the governed.” This idea of a compact among the citizenry to band together in governments to provide for mutual wellbeing was, and was intended to be, the express rejection of the principle of the “Divine Right of Kings,” in which the sovereign power derives from the religious deity — as it were, a partnership of priest and monarch in holding the reins of power. The US Constitution is an expression of that secular Enlightenment idea. Under it, the government is empowered to provide for the general welfare of the people. If a secular government practices humanist principles, the necessity for private “charitable” institutions decreases. The citizens banding together and combining resources (taxes) to provide for the common good may be a better model for delivery of needed services than dependence on private charitable impulses. IOW, it is possible that the non-religious, secularists, or humanists have not felt compelled to establish separate atheistic, or at least explicitly non-religious, charitable institutions because they view the needs to be met as better handled through governmental (society-wide) means.

    There are plenty of atheists who do contribute to established charities, even religiously established or affiliated ones. Atheists work in food banks, soup kitchens, halfway houses, 12-step groups, medical charities, educational charities, shelters, disaster relief, and all manner of charitable endeavors. They do so without the need to point to themselves for doing it.

    There are also starting to be more atheist or secular charitable organizations, though at times expressly atheist donations are declined or refused.

    I do not think there is any reason to be overly concerned about whether theists think atheists are not doing “enough” charity work.

  202. consciousness razor says

    I’m sure at some level there is a difference between an atheist and a secular humanist, but I’m not sure it is all that important.

    There are theistic secular humanists. They’re somewhat rare, and as you might expect, not terribly consistent in their views. But they’re out there, being weird and making life complicated for all of us.

  203. says

    Useless to his cause, and the cause of those who agree with him. But they may subscribe to other causes.

    Not because of their atheism, hence why their atheism is useless (I should only have kept the part in parentheses). If they subscribe to these causes because of their atheism then they are doing what PZ is arguing they should do, explore the consequences of their atheism, and thus are not part of those that believe that atheism is only the lack of belief (or strong disbelief) in gods.

    Of course they may do that and complain to PZ about the definition but that would be a problem with the consistency of their position.

  204. says

    intron:

    I must admit, I have a goal as an atheist – that religion isn’t a dominant force in society. That I can admit I am an atheist on any given day and not be hated for it by my community. I don’t think that any of this accomplishes that.

    So you’re not a dictionary atheist after all, given that wanting not to be hated for it by your community has nothing to do with not believing in god.

    And what is the most likely way to achieve that goal? Is it to let believers think that atheism is nihilistic as they currently (and wrongly) do, or to think that atheism is also doing those good things?

    Even if you think those good things don’t flow from atheism it still would get you closer to your goal to have them think of atheism in those terms.

    Cerberus:

    But you also won’t be defining what the “gay movement” looks like.

    And I think that’s what the issue is really about. Not who is and who is not a “true atheist”, but rather how the movement and the community is publicly going to look and be about.

    I think maybe we should start marking the difference between a “small a” atheist, who is merely soemone who lacks a belief in gods, from a “big A” Atheist, who is someone who is part of the atheist movement, which requires something above and beyond lack of belief in gods as being part of a movement is not part of the proposed definition of an atheist.

    Just like there’s a difference between a republican and a Republican.

    fentex:

    Isn’t this why some have taken to referring to Atheism+? To make the point explicitly that they mean to speak of atheism as beyond the simple label describing absence of gods in ones life?

    No, it is not simply for going “beyond the simple label describing absence of gods in ones life” because Gnu Atheism* already goes beyond that label by adding fighting religion, creationism in school (fighting for secularism in general), for skepticism… all of which are beyond said label.

    Atheism + is more a reaction to those that have no problem adding those things that have nothing to do with the definition of atheism but have a problem adding social justice to the mix.

    * Note that accomodationism also goes beyond the label as there is nothing in the definition of atheism that says you’ve got to play nice with religious people either.

    mnb0:

    I wonder what you think about atheists who are also racists.

    Are they racist because of their atheism? If not then their atheism is useless (at least in that respect, is it useful in other ways), if yes then they are not dictionary atheists as they are going beyond the definition. We may disagree with their conclusion but we can at least argue why said conclusion are wrong, whereas a dictionary atheist would shut down all debate by saying that race discussions have nothing to do with atheism.

    ethicsgradient:

    I would say that, if equality is something anyone feels follows ‘logically’ from atheism, then that has to mean wanting the abolishment of all national governments, because they are a clear barrier to equality between humans, whether of opportunity or outcome. Strangely, I haven’t seen any of the atheists who think equality logically follows from atheism talk about a movement for a whole-world democracy, with monetary transfers to the world’s poor (because almost all of us, posting on the internet in English, are richer than the median).

    First note that in this post PZ is riling against those that say atheism has no consequences, not against those that agree that it has consequences but might disagree about what those differences are. A libertarian atheist might agree that his atheism informs his libertarianism but disagree with PZ about what those consequences are (or should be).

    That being said, the question here is not so much do they advocate for the abolishment of all national government… but do they oppose even discussing it when others try to, on the basis that it is not part of the definition of atheism. I haven’t seen anyone do that but maybe you can link to some thread here where it happened (note that saying “it’s off topic, take it to thunderdome” does not fit as it would be for a different reason).

    If you want to discuss the actual points (world government and international aid to the poor) then it’s off topic, take it to thunderdome.

    rustybrown:

    can’t we just agree on the correct definition (disbelief in gods) and let individuals work it out from there? Why the offense at an innocent definition?

    The problem is that those that insist that atheism is the definition *and nothing more* don’t let individuals work it out from there, as as soon as you do they complain that it’s not what being an atheist means.

    Of course in practice they don’t do that, they just do it for those things that they are unhappy to see people work out from atheism.

    Talk about atheism and how it relates to combatting creationism: *crickets chirping*.

    Talk about atheism and how it relates to feminism: Don’t you dare corrupt my atheism with feminism.

    Arren:

    For PZ and others who regard this position with such scorn: why does A+ even need to exist if not to differentiate the shared platform of atheistically derived, rationally informed ideology (inclusive of social-justice) from mere atheism?

    Because it doesn’t, it differentiates the shared platform of atheistically derived, rationally informed ideology (inclusive of social-justice) from the shared platform of atheistically derived, rationally informed ideology (exclusive of social-justice).

    Arren:

    To the extent this debate is about usage (as opposed to ethical obligation or logical consistency of ideology), I can’t help but be a descriptivist here as well.

    In a descriptivist way both definitions apply, the question is who do they apply for.

    The barebone definition of dictionary atheists would apply to the throngs of people who lack a belief in god but don’t care about it and for whom it has little direct impact on their life, like the 30-40% of people in Europe who are atheists but aren’t part of the atheist movement. Note that these people don’t complain about said definition either as they don’t even have that much involvement in atheism.

    The “atheism has consequences” crowd is everyone who is part of the atheist movement, follows atheist blogs, podcasts… even if they happen to claim that atheism is only its barebone definition.

    Hence why I think it would be better to call the former “atheists” (small a) and the latter “Atheists” (big A) as you can’t be part of the movement without being, in some fashion, more than the barebone definition.

    cassandro:

    PZ, why should we wish to give this grand new movement of logic-driven social justice a name that defines it so poorly, referring only to it’s foundation, and carries with untold amounts of baggage?

    Don’t know for PZ but for myself (and with disagreement on the “poorly” characterisation) it would be because that is a major difference with other social jsutice movement. Theistic social justice movements might claim to be logic driven even if they are dogma based (we must be nice to other humans because our god wants us to) but they will never call themselves an atheistic social justice movement, so it does define us very well.

    Also the amount of baggage and fighting said baggage is part and parcel of the social justice work. It’s like complaining that the NAACP shouldn’t say that it is an organisation of coloured people because 1) it doesn’t flow from the amount of melanin in their skin and 2) it carries with it untold amounts of baggage.

    Kevin Solway:

    In that case there’s no such thing as a “dictionary atheist”.

    All atheists – without exception – are a lot more than just atheists.

    So what’s the point of discussing a category of people that don’t exist?

    Because a lot of people keep claiming that they exist and they are one of them. The question is what is the point for them to claim they are what they aren’t?

    Ing:

    IMHO the atheist speakers spend too much time complaining about social justice issues when religion fucks up to then turn around and say it’s not their magisterium. If they don’t actually care and are making it a core issue they’re repulsive human beings using atrocity to score points.

    QFT.

    maddog1129

    It’s only been very recently that athesm is no longer a sentence of death, incarceration, exile, ostracism, opprobrium, or other serious negative social consequences.

    As lon as we qualify that with “in many parts of the world” given that not only can you still be ostracised for it in parts of the US but you also can be incarcerated for it, like Alexander Aan was.

  205. Arren ›‹ idée fixe oblique says

    Thanks for your response, Julien. I’m not sure I follow your bifurcation of the “shared platform” into exclusive / inclusive of social-justice for atheism / A+ respectively — it seems to me PZ’s claim as to atheism (Atheism?) itself is explicitly inclusive of social-justice….. but this is all rather beside the point, and I personally agree with Ing’s statement that you Q’dFT. The more I consider the issue (especially in light of PZ’s original Dictionary Atheist post, which I’d not remembered clearly until it was quoted above), the more I see my demurral as an obsessive trivium not worth further pursuit. My bad: forest for the trees, etc.

    I also concede that the whole descriptivist / prescriptivist analogy was shallow on my part, more of an ephemeral impression than anything else. Not a terribly substantive contribution to this thread from yours truly — more reading and consideration, and less finger-blabbing for me on this topic for the time being, are called for. Mea culpa.

  206. says

    Arren :

    I’m not sure I follow your bifurcation of the “shared platform” into exclusive / inclusive of social-justice for atheism / A+ respectively

    It’s more between Atheism (big a) and A+ in that Atheism + got its start due to the backlash from certain elements of the broader Atheist movement over the inclusion of social justice elements, and it’s not atheism in that the Atheist movement goes beyond the definition of atheism (a movement is more than a simple disbelief).

    Note that it doesn’t mean that there is no social justice stuff going on in the broader Atheism community –Dawkins, for example, has both spoken out against FGM and also had his foundation pay for childcare during conferences, both things that mesh well with feminism– but it is more about the explicit acceptance of social justice as a part of the movement. Some people in broader Atheism are against it whereas the people in Atheism + formed to to specifically include it.

    PZ’s claim as to atheism (Atheism?) itself is explicitly inclusive of social-justice

    You’ve got to differentiate between PZ’s claim that there are consequences and PZ’s claim of what those consequences are. In this post PZ is riling against those that claim that there are no consequences to atheism and that it is only the lack of belief in god.

    Once you accept that there are indeed consequences then the discussion turns on what those consequences are. A noncontroversial one is figthing against creationism. A controversial one is figthing against sexism.

    PZ is both arguing that there are consequences and that those consequences include not only fighting creationism but also social justice. The latter is irrelevant to the former and he could have made the former argument even if he didn’t believe in social justice (for example if fighting creationism was seen as not being a proper part of atheism).

    It’s a bit like conflating abiogenesis and evolution. Evolution does not rely on abiogenesis as there could have been a god creating the first living thing and let it evolve into the current myriad of species. You can believe in both evolution and abiogenesis yet only be arguing one at a time.

    Similarly you can believe both that atheism has consequences and that one of those consequences is social justice yet argue each point separately.

  207. Roberto Aguirre Maturana says

    PZ:

    I think you are falling in the “no true scotsman” fallacy, since you are redefining the generic term “atheist” in such a way that it excludes those atheists that don’t fit with the moral standards you want to encourage. IMHO, a best approach is to acknowledge that atheism is not a moral distinction and create a distinction that encompasses people that not just lack belief in gods, but also think that faith is a negative force and incompatible with reason (unlike accomodationists), that no form of exclusion is acceptable (unlike anti-feminist atheists) and so on. Atheism+ seems to be a fair distinction, and a better choice than the rebranding of the term atheism, which is not about morals but about belief in gods.

  208. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Roberto says,

    I think you are falling in the “no true scotsman” fallacy, since you are redefining the generic term “atheist” in such a way that it excludes those atheists that don’t fit with the moral standards you want to encourage.

    PZ says,

    I really wish I understood why this topic makes some people so obtuse.

    What do I think of racist atheists? They are ignorant assholes.

    Think, people. You should know by now there is no way I would ever argue that being an atheist makes you automatically wise, rational, and good. There are huge numbers of jerks who are also atheists.

    It is not bad to give a correct, minimal definition of atheism.

    It is dishonest to claim that it is sufficient or complete, or that it accurately reflects the views of the complex human beings who are atheists.

  209. ethicsgradient says

    strange gods before me,
    Thanks – I’ll look for that discussion. It seems to me that, if we based our world on reason, we wouldn’t keep the boundaries set up by past centuries of war, chances of language, or, sometimes, religion, that cause obvious inequality. And I agree, it doesn’t mean world communism – any more than a decent social welfare net, education, and health system in a current country would mean communism in that country. In practice, it will be hard to get there, but there are things we can do to start.

    Nerd of Redhead,

    I was an undergraduate during the ‘Nam war and the radicalization of the campus. Reminds me of liberturds. All slogans, no workable evidence it is viable long term.

    So, no reason involved, just your personal feelings from 40 years ago or more.

    Try the babble, sermon on the mount. And a couple of other places.

    That’s pathetic. We all agree here that we’re atheists, and we shouldn’t be dictated to by religion; but you’re telling us to follow the definition of a guiding principle from a religious book. I don’t think you’ve used any reason at all to arrive at your feelings. You’re still kow-towing to Christians.

    SallyStrange,

    Compassion follows from reason, and atheism follows from reason.

    OK, but then, shouldn’t this movement which PZ wants to advance be called ‘rationalism’ or similar? Why name it after a consequence, not the basis?

    However, I don’t think anyone has shown yet that ‘compassion follows from reason’. I think selfishness can follow from reason too; if you like friendly relations with lots of people, then compassion is the rational behaviour, but, if you like owning as much property as you can, competition, or power, then selfishness is the route you would logically choose.

  210. imaginggeek says

    @76 But is rationality not the POINT of atheism?
    No, the point of atheism is a disbelief if god(s). I’d like atheists to also be rationalists, but you can still be irrational & not believe in god(s). In fact, I’d bet every one of us does something irrational at least once a day…doesn’t make us any less an atheist for doing so.

  211. strange gods before me ॐ says

    ethicsgradient,

    Thanks – I’ll look for that discussion.

    I am sorry to report that I looked for it a couple months ago and didn’t find it. Some of the threads from the old Scienceblogs site are missing all their old comments since the transition to NatGeo, and it is my guess that that was one of the threads. :(

    You might be able to stir up a new iteration over on Thunderdome, which is an open thread where politics and ethics can be discussed usually without anyone trying to stifle the very discussion of it all.

  212. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So, no reason involved, just your personal feelings from 40 years ago or more.

    And your evidence that it works is where? Personal OPINION on your part, which can be dismissed.

  213. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    No, the point of atheism is a disbelief if god(s).

    Once you do that, there are consequences, so it is more than just that. As the discussion above proved. If you want to hold to just the dictionary definition, don’t tell others they must stick to it. That is rude and arrogant on your part to define others atheism for them.

  214. strange gods before me ॐ says

    OK, but then, shouldn’t this movement which PZ wants to advance be called ‘rationalism’ or similar? Why name it after a consequence, not the basis?

    Where is he naming a movement? Can you quote him doing so?

    If I rephrase your question so that I recognize the premises as based in fact: “shouldn’t PZ be talking about how these ideas relate to ‘rationalism’ or similar? Why focus on a consequence, not the basis?”

    Now an answer: On websites where people are primarily defining themselves in terms of being “rationalists” then that approach would make a great deal of sense. Among people who are already gathering around the identity of “atheists” then it makes more sense to appeal to that identity. For another angle, see http://pharyngula.wikia.com/wiki/skeptics (that’s a fan site, not written by PZ).

  215. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    This is a PSA from a concerned linguist

    It happens from time to time that some poor, ignorant person will try to define a word or to infer meaning or history from its apparent

    ‘a-theism’ ‘a-theist’

    Those aren’t the words you think they are. Pro-tip, fuck folk etymology and get some real education. Atheism (the following is practically interchangeable for atheist, unless noted) in English did not arrive via Greek, but via French, as a fully formed word, it is not formed by prefixing a negative particle to ‘theism’. It does not help to understand the word by giving its form a meaning that it doesn’t have.

    It is also important to note that atheism attested in English before theism. Through the centuries (from about the mid 16th), the words has had various uses and meanings and most of them do not align with contemporary uses or definitions.

    Linguistic history matters. Don’t abuse language, describe it.

    /PSA

  216. imaginggeek says

    @235 If you want to hold to just the dictionary definition, don’t tell others they must stick to it. That is rude and arrogant on your part to define others atheism for them.

    I’d argue the exact opposite – without definition, words are meaningless. Atheism is a very well defined word, whose definition has been accepted for a very long time (Thomathy gave a nice overview of that). Anyone who doesn’t believe in gods is, by definition, an atheist. That doesn’t exclude those people from holding other beliefs – I agree 100% with PZ that someone who is just an atheist and nothing else is a very shallow person – but not holding those other beliefs doesn’t magically make someone a non-atheist.

    I’d say it is far more arrogant for individuals (like you?) to exclude from the atheist fold those who do not also hold rationalist, or humanist, or atheist+, or freethinker, or , beliefs. If you hold freethinker/atheist+/rationalist beliefs, good for you. If you hold white-supremmisist/sexist/asshattery beliefs, shame on you. But in any case, if you don’t believe in god, you are still an atheist – despite how the rest of us may think of you.

  217. imaginggeek says

    my above post got modified somehow by the posting system. The last paragraphs should read:
    I’d say it is far more arrogant for individuals (like you?) to exclude from the atheist fold those who do not also hold rationalist, or humanist, or atheist+, or freethinker, or [insert whatever ancillary beliefs you think atheists should have *here*], beliefs. If you hold freethinker/atheist+/rationalist beliefs, good for you. If you hold white-supremmisist/sexist/asshattery beliefs, shame on you. But in any case, if you don’t believe in god, you are still an atheist – despite how the rest of us may think of you.

  218. Ze Madmax says

    imaginggeek @ #239 (and #74)

    I agree 100% with PZ that someone who is just an atheist and nothing else is a very shallow person – but not holding those other beliefs doesn’t magically make someone a non-atheist.

    Who is claiming that dictionary atheists aren’t atheists? The issue is that to say “atheism is the rejection of gods, period” is either intellectually lazy or dishonest, and that atheists ought to do better, because rejecting theology has implications on one’s worldview.

  219. slothrop1905 says

    ‘To the dictionary atheists:
    Under theism, wasn’t your worldview shaped by your belief in god?
    If you reject god, what shapes your worldview now?’

    I would answer applying reason to the way the world actually is, not how it ought to be, whether in the mind of a god or the minds of a particular group of people. Knowing what’s real is more important than living in a Utopia.

    And can someone please expound on the whole ‘reason leads to compassion’ thing? I really don’t see where that’s coming from…I don’t mind reading up on something somewhere if this argument can be made…

  220. says

    I would urge you all to look at the phrase: “Dictionary Atheist”. It includes the word atheist! It isn’t “Dictionary Non-atheist”, but instead simply says that yes, this person is an atheist, but of a particular kind: one who isn’t self-reflective and thoughtful, who doesn’t think through the meaning of his label.

    If the root of your complaint is this bizarre claim that I’m redefining “atheist” to exclude people who don’t believe in god, think again. Or don’t. One of the hallmarks of being a dictionary atheist seems to be that you don’t like that thinking stuff.

  221. Thomas Hobbes says

    I’d like to say something in favor of dictionary atheism. When I use the dictionary atheist’s argument, I do not deny or dismiss atheist values. I just do not call them atheistic.

    Of course we atheists have values. We share a passion for truth and a trust in reason, logic and critical thinking. But the thing is: we do not have these values because we are atheists. We are atheists because we have those values. It is reason that drove us into godlessness, not godlessness that drives us into reason.

    With the religious, it is the exact opposite. Their values come from their belief, or at least so they say.

  222. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’d say it is far more arrogant for individuals (like you?) to exclude from the atheist fold those who do not also hold rationalist, or humanist, or atheist+, or freethinker, or [insert whatever ancillary beliefs you think atheists should have *here*], beliefs.

    Your paranoia is showing. Nobody is saying dictionary atheists aren’t atheists. Pretending that is the case shows a persecution complex. Just that they don’t define what atheism is for anybody else, and shouldn’t pester those who go beyond the dictionary definition with rationality. What part of that are you having trouble with?

  223. consciousness razor says

    imaginggeek, try reading the thread for comprehension.

    That doesn’t exclude those people from holding other beliefs – I agree 100% with PZ that someone who is just an atheist and nothing else is a very shallow person does not existbut which is to say that not holding those any other beliefs doesn’t does magically make someone a non-atheist non-existent person.

    Get it yet? Here, take a look at #99 again, where he made the point very clear. (I’ll highlight some key phrases that you apparently missed):

    You cannot have it both ways. You cannot object that some of us prefer not to use the term atheist, yet at the same time insist that atheism implies more than we are willing to embrace under that rubric.

    Why, yes I can. Because I am not dictating what conclusions you must reach, only that they should be rational and supported by evidence. I am saying that deciding that there is no god, which is that minimal definition of atheism, has consequences, and that the one thing you cannot do is deny the implications.

    If you’re afraid to embrace a universe without a benign superintelligence ruling over it all, then fine, you’re not an atheist.

    It’s not about specific conclusions PZ has reached (or those you or I have) which other atheists are obliged to make in order to be “atheists.” No one has conclusive answers for a whole lot of issues, so it’s a matter of progress, identifying what there is left to work on, given atheism as a starting point we all agree on.

    (If you ask me, a nice big step from there would be “naturalism,” which dispenses with all sorts of supernatural woo in one fell swoop.)

    Anyway, it’s opposed to this absurd objection, which oddly enough I’ve only ever heard used against liberal humanistic goals, that atheists — yes, all of them! — should only worry about issues directly related to the non-existence of gods, because “that’s all atheism is.” But that’s not what people are. Atheists are all people who have more to worry about, just like anyone else.

  224. slothrop1905 says

    ‘See Nerd’s # 18 and, even more so, logicpriest’s #42.’

    Yeah, you mean things like ‘Equality leads to productivity gains, which leads to better quality of life not just for the now equal groups, but for the original groups’?

    Citation really needed there, sorry. And there’s a whole lot of supposition going on in 18 regarding the relationships between the structures you want to replace and the question of a god’s existence (or not).

  225. Blattafrax says

    #243 PZM

    Bullshit. If that were the case, there would hardly be this discussion would there? There’s a good reason why so many people here conclude they are dictionary atheists and argue for it. Part of that reason is that they _have_ thought about the definition and what it means to them.

    I still fail to see why my disbelief in the flying spaghetti monster has any consequences whatsoever. I can see why throwing aside previous Christian beliefs to become an atheist would have consequences (those of being a former Christian) or that there are consequences of being an out atheist in a religious society (those of being different). But there are no consequences to the non-event of not having a belief.

    Atheism is just not interesting.

    Having said that, the atheist “movement” should embrace all the things you are fighting for (otherwise it wouldn’t really have much more to do that shrug its shoulders at a few Christians/Muslims/Taoists and go home) equality, helping others, anti-discrimination, fairness, social justice etc etc. These are very good things to do. But they don’t come from the atheism, they come from the people involved being decent and rational.

  226. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    But there are no consequences to the non-event of not having a belief.

    That is a rather extraordinary claim. Presumably, as an atheist, you do not believe in the Christian religion, either literally or in the piecemeal way of most Christians, or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism or Judaism …

    It is necessarily so that there are direct consequences to not believing in god(s) …unless you, for some reason, accept the truth(s) of any particular religion or all religions while not believing in the existence of the foundation upon which those truths are supposed to be revealed.

    Face it, if you don’t believe in a particular god, especially one that has a religion attached to it, then you necessarily don’t believe in any of the consequences of that god upon the world. I’d say that’s rather a very large number of consequences. Certainly, it’s greater than bloody zero.

  227. says

    but not holding those other beliefs doesn’t magically make someone a non-atheist.

    And nobody here is saying it does. PZ is saying that not believing in gods has consequences, not that those that refuse to comtemplate those are not atheists.

    I’d say it is far more arrogant for individuals (like you?) to exclude from the atheist fold those who do not also hold rationalist, or humanist, or atheist+, or freethinker, or , beliefs.

    So you start by strawmanning us then shaming us for said strawman?

  228. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Homosexual simply refers to a attraction to the same sex.

    This is dicionarily true.

    However, you would have to be pig ignorant to claim that there is no homosexual culture or memes in US, European Society. Because that dictionary definition does not do justice to people living with that quality.

  229. Blattafrax says

    #250 How much do these consequences of things that I don’t do weigh? What do they add up to? Where are they stored? If there is a measureable consequence of every single thing that I don’t believe in, then that’s an awful lot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity) of consequence I have to deal with. Or are there only consequences of a few selected disbeliefs? Who selects them?

    Your last paragraph is a mess. You tell me there are many consequences of having a religion. So presumably not having those religions means that I don’t have those consequences. That’s the very definition of bloody zero.

  230. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But they don’t come from the atheism, they come from the people involved being decent and rational.

    And that is why they are atheists. Not making your point.

    You tell me there are many consequences of having a religion.

    Belief that a book written by goatherds 2500 years ago is inerrant and useful for modern day morality for example. Lose the anger. It hurts your arguments.

  231. says

    Your last paragraph is a mess. You tell me there are many consequences of having a religion. So presumably not having those religions means that I don’t have those consequences. That’s the very definition of bloody zero.

    Not quite, you admitted yourself:

    I can see why throwing aside previous Christian beliefs to become an atheist would have consequences (those of being a former Christian) or that there are consequences of being an out atheist in a religious society (those of being different).

    Having to reexamine one’s beliefs when a foundational one changes is a consequence.

    You might argue that some people are raised without religion and thus it doesn’t apply to them but the culture that they are raised in is likely to have itself been shaped by religious consideration and thus would still need evaluation in light of a lack of belief in what shaped it.

    So unless you can find an atheis that was raised without religion in a culture that wasn’t shaped by religious beliefs at all then yes, lacking those beliefs will have consequences, whether one chooses to examine them or not.

  232. Olav says

    PZ Myers:

    I would urge you all to look at the phrase: “Dictionary Atheist”. It includes the word atheist! It isn’t “Dictionary Non-atheist”, but instead simply says that yes, this person is an atheist, but of a particular kind: one who isn’t self-reflective and thoughtful, who doesn’t think through the meaning of his label.

    Sorry, but I feel you are making this ever more unclear. I have real problems trying to understand your position.

    If the root of your complaint is this bizarre claim that I’m redefining “atheist” to exclude people who don’t believe in god, think again. Or don’t. One of the hallmarks of being a dictionary atheist seems to be that you don’t like that thinking stuff.

    I am absolutely a dictionary atheist and I find your argument against this position of mine quite peculiar. I do not feel as though we should have a conflict, but you seem to insist on one. I would deny I am someone who does not like thinking stuff.

    But when it comes to the question of whether there is a god, a life after death, a supernatural world I still am, obviously, an atheist according to the dictionary. What else could I be? It means that I simply do not believe in those things. I honestly do not see the mistake in that.

    Philosophically and politically I am also a secularist, a secular humanist, a rationalist, a libertarian socialist, an anti-nationalist, a feminist, a materialist, an environmentalist, et cetera. We are probably in close agreement on most of those. But they have nothing to do in my mind with my rejection of religious concepts. Nor with my rejection of those concepts. Except where I am also (like you) an anti-religionist (the pope must be prosecuted for crimes against humanity).

    As much as I often agree with you I feel that you are in error, frankly, with regard to this issue of “dictionary atheism”. If there even is an issue at all, of which you also have not yet convinced me despite writing about it several times now.

    Perhaps my perspective is different because I grew up a Western European (Dutch), in an atheist family. Never went to church as a child, never gave much thought to religion, never had the feeling I had to defend my absence of belief.

    Why am I an atheist? Because gods do not exist, duh.

  233. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    But they don’t come from the atheism, they come from the people involved being decent and rational.

    *faceplam* It’s like the don’t even read before declaring their hilariously incorrect opinions.

  234. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Let’s get something clear. ANY characteristic that is a minority and deviant from a core standard value of a soceity is going to have VERY big consequences for that person.

    Albinoism is just a lack of skin pigmentation: but in some parts of Africa it also means you have a chance of being targeted for human sacrifice, cannibalism, or witch craft.

    Homosexuality is just an attraction to the same sex: but until recently meant that if discovered your life would be destroyed and you’d be a pariah. You’re still more likely to be homeless, face familial abuse, and be victim to random acts of violence

    African American is just a descriptor of ancestry: but it also meant that most of your ancestors were oppressed at a fundamental level. It means the society you live in for most of it’s existence saw you as a subhuman domesticated animal. It means that the majority benefits from the crimes of their ancestors while you’re still hurting because said crimes where against your ancestors. It means that no matter how well or successful you are someone can still reduce you to “just another nigger”

    Need I go on? There are many dictionary definition terms that have much wider impact than their literal definition.

  235. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Blattafrax, allow me to rephrase, since admittedly, I was talking about the consequences of both belief and the lack thereof. I know it’s hard to follow, especially if you don’t think that not believing in Christianity, for instance, has no consequences.

    I assume you don’t pray? I assume, rather than pray, when face with a situation in which a Christian might pray, that you do something else instead? That action that you take instead of prayer is a direct consequence of your atheism. There are any number of other instances in which being atheist has direct consequences. The most obvious, since you seem to have missed it, would be that you don’t hold the tenets of a given religion to be divinely revealed truth. If you do not act as a Christian, you must act as something else …presumably starting from atheism and due to your atheism, you act in a particular manner in all sorts of situations.

    For fun try filing in the blanks,

    If the Muslim god doesn’t exist, then _____________________________________. This affects me/my actions/my beliefs in the following way(s) _____________________________________.

    There are all sorts of ways in which a similar fill in the blank could be stated and phrased. You’re either dishonest or stupid if you can’t fill in the blanks.

    As for your hilarious suggestion that there are measurable consequences for every single thing in which you don’t believe, you’ll have to deal with that problem yourself -I said nothing of the sort. You see, not everything in which you disbelieve is something in which someone else believes, particularly where that someone affects the world due to their belief. Please, don’t be so obtuse, it wrinkles my nose.

  236. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I’d argue the exact opposite – without definition, words are meaningless. – imaginggeek

    So before the existence of dictionaries, people never said anything meaningful?

    More seriously, you’re just wrong. Since a definition must use words, and what’s more, meaningful words, every word in the definition would have to be defined before the definition was meaningful. And, of course, every word in the definitions of those words. And in the definition of those words…

    Definitions can certainly be useful, but the most they can do is to allow one to substitute a short term for a longer one.

  237. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Olav, you’re not a dictionary atheist.

    , a life after death, a supernatural world

    An atheist can believe in both the after life and a supernatural world and still disbelieve in god.

    You may want to reformulate your argument and think harder, if you ‘like thinking stuff’.

  238. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    I was under the impression that dictionaries were descriptive not proscriptive. That’s why ain’t and D’oh! were in common usage and had definitions that were well understood prior to their official inclusion

  239. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    a libertarian socialist

    Also, ew. You’re icky and I don’t like you.

  240. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    How the fuck can you be a libertarian socialist?

  241. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Oh, I’m having a nice day, Olav. It’s just that libertarianism is an automatic dislike. I wasn’t aware that it was synonymous with left anarchism, although that isn’t a political ideology to which I prescribe. I’m sure you’re perfectly nice, Olav. I rescind my dislike and if that matters, we’ll find out.

  242. Olav says

    Thomathy #260:

    An atheist can believe in both the after life and a supernatural world and still disbelieve in god.

    By the way, I do admit that probably I am extending a bit on the barest possible dictionary definition of atheism here. Should not have done that in the company of such sharp witted debaters, to whom I hereby apologise.

    However I don’t believe in supernaturalism, paranormality, afterlife, reincarnation, spirituality etc. for exactly the same reasons that I don’t believe in any specific (G/g)od(s): there being no evidence for them whatsoever. Also they seem to me to be the symptoms of the same erroneous tendency in humans to assume a dualism of mind (or soul, or spirit, or whatever) and matter. For me personally atheism is almost synonymous with philosophical materialism. But it is not exactly the same, thank you for pointing that out.

  243. ougaseon says

    Jerry Coyne often points out that there is an inverse relationship between societal health and religiosity. Even a Dictionary Atheist should support social justice if they actually care about reducing the religiosity of their culture. Of course, Dictionary Atheists may simply want to feel superior to the rubes who have to use God to feel secure in their screwed up society, in which case they might actually like reduced societal health.

  244. Olav says

    Thomathy #266:

    I rescind my dislike and if that matters, we’ll find out.

    Don’t worry, I was not losing to much sleep over it. But thank you kindly for taking back what you said.

    I certainly understand why one would not subscribe to left anarchism, I don’t exactly either. Libertarian socialism is a bit of an umbrella term I am afraid. To me it mostly means democratic socialism / social democracy more or less in the Western European tradition (“Labour”, and the reformed successors of the former communist parties) but with the addition of strong direct democracy and rejection of all authoritarianism/totalitarianism. Possibly something like the US Green Party, for which I would probably vote if I were an American, but without the weird irrationalities sometimes present in that group of people (anti-science New Age woo, etc.).

    Of course, in a future Utopia, if it ever comes to that, the state must still wither away (Marx). I accept, with some sadness, that it probably won’t happen.

    Hope that clears it up for you.

  245. Blattafrax says

    @250,258 Thomathy

    I think we have a definition problem here. I don’t consider the absence of a consequence to be a consequence. I do realise that a consequence of being a Muslim is that one must fast during Ramadan (for example) and that because I am an atheist (or not Muslim). I do not have that consequence. You appear to define this absence of a consequence as being one in itself.* I do not accept that.**

    You asked what I do when a Christian would pray. Sunday morning – I might be making lunch. Hanging off a cliff face and holding onto a crumbly rock – find a better rock. Discovering I can’t pay my credit card bill – cry. I don’t consider any of these things to be particularly atheistic. And I cannot imagine anything that I would or could do that would identify me as an atheist.

    I had fun trying to fill in your blanks. I must be stupid or dishonest (or you might be mistaken or there might be other options) so perhaps you could help me out.

    Apologies for wrinkling your nose – you do unfortunately appear to be correct on that point.

    ————————
    @Nerd: What?

    But, deep breath… Calmness is restored. Thanks for the advice

    ————————
    * T, GWiC: “It’s a library!”
    B: “No it isn’t”
    T, GWiC: “Is too!”
    B: “But… There’s no books.”
    T, GWiC: “Precisely!”
    ————————-
    ** As you previously pointed out the absence of consequences could be considered a consequence. Hah! You caught me out. I’ll go and re-read my “Gödel, Escher, Bach” then come back to you on that.

  246. imaginggeek says

    Your paranoia is showing.
    Not paranoid, more anger at how PZ views those of us who don’t subscribe to his definition of what an atheist should believe:

    So when you say that reason demands equality, when rationality dictates community, when justice ought to be part of the godless agenda, they reflexively throw out that dictionary definition to deny any expectation that there ought to be more to atheism than cussing out gods. They’re intellectual cowards who run away from the full implications of living in a godless universe.

    In response to the first underlined part of this quote, those are personal characteristics and social justice issues that PZ ascribes as being part of atheism/the godless agenda. And it is this assumption of his that angers so many of us. We don’t all hold the same values as PZ, nor do we necessaries hold the same personality traits & intellectual tools to be paramount – some may even oppose those values/traits. By PZs definition (as I interpreted it), we’d not be part of atheism/the godless movement. Some of the flack PZ gets is because he ascribes these beliefs/concerns as those which are part of atheism/the godless movement – an obvious issue for those of us who used the same tools of rationality, reason & justice (or not) to come to consider other causes as or more important. He decries us as ‘dictionary atheists’, but I think he misses the point. Its not that we wish atheists to be nothing more than god-deniers; its rather opposition to his attempts to pigeon-hold what an atheist should be, and to try and define us or exclude us as atheists (or, at least, atheists of value) within that ideological framework.

    The second underlined section highlights what is, in my mind, the bigger issue and the one which probably generates the most flack in PZs mailbox. Not only does PZ expect atheists to hold the same values as he, and think in the same way as he, but he also denigrates those whom dare protest his expectation that we fit his mold. I interpreted (apparently incorrectly) some of his statements as to mean that he considered those who do not hold those values to not be atheists. We don’t all share the same values, and those of us who differ don’t like when one atheists promotes his/her values under the flag of atheism. Those who point out to PZ that his values are NOT universal among us, and that he does not speak for atheism (so please stop claiming so, thank you very much), are promptly belittled as “dictionary atheists” and “intellectual cowards”. I find it ironic that PZ puts so much emphasis on freethought as a value, and then proceeds to belittle the very diversity of opinion & values the freethought process creates.

    Thomas (#244) summed it up nicely. When I use the dictionary atheist’s argument, I do not deny or dismiss atheist values. I just do not call them atheistic.

    @252 However, you would have to be pig ignorant to claim that there is no homosexual culture or memes in US,
    Great example, but not in the way you hoped. You are correct – there is a homosexual culture that *many* homosexuals ascribe to. But their values and behaviours are not universal among all homosexuals. And I’d bet dollars to noughts that if one homosexual took PZ’s route of belittling those homosexuals who don’t live the meme as “not being homosexuals” or as being “intellectual cowards”, that an equivalent group of ‘textbook homosexuals’ would arise, protesting the subsumption of their sexual identity into a broader set of non-universal social conventions.

    @247 imaginggeek, try reading the thread for comprehension.
    Take your own advice. The post of mine you whine about is #74, and you were kind enough to tell me that everything I needed to know to overcome the “mistakes” I made were nicely laid out for me in post #99 – i.e. a post published over half an hour after I had composed and posted mine. Lacking a time machine &/or precognition, I sadly was unaware to see the future and amend the post appropriately.

  247. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    imaginggeek:

    I’d say it is far more arrogant for individuals (like you?) to exclude from the atheist fold those who do not also hold rationalist, or humanist, or atheist+, or freethinker, or , beliefs. I

    I do not believe PZ has said this. I’m going to reread his OP to make sure, since I might have missed it.

    BRB

    Ok, done. From the OP:

    Dictionary Atheists disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it.

    Right there, PZ acknowledges that dictionary atheists exist and they are atheists.

    Again, his whole point is that atheists *should* apply reason and logic (which brings a lot of people to atheism in the first place) to how non belief affects their world view. As I stated upthread, god belief affects peoples’ worldviews. Why wouldn’t non belief?

    ****

    slothrop1905:

    I would answer applying reason to the way the world actually is, not how it ought to be, whether in the mind of a god or the minds of a particular group of people. Knowing what’s real is more important than living in a Utopia.

    THIS [the above] was your answer to my posed questions?
    ME: “‘To the dictionary atheists:
    Under theism, wasn’t your worldview shaped by your belief in god?
    If you reject god, what shapes your worldview now”

    My point was that believers have a worldview that is shaped by their belief in god. Their views on sexuality, abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, politics, relationships (and more) are shaped by their religious beliefs. If you take away those religious beliefs, their views should *also* be changed. Getting rid of god belief *should* entail more than just not believing, because theism affects the way people interact with the world. If you previously believed that women should stay in the home because god said so, if you reject god, you should reject that belief [in women remaining at home]. Does this happen? For some people, yes. For a whole helluva lot of other people, no. PZ’s point (one I strongly echo) is that there are consequences to rejecting god beliefs.
    I can’t see that you answered my questions.

    I also have no clue why you mentioned utopia.
    Nowhere did I even imply that I want the world to be a utopia. I don’t think that’s even possible.

  248. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Why am I an atheist? Because gods do not exist, duh.

    Did you use science, logic and reason to reach this conclusion?
    That’s a huge part of PZ’s point.

  249. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Blattafrax , fuck you but that conversation would not happen. I am not suggesting that the absence of some thing is itself the thing in absence. That’s absurd. You’re lack of reading comprehension is incredible and the depths of your, I can only assume, intentional dishonesty is incredulous. This will be a short conversation if you continue to correspond in a way that seems dishonest.

    I am saying that there are consequences to atheism and I believe that I have demonstrated that there are. If you want to quibble about a consequence as being negative or positive (in a logical sense), then you can play such semantic games alone, because in reality there is no practical difference.

  250. Thomas Hobbes says

    I do not feel as though we should have a conflict, but you seem to insist on one.

    I think it is mostly a matter of perspective. We could as easily argue whether a car is a metal object on four rubber wheels or a means of transport. Neither is wrong, and it would be senseless to insist that only one is true.

  251. Olav says

    Tony #274:

    Why am I an atheist? Because gods do not exist, duh.

    Did you use science, logic and reason to reach this conclusion?
    That’s a huge part of PZ’s point.

    Did you use science, logic and reason to reach the conclusion that you are not a guppy fish? Or was it somehow obvious from the start?

    Of course I did think my atheism through later in life. Society tends to force such questions upon growing children, it is inescapable. I reached the conclusion that my parents were quite right not to subscribe to any sort of religion or religious belief.

  252. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Hey, imaginggeek, try using blockquote:

    <blockquote> text to be quoted </blockquote>

    It works!
    ___________

    there is a homosexual culture that *many* homosexuals ascribe to. But their values and behaviours are not universal among all homosexuals.

    Yawn. There is a meta-culture and various subcultures. There is intersectionality and overlap. It is not useful nor accurate to describe a culture in a monolithic sense. Every gay person necessarily is a part of gay culture.

    (Try to not use homosexual when describing people. It’s not a flattering term, it’s pretty cold and medical. We call ourselves gay. Just call us gay.)

    And I’d bet dollars to noughts that if one homosexual took PZ’s route of belittling those homosexuals who don’t live the meme as “not being homosexuals” or as being “intellectual cowards”, that an equivalent group of ‘textbook homosexuals’ would arise, protesting the subsumption of their sexual identity into a broader set of non-universal social conventions.

    Well, since you had to create an analogy to a situation which has not occurred, namely, people being called ‘not atheist’ (Is it so easy to miss the ‘atheist’ in ‘dictionary atheist’?), I’ll dismiss the obvious absurdity of gays calling gays that don’t subscribe to their particular cultural niche ‘not gay’. That is, I would, if I hadn’t already dismissed your failed understanding of culture.

    As for calling some gays ‘intellectual cowards’, well, I might, but not because they don’t exemplify my particularly cultural niche. Actually, though, many gays, in the response to those who deny their identity for any number of reasons and sell-out or turncoat, do ostracise some gays and label them with fairy extreme, derisive (and warranted) epithets.

    The thing is, no such counter-movement as you suggest actually has risen up. The problem with your analogy is that there is no dogmatic definition of gayness or of a gay identify or gay culture. There simply is no such thing as, and no one who would propose, a ‘textbook gay’. If you understood culture, let alone gay culture, as not being monolithic and further understood how culture operates both on individuals and amongst individuals then you would have chosen a different analogy.

    Fortunately, you didn’t, so that fundamental ignorance of yours could be exposed and the root of your objection could be seen; you might not like being called an intellectual coward, but your dislike of a label based on the fact that you deny the implications of your atheism just isn’t an argument against the label. If you don’t like the label, change.

  253. imaginggeek says

    @273 Again, his whole point is that atheists *should* apply reason and logic (which brings a lot of people to atheism in the first place) to how non belief affects their world view. As I stated upthread, god belief affects peoples’ worldviews. Why wouldn’t non belief?

    I agree that I interpreted him incorrectly, and clarified in my last post. But I would reiterate the thing I’ve been saying (poorly) throughout:
    1) Not all atheists value the same things, nor think the same things/issues are important. So if someone promotes those things, under the flag of atheism, don’t be surprised when they pull out the dictionary and point out that the definition of atheism doesn’t include those things you are promoting as part of atheism.

    2) Expect anger if you denigrate and insult those who take issue with you subsuming their atheistic beliefs into your social justice agenda.

  254. says

    Compassion follows from reason, and atheism follows from reason.

    OK, but then, shouldn’t this movement which PZ wants to advance be called ‘rationalism’ or similar? Why name it after a consequence, not the basis?

    I don’t know. I was just commenting on the fact that a lot of people are too stupid to understand the argument.

    However, I don’t think anyone has shown yet that ‘compassion follows from reason’. I think selfishness can follow from reason too; if you like friendly relations with lots of people, then compassion is the rational behaviour, but, if you like owning as much property as you can, competition, or power, then selfishness is the route you would logically choose.

    Actually, there’s a pretty solid body of evidence showing that altruism IS self-interest; in order to achieve maximum personal happiness, acquisition of stuff, etc., the selfish person must also act to ensure that others in their society are not so pitifully poor that they take it upon themselves to steal the selfish rich person’s stuff, perhaps injuring or killing the selfish wealthy person in the process. Extreme societal inequality is societal instability; eventually the scales will balance. It’s in a selfish rich person’s long-term interest to avoid extreme inequality. Which means helping out those less fortunate. Obviously this point escapes a lot of selfish people, not so much because they are selfish, more because humans suck at long-term planning.

    Also, humans are obligate gregarious primates; most people DO want to maintain friendly relations with lots of people, except for the 2% of psychopaths among us. This trait, of being sociable and cooperating with others, is in large part responsible for our evolutionary success.

  255. says

    Expect anger if you denigrate and insult those who take issue with you subsuming their atheistic beliefs into your social justice agenda.

    Honest question: why the anger? Is social justice really such a horrible thing?

    I think the word “subsuming” is overstating the case just a tad, but still.

  256. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I’m actually kind of puzzled by the objections. So-called dictionary atheists are accusing others of narrowly defining the term, and yet insist that their definition is the only correct one when they’re merely being called out for an apparent inability to accept the implications ( or consequences) of their atheism.

    It’s bewildering that they think that because atheism has implications that somehow there is an impact on the most basic definition or that it is somehow violated. It’s ironic that they argue against a narrow definition with a narrow definition as though they are arguing that because of their definition atheism necessarily has no implications.

    Have none of them ever heard of a fallacy that goes by the name of begging the question? The real argument, most basically, should be about whether atheism has implications or not. I think that argument is rather easily put to rest, leading me to wonder why anyone is entertaining the stupid and intellectually lazy at all?

  257. says

    Well, I take it back. I can understand anger about insults and belittling. But frankly I have no patience with anyone who does no understand the importance of social justice, whether they are atheists or not. Receiving insults is an appropriate price to pay for undermining the ongoing struggle for equality and sustainability. Even if you use “But atheism is just disbelief in gods” as your excuse.

    If you remove the insults and belittling, is it still angry-making to have atheism “subsumed” into social justice? If so, why? How are they distinct and would you be similarly angry if social justice were “subsumed” into atheism?

    Is it even possible that either of those two things will happen in our lifetimes? Seems to me like they are pretty well-established communities and philosophies which overlap but aren’t identical.

    The more I think about it, the sillier you sound.

  258. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Not all atheists value the same things, nor think the same things/issues are important. So if someone promotes those things, under the flag of atheism, don’t be surprised when they pull out the dictionary and point out that the definition of atheism doesn’t include those things you are promoting as part of atheism.

    They are part of the people who are atheists. You haven’t convinced me the dictionary definion is sufficient to define most atheists. Only those who think it ends with saying “god doesn’t exist”. There is more for most atheists, and the lack of more is a huge PR problem to those looking at atheism form the outside (where atheists are viewed as nihilists), but only minor inconvenience for people like you inside the movement. Good deeds and progressive talk help the movement. Selfish definitions like yours hinder it. Get over yourself.

  259. says

    So if someone promotes those things, under the flag of atheism, don’t be surprised when they pull out the dictionary and point out that the definition of atheism doesn’t include those things you are promoting as part of atheism.

    If they really derive zero consequences from their atheism, then they have no rational basis for objecting if and when others do.

  260. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    Olav:

    Did you use science, logic and reason to reach the conclusion that you are not a guppy fish? Or was it somehow obvious from the start?

    ….WtF?
    Yes, it is obvious, and it is confirmed by science and reason. Why the hell did you think this was a good question worth asking?
    The point is that for many of us who reached atheism by applying these tools we continued using those tools to apply atheism to our worldview. Some of us are questioning why some atheists do not want to apply non belief to their worldview.
    Again:
    If you believed in a god that said gays were an abomination unto man (and accepted that as fact), and you reject that god belief based on science, logic and reason, why would you retain the belief that gay people are an abomination unto man? It stands to reason that rejection of that god belief would lead to a rejection of homophobia. You know, one of those pesky social justice issues many atheists are talking about?

  261. Tony the Queer Shoop (proud supporter of Radical Feminism) says

    @279:

    2) Expect anger if you denigrate and insult those who take issue with you subsuming their atheistic beliefs into your social justice agenda.

    People are being criticized for not accepting and following through on the implications of not believing in god. I find nothing wrong with this. Can you point to where people are being insulted or denigrated?

  262. Olav says

    Sally Strange #283:

    But frankly I have no patience with anyone who does no understand the importance of social justice, whether they are atheists or not.

    Me neither. And I can be quite passionate about it.

    But still, I don’t see how it has anything to do with my position on the existence or non-existence of deities. And I am not angry that people are trying to conflate atheism with social justice issues. I just think it is silly, and erroneous reasoning. SIWOTI ;-)

    Atheists who do become angry because they don’t want to have anything to do with social justice are indeed silly too. But for different reasons. Not because they are atheists who are arseholes, just because they are arseholes.

  263. maddog1129 says

    @ julien rousseau #226

    It’s only been very recently that athesm is no longer a sentence of death, incarceration, exile, ostracism, opprobrium, or other serious negative social consequences.

    As long as we qualify that with “in many parts of the world” given that not only can you still be ostracised for it in parts of the US but you also can be incarcerated for it, like Alexander Aan was.

    Of course.

    I was by no means suggesting that we are now living in a world that is safe everywhere for atheists. Atheists are not only still imprisoned in many places in the world, but afaik apostates from certain religions, or blasphemers, are still killed or threatened with death. Lesser penalties may still be commonly imposed, even in places where atheists are no longer routinely killed or imprisoned.

    I was focusing on the lament that it seems atheists have not founded a lot of atheist-explicit charities, and suggesting that part of the reason for that is the inability of atheists to exist qua atheists throughout most of history, and another part could be that atheists, as secularists, could view individual charities as less effective or less necessary because of the Social Contract provided by a secular government. The pool of resources is greater, more people are included, and services can be selected and delivered by a secular government that serves the entire population: e.g., right to a free universal public education, universal health care, and so on. That could obviate the necessity for independent charities, i.e., do away with redundancy.

  264. imaginggeek says

    Honest question: why the anger?

    Because any time someone points out to PZ that his social agenda is not reflective of the atheist community as a whole, and that we don’t appreciate him promoting his agenda as though it were part-and-parcel of atheism, leads to denigration and insults.

    Strangely, being called ‘intellectual cowards’, having our position mis-represented as “disbelieve in gods and dislike religion, but that’s it”, etc, isn’t going to make us happy.

    Is social justice really such a horrible thing? . . Receiving insults is an appropriate price to pay for undermining the ongoing struggle for equality and sustainability

    Whether or not you agree with social justice or not isn’t the issue – rather, its how we treat others in our community who don’t hold the same values as we do (or even those whom separate those values from atheism), and how we present ourselves as a community. Keep in mind, many (such as myself) who disagree with PZ’s subsumption of atheism into his larger social agenda, do agree with the social agenda itself. Its the exclusionary nature of “forcing” these values as the public face of atheism that we oppose – as it is both mis-representative, and divisive as well.

    I’d ask you this – how do you expect to build a community and promote your values, if every time you’re faced with someone whose beliefs don’t perfectly reflect yours, you respond with insults & denigration?

  265. Blattafrax says

    #275 Thomathy:
    Well, I have just read your contribution to this comment thread and do not find an instance where you give a real example of an atheist-inspired act or position. An example of a consequence of being an atheist, if you like. In fact, in your first comment, you note the huge number of people that do not share your views (or see the consequences) despite being atheist. To me, this indicates that there is no natural reason why atheists should be interested in social justice, etc.

    I can’t comment on my own reading comprehension skills (although I have certificates that say I was quite good at it 25 years ago), but assure you I am not being knowingly dishonest. Also, I am not making a semantic argument, I thought you were and was trying to point out the absurdity of it. Apologies for that.

    I have never not been atheist and I have lived in a generally religion-free world – an atheist family and scientific education/career – and possibly have a different world-view to you. So, I personally have never had to replace a god-directed behaviour with another and never had to worry about what I should do “now that I am an atheist”.

    Example**: I sometimes (often or occasionally) give change to beggars. I know that many religious people would do so because they believe they are obligated by their faith and would think of this as they give. So why do I do it then? In general, its because I reckon anyone desperate enough to do that must need the money pretty badly and I feel sorry for them. Maybe other reasons. But I have certainly never thought about a lack of belief in gods as having anything to do with it. Also, I cannot think of any thought process that would possibly link my atheism with wanting to give money to a beggar.

    Another example: As a teenager, I joined in the homophobia of my peers without thinking about it. I am ashamed of this. While there isn’t much I can do about the past, I now argue in favour of LGBT rights whenever I can and bring up my children to be tolerant, accepting and eventually enjoying whatever sexuality they come across. Do I do this as an atheist? Do I do this because I am not a Christian? No, I do it because I have grown up a little, have met gay and lesbian men and women and now know them as people. Gods don’t need to and never came into it. Again, I see no thought process that could possibly bring me to a position of tolerance based on the absence of belief in gods.

    So, what’s the point? The point is that belief in gods has a small but proportionally greater impact on my life – through weddings, conversion attempts, architecture etc – than atheism ever has. Atheism doesn’t do anything. Atheism is just an absence. The person I am – obtuse, thinking, inquiring, opinionated, restless – does all that stuff you want to tag onto atheism. I’m proud of some of it and to assign the motives for my actions to the lack of belief in something ridiculous is belittling. And just simply wrong.

    I assume that’s the same for everybody. Reading the thread above doesn’t make me change that opinion.

    ———————
    ** as something religious people are supposed to do. I don’t want you to get the impression I am trying to show what a nice person I am.

  266. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Its the exclusionary nature of “forcing” these values as the public face of atheism

    I’m very much in favor of forcing those values, but unfortunately, PZ isn’t doing this.

    You are full of shit, and will be unable to quote him doing so.

  267. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    rather, its how we treat others in our community who don’t hold the same values as we do

    Who said they have to hold the same values. They just don’t get to define what atheism as a whole is. That is defined by a majority of those in the movement, not by vocal reactionaries, anti-social types, and literalists. That has been the progressive point all along. If you don’t want to be part of it, don’t join. But the shut the fuck up because it exists and causes you to feel left out. That is your doing, not ours.

  268. John Morales says

    imaginggeek:

    Keep in mind, many (such as myself) who disagree with PZ’s subsumption of atheism into his larger social agenda, do agree with the social agenda itself. Its the exclusionary nature of “forcing” these values as the public face of atheism that we oppose – as it is both mis-representative, and divisive as well.

    So you’re an atheist that agrees with PZ’s larger social agenda, you merely disagree with linking atheism with that social agenda and therefore such linkage is divisive because it excludes those who don’t make such a linkage.

    (But you and many such as yourself aren’t being exclusive, misrepresentative or divisive by disagreeing with those who do make such a linkage, right?)

    Huh.

  269. consciousness razor says

    @247 imaginggeek, try reading the thread for comprehension.
    Take your own advice. The post of mine you whine about is #74, and you were kind enough to tell me that everything I needed to know to overcome the “mistakes” I made were nicely laid out for me in post #99 – i.e. a post published over half an hour after I had composed and posted mine. Lacking a time machine &/or precognition, I sadly was unaware to see the future and amend the post appropriately.

    I was responding to your #239 (you can tell because I quoted it), which was some eighteen hours after PZ’s #99. As a matter of fact, I personally commented two hours before 74 to make the same basic point.

    Anyway, it should have been apparent to you just from the OP that your strawman tasted like straw. I notice you didn’t respond to any substantive point in my comment, but I wonder what those scare-quotes around “mistakes” might mean. Hmmm… meaning…. Okay, I’ve got an idea: I’m going to look your bullshit up in the dictionary to find out.

  270. John Morales says

    [meta]

    imaginggeek:

    I’d ask you this – how do you expect to build a community and promote your values, if every time you’re faced with someone whose beliefs don’t perfectly reflect yours, you respond with insults & denigration?

    If you were to ask that, I’d probably answer that your conditional doesn’t apply, and wonder how you got that impression.

    (Has it occurred to you that you write in absolutes? I mean, whose beliefs perfectly reflect another’s? :) )

  271. Olav says

    Tony #286:

    Did you use science, logic and reason to reach the conclusion that you are not a guppy fish? Or was it somehow obvious from the start?

    ….WtF?
    Yes, it is obvious, and it is confirmed by science and reason. Why the hell did you think this was a good question worth asking?

    Because you asked me a very similar question. I am glad that you now understand it is not a very useful question.

    Indeed, I did not use science and reason to arrive at my atheism. The conclusion was already there; I was never a believer. Reason for me was not the route to atheism, reason just confirmed it for me at a later time.

    If you believed in a god that said gays were an abomination unto man (and accepted that as fact), and you reject that god belief based on science, logic and reason, why would you retain the belief that gay people are an abomination unto man? It stands to reason that rejection of that god belief would lead to a rejection of homophobia. You know, one of those pesky social justice issues many atheists are talking about?

    But fortunately, there are also religious believers who have no problem at all with gay people. And who are on the good side where social justice issues are concerned. I would wish there were even more of them, instead of the other religionists, but really they do exist.

    In other words, how one answers the question whether there is a god or not is not too relevant for those issues. And the answer to that question is still the only thing that differentiates the theist from the atheist. Of course factors like organised religion, culture, upbringing and such are very relevant.

    But theism does not equal organised religion.
    And atheism does not necessarily mean that one has broken with gay hating culture.

  272. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    And atheism does not necessarily mean that one has broken with gay hating culture.

    But it does mean using reason, logic, and skepticism they have broken with gay hating culture. This isn’t absolutes, but percentages. Why are so many atheists hung up on absolutes? Which is funny, as it can’t be shown absolutely gods don’t exist. They are just extremely improbable given the lack of evidence.

  273. John Morales says

    Blattafrax:

    #275 Thomathy:
    Well, I have just read your contribution to this comment thread and do not find an instance where you give a real example of an atheist-inspired act or position. An example of a consequence of being an atheist, if you like.

    No gods, no god-given morality. The only alternative is a humanistic morality.

  274. Olav says

    Nerd #298:

    And atheism does not necessarily mean that one has broken with gay hating culture.

    But it does mean using reason, logic, and skepticism they have broken with gay hating culture. This isn’t absolutes, but percentages. Why are so many atheists hung up on absolutes? Which is funny, as it can’t be shown absolutely gods don’t exist. They are just extremely improbable given the lack of evidence.

    Nerd, I have a bit of a problem understanding what you wrote. You can blame my English-as-a-second-language reading skills. Can you please rephrase or expand on your meaning? Thank you.

  275. consciousness razor says

    But fortunately, there are also religious believers who have no problem at all with gay people.

    … Because that’s one of their god’s commands?

    And who are on the good side where social justice issues are concerned.

    … Because their god wants them to do that, because they know it was incapable of solving those issues itself, or is malevolent or indifferent?

    I would wish there were even more of them, instead of the other religionists, but really they do exist.

    No one here is saying that “there are no religious believer who aren’t homophobic bigots, and none of them are on the good side of any particular social justice issue.” No one.

    In other words, how one answers the question whether there is a god or not is not too relevant for those issues.

    “Not too relevant” = weasel words

    It’s definitely relevant. Take a look at the big picture. If believers who aren’t homophobic bigots get to claim their justification comes from god or religious dogma — and you say that is no problem — they can also justify anything else with their god or religious dogma, including things which aren’t consistent with it because we haven’t even established consistency should be a value.

    But theism does not equal organised religion.

    Being disorganized is no better and no excuse.

    And atheism does not necessarily mean that one has broken with gay hating culture.

    Again, no one here has claimed that.

  276. consciousness razor says

    sorry, missed a blockquote:

    And atheism does not necessarily mean that one has broken with gay hating culture.

    Again, no one here has claimed that.

  277. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Nerd, I have a bit of a problem understanding what you wrote.

    Not surpising, as I’m missing something.

    But it does mean using reason, logic, and skepticism they have[n't] broken with gay hating culture.

    Essentially I’m saying the smarter and more educated a person is, which does include most atheists, the more likely they are not to be homophobic.

  278. Olav says

    Nerd #303, thank you for coming back to me.

    Essentially I’m saying the smarter and more educated a person is, which does include most atheists, the more likely they are not to be homophobic.

    That is generally true, I agree. Certainly within the context of Western culture. At the same time, correlation does not equate causation as we all know.

    You make me think of sets. Essentially you mention four different sets of people (smart, well educated, atheists, not homophobic). It would be interesting to see whether most people from the union of those sets would also be in the intersection of all four.

    Whatever, just had a nerdy moment I guess. Must be getting late ;-)

  279. scenario says

    I agree with the dictionary atheists but only up to a point. There are many assumptions about atheists in society, such as, they have no morals, they hate god, or something bad must have happened to them to make them hate god when they were a child. Atheism, itself, only means that the person does not believe in god. It does not imply any other inherent beliefs.

    If someone calls themself a Christian, there are a whole set of beliefs that are inherent in the definition. i.e. there was once a man named Jesus who preached for a while, was executed and came back from the dead etc. Atheism does not have any inherent beliefs other than a lack of belief in god/gods.

    However, the opposite is also not true. If someone arrives at their atheism by logical means, there is nothing wrong with using the logic on other issues. Anyone who argues that social justice has nothing to do with atheism is very short sighted. Atheist beliefs leading to a belief in social justice does not have to happen but it frequently does, especially for people who arrived at their atheism by logical thought.

    I live in RI and listened to the arguements for and against gay marriage when it was being debated in Massachusetts. There were a lot of arguements for gay marriage that boiled down to fairness and practical reasons. The arguments against it were basically religion, tradition (which was based on religion), and yuck that’s disgusting. Because I am an atheist, when I looked at the arguements, I saw a great deal of evidence on the pro-gay marriage side and absolutely nothing on the anti-gay marriage side.
    For me, my atheism affected my decision making process because it automatically throws out any arguments that are solely based on religion.

    So, saying that you have to believe in ABC because you are an atheist is foolish, but saying you cannot believe in DEF if you are an atheist is equally foolish. I cannot understand people writing hate letters to P.Z. because he extends his atheism into the area of social justice. It is a very logical but not mandatory extension of an atheist belief.

  280. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You make me think of sets. Essentially you mention four different sets of people (smart, well educated, atheists, not homophobic). It would be interesting to see whether most people from the union of those sets would also be in the intersection of all four.

    Again, absolute overlap is unlikely, but good overlap very likely. Humans are funny, and there are always exceptions.

    I had the equivalent of a math minor many moons ago.

  281. John Morales says

    scenario:

    I agree with the dictionary atheists but only up to a point. There are many assumptions about atheists in society, such as, they have no morals, they hate god, or something bad must have happened to them to make them hate god when they were a child. Atheism, itself, only means that the person does not believe in god. It does not imply any other inherent beliefs.

    True, though it would be more appropriate to write ‘stereotypes’ rather than ‘assumptions’.

    If someone calls themself a Christian, there are a whole set of beliefs that are inherent in the definition. i.e. there was once a man named Jesus who preached for a while, was executed and came back from the dead etc. Atheism does not have any inherent beliefs other than a lack of belief in god/gods.

    I direct you to my #299.

    So, [something]

    So nothing; at least one premise is unsound.

  282. says

    But still, I don’t see how it has anything to do with my position on the existence or non-existence of deities. And I am not angry that people are trying to conflate atheism with social justice issues. I just think it is silly, and erroneous reasoning.

    It’s not erroneous, though. The same thought process that led me to identify as an atheist also led me to identify as a feminist, an anti-racist, etc. It’s been explained here and elsewhere. Are you certain you don’t see it, or are you really saying that you don’t agree with it?

    Also, what do you mean by “conflate”? Every time someone does something to combat negative stereotypes about atheists, they are doing social justice by reducing the chances that someone will be discriminated against because of their lack of belief. Advocating for secularism, fighting against religious privilege–that is social justice. To me, it’s obvious that, once you accept that it’s unfair to discriminate against atheists just for being atheists, you’re being hypocritical if you don’t think it’s also unfair to discriminate against women just for being women, LGBT people just for being LGBT, etc.

    So, who is conflating atheism with social justice? The people doing advocacy on behalf of atheists and secularism? Perhaps the only people not “conflating” the two things are the dictionary atheists who just sit at home and never make a peep in public about anti-atheist prejudice. Or are the concepts already linked simply because of the massive privilege that Christianity has in the USA (and other religions in other countries)?

    ——————————-

    Whether or not you agree with social justice or not isn’t the issue – rather, its how we treat others in our community who don’t hold the same values as we do (or even those whom separate those values from atheism), and how we present ourselves as a community.

    Yes, exactly. I want us to present ourselves as a community that is welcoming to atheists regardless of their intrinsic, unchosen characteristics, such as skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I also want us to present our community as a community that is unwelcoming to atheists who choose to remain bigoted against people of color, women, LGBT people, etc. Linking atheism with social justice is an effective way to accomplish that goal and will ultimately result in us being able to draw on a MUCH bigger pool of potential recruits. Marginalizing people who don’t agree with social justice is a feature, not a bug. I think this holds true throughout any organization, governmental body, company, or knitting club. Regardless of what else you are doing, discrimination based on intrinsic, unchosen characteristics is morally reprehensible, as is the apathetic “not my problem” reaction to entrenched, systemic bias based on those characteristics.

  283. John Morales says

    SallyStrange,

    Perhaps the only people not “conflating” the two things are the dictionary atheists who just sit at home and never make a peep in public about anti-atheist prejudice.

    Also apatheists; i.e. those who just don’t give a fuck.

  284. Olav says

    Scenario #305:

    I cannot understand people writing hate letters to P.Z. because he extends his atheism into the area of social justice.

    Indeed. Then again I do not understand people writing hate mail for any sort of reason. Or perhaps I do but I do not want to delve into the bitterness, hatred and inferiority complexes that possess such people.

    It is a very logical but not mandatory extension of an atheist belief.

    Aargh! There is no “atheist belief”! ;-)

    And here is the other issue: unfortunately PZ does make it seem sometimes as though there is a mandatory extension to atheism. And he is quite forceful in stating this. Of course it is his opinion to which he is completely entitled. It is not a reason to send hatemail. But it is certainly something that people can (and do) disagree with.

    I am almost suspecting PZ of trolling his own readership: “oh it has been too nice on the blog now for a while, let’s stir things up a little and mention dictionary atheism.” I don’t mind too much, gives us a chance to think our positions over once more and try to make them clear.

    Others may perhaps not perceive it that way.

  285. Olav says

    Nerd #306:

    Again, absolute overlap is unlikely, but good overlap very likely. Humans are funny, and there are always exceptions.

    Here is an exception that jumped to mind: cardinals in the Catholic church (but also for instance the ayatollahs of Shia Islam) are almost without exception very smart and highly educated individuals. These people devote their lives to study, not just theology but many other subjects as well. They often speak more than a few languages fluently. But still they are not atheists, and they are extremely homophobic.

    (of course it is also possible that they are just power hungry lying hypocrites)

    I had the equivalent of a math minor many moons ago.

    Ha. I was never much of a mathematics hero either. But I found set theory and boolean maths interesting. Served me well in database and software engineering.

  286. consciousness razor says

    That is generally true, I agree. Certainly within the context of Western culture. At the same time, correlation does not equate causation as we all know

    .

    The thing is, it’s not a causal claim anyway. It’s about logical implication. People aren’t always logical, so we should not expect all of them to be caused in some way to be consistent by accepting (and understanding) the implications of a belief. That does not mean those implications don’t follow or aren’t relevant. It means some people don’t “follow” them.

    ———

    Atheism, itself, only means that the person does not believe in god. It does not imply any other inherent beliefs.

    First, atheists have beliefs about lots of different gods. It’s not one thing.

    Anyway, how can they not imply anything else? Do you know what “imply” means? Are the contents of your brain so special they’re completely isolated from the rest of the universe? Are any of them completely irrelevant to anything else you ever think about?

    If someone calls themself a Christian, there are a whole set of beliefs that are inherent in the definition. i.e. there was once a man named Jesus who preached for a while, was executed and came back from the dead etc.

    Some Christians (including St. Paul, apparently) believe Jesus wasn’t an actual, physical man, and that his death/resurrection wasn’t a physical event. So, no, that isn’t “inherent” to Christianity. The only thing I can think of is that Jesus is somehow divine, but it’s not even necessarily the case that one believes Jesus = God = Holy Spirit, since not all Christians are trinitarians.

    Atheism does not have any inherent beliefs other than a lack of belief in god/gods.

    It implies all sorts of things. Read the thread, and respond to those things people have already talked about. There’s no point in denying people have already talked about some of those things in this read. Because if people (unlike you) do read it and care anything about your unsubstantiated claims, they should easily see how pointless they are.

  287. consciousness razor says

    There is no “atheist belief”! ;-)

    Sure there is. I believe that there are (probably) no gods.

    Me too.

    I also believe some gods are simply impossible. I believe they cannot exist no matter what evidence I may ever find out about, because no evidence could ever make impossible things true.

  288. says

    I’ll go further: I believe, absolutely positively, that every single god that has been described with any degree of detail or specificity does not exist. I’m on the fence about the ones that are assigned unfalsifiable definitions because, you know, unfalsifiable (still not bloody likely though).

    Atheist beliefs galore!

  289. says

    I agree with Rachels in Created from Animals that the “is/ought” distinction has become a lazy refrain. If your system of ethics includes that you don’t cause unnecessary pain and suffering to those who experience pain and suffering, then recognizing that some nonhuman animals experience pain and suffering should lead to a change in your practices. If you believe that women are created by God to be companions and servants to men or are less intelligent or whatever and come to see that this is false, it should lead to a change in your practices. And so on. An understanding of reality has implications, and atheism requires reality-based understandings.

    It’s like how we often point out that science and religion are epistemically incompatible. This has implications. PZ’s talking about the implications of our recognition that there are no gods, including those implications for social justice. These are profound and barely beginning to be recognized.

  290. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Of course it is his opinion to which he is completely entitled. It is not a reason to send hatemail. But it is certainly something that people can (and do) disagree with.

    Why should be they disagree or send him e-mail. Personal is personal. Not to change overall conceptions.

  291. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Others may perhaps not perceive it that way.

    I perceive the dictionary atheists as trolling PZ with fuckwitted thinking. YMMV.

  292. scenario says

    John Morales,

    Christianity has a certain set of beliefs that a member has to believe in or they are not Christians. The definition does tend to get stretched and practically speaking many of the people who call themselves Christians are Christians in name only, but there are a basic set of beliefs that makes a person a Christian.

    What set of beliefs do you have to believe in to be an atheist? There are a lot of beliefs that are very common to many atheists but what does every atheist have to believe in to be an atheist?

    There are 2 billion Christians in the world and every one of them believes (or pretends to believe) in certain ideas. There are hundreds of millions of atheists in the world, what set of beliefs does every one of them have?

    The most common practical use of dictionary atheism is as a starting point to attack the assumptions/stereotypes many theists have against atheists. It is only a good starting point not the end of the discussion.

    I don’t necessarily believe that there are only two possible sets of moral values, religious or humanistic. They are by far the most common and sucessful but they do not automatically rule out other possible sets of moral values. I’ll agree that I wouldn’t want to live in a society that was based on most of the other moral values I’ve read about. Countries in a state of anarchy have an effective set of moral values that boil down to the person with the most followers and guns makes the rules. I wouldn’t want to live there but situations like that exist. Might makes right is a common moral value in the world. Was the Soviet Union under communism a system under religious or humanistic values? I’ll admit it stole a lot of its methods of control from religion but can you call it religious?

    I tried to preface my post by saying up to a point. P.Z. never says that you have to believe in every thing that he believes in, just that his ideas lead logically from the logic that leads many people to atheism. I disagree strongly with the dictionary atheists who state that social values have nothing to do with atheism. I don’t believe that social values have to flow from atheism but they are a natural extension of the logic that leads many people to atheism.

  293. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    There are a lot of beliefs that are very common to many atheists but what does every atheist have to believe in to be an atheist?

    This is the problem of the dictionary atheists. They are narrow, and most atheists have a broader definition. Why should the dictionary folks ride roughshod over the others? They shouldn’t. They should shuffle themselves off to the side, as they are the minority…

  294. says

    Since dictionary atheists eschew drawing ANY conclusions from the premise that there are no gods, they have effectively ceded the field to other atheists. We get to represent ourselves to the world in an active, activist manner. They, by their own definition, cannot–not as atheists, anyway.

  295. scenario says

    310 Olav

    When I say Atheist belief, I mean that to be an atheist you cannot believe in god. That is the only belief you need to be an atheist

    Many people become atheist by logical thinking. When they use the same logic to examine social issues, they determine that many of the beliefs in society are based almost exclusively on religion. Therefore, to many but not all atheists, social reform is a natural extension to their atheism.

  296. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    That is the only belief you need to be an atheist

    And that is only the start of what is needed. Take your dictionary definition with you to the sidelines while the rest of us move forward. Your keep yourself pure by yourself….

  297. John Morales says

    scenario:

    What set of beliefs do you have to believe in to be an atheist?

    I already told you: for one, that morality doesn’t come from gods, but from people.

  298. scenario says

    313 conscious razor

    2000 years ago there were a lot of different versions of Christianity. Yes, it appears that Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was an actual man but he did believe that Jesus was executed in heaven to wash away our sins. Plus Christianity was somewhat homogenized when it became the official roman religion.

    If you ask 10,000 Christians worldwide now what their religious beliefs are, you will get a pretty consistent basic set of stories. Jesus’s birth story. Jesus’s execution. The 10 comandments. The golden rule. There is a whole set of stories and beliefs that you are susposed to know if you are a christian.

    If you ask 10,000 atheists worldwide what their non-religious beliefs are, they would tend to be all over the place.

    What are you expected to know or believe in if you are an atheist?

    When I use the word imply inherent beliefs I mean that the lack of belief in god/gods does not automatically lead to any one or small group of ideas. Atheism implies a lot of different thing to different people.

  299. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What are you expected to know or believe in if you are an atheist?

    No gods, an humans, not gods, define morality. That is the plus you fail to acknowledge each and every time. Why are you being purposely obtuse, stupid, and counter progressive? WHAT IS YOUR REAL AGENDA?

  300. scenario says

    325 John Morales

    Why stop at morals? If god/gods don’t exist nothing comes from god.
    I guess you found one other thing that atheism have to believe in, if stuff didn’t come from god it had to come from somewhere else.

    But where does this lead? It doesn’t automatically lead to secular humanism.

    Person A: Lightning comes from Zeus
    Person B: I don’t believe in Zeus or any other god.
    Person A: Then where does it come from?

    How does person B answer this using only his/her atheism?

  301. John Morales says

    scenario:

    Why stop at morals?

    Because one example suffices; thus my “at least one” earlier.

    But where does this lead? It doesn’t automatically lead to secular humanism.

    How not so? It has to be humanism, because it’s not supernaturalism, and it has to be secular, because the alternative is religious.

     
    Person A: Lightning comes from Zeus
    Person B: I don’t believe in Zeus or any other god.
    Person A: Then where does it come from?

    How does person B answer this using only his/her atheism?

    The way atheists did before the properties of electricity were understood: I don’t know, but invoking a supernatural explanation is (at best) premature.

  302. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But where does this lead? It doesn’t automatically lead to secular humanism.

    Who said it had to? You are putting up strawmen right and left. Not one cogent argument, which is you are wrong…

  303. scenario says

    327 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    For the most part I agree with P.Z. I guess my agenda is that I don’t like absolutes and emotion based extremes.

    I have no problem with something like I’m an atheist, I reject every argument based on religion therefore…

    I have a problem with saying, if your an atheist, you must believe in A, B and C. There are very few things that can be determined strictly by atheism without any other influences.

    You state ” No gods, an humans, not gods, define morality. That is the plus you fail to acknowledge each and every time. ”

    I just did a search of the thread and the first time I read something like that was post 325 which was after many of my posts.

  304. Olav says

    Sally Strange #308, yours is the last message I will reply to, because frankly I should already be in bed sleeping. Thanks for your understanding. Still I hope I may be able to clear up a few things.

    You said:

    So, who is conflating atheism with social justice? The people doing advocacy on behalf of atheists and secularism? Perhaps the only people not “conflating” the two things are the dictionary atheists who just sit at home and never make a peep in public about anti-atheist prejudice. Or are the concepts already linked simply because of the massive privilege that Christianity has in the USA (and other religions in other countries)?

    First of all, the situation in the USA is something I try to keep informed of by reading weblogs such as this. So I do get a glance, but I admit I am not too intimately familiar with it. Perhaps this is my luck, or my privilege, as the inhabitant of a mostly secular little country in Western Europe. That is certainly possible. For what it is worth, I do enjoy interacting with Americans on these issues – but blimey, they can be fanatical sometimes ;-)

    So, who is conflating atheism with social justice, you ask. From my perspective PZ does, you do, and also several others who have contributed in this discussion. It is not that I do not understand, but I do feel a bit of relativism is in order sometimes.

    Probably it also has to do a bit with the way my mind works. I like to take an analytical, perhaps even philosophical approach. Especially when the debate is heated and emotional. I may fail but I will try to keep it rational.

    So, does everyone at least agree on the raw dictionary meaning of atheism? According to the simple definition, atheism is the disbelief in God or gods, whether they be the Abrahamic god or any other deity that mankind has ever invented. There does not seem to be much room for differences there. Rather, the disagreements appear to arise from the question: what next, after we have decided that there are no gods?

    To not believe in something someone else has dreamt up does not automatically give a lot of meaning to our thinking. We have to fill our need for meaning and philosophical fulfilment elsewhere.

    You mention advocacy. I agree that advocacy for atheism and for the rights of atheists is a very worthy endeavour, especially in places where atheism is not well accepted (such as the USA, but in other places it is even worse). Were I an American, I would probably join in that endeavour, and not just sit at home at my computer. But I would still see it as an activity that is quite distinct from the activity of not believing in deities. Which is of course, not much of an activity at all. Unless one spends a lot of time “not” believing in God, in which case I would say someone is doing something wrong.

    Then there are the other social justice issues that we have discussed previously. Such as feminism, gay rights, anti-racism et cetera. These do not depend, logically or philosophically, on atheism as a requirement. In other words one does not necessarily have to be an atheist to be in favour of them. They also do not follow automatically from not believing in deities. That some (arsehole) atheists do not care for these issues is the unfortunate evidence for that. These are of course liberal causes that should in theory appeal to others than atheists as well.

    To sum up: atheism is not believing in any gods. What one does with that negatively defined philosophical position is up to the individual. In atheism, there just aren’t any commandments to follow or rites to perform. There is no “meaning” to be had from atheism, you must look for that elsewhere (humanism, rationalism, etc.). Advocacy and activism for liberal causes may be a logical choice for many atheists to get involved in but it is a political choice, not necessarily a part of being an atheist. These causes should not be exclusive to atheists anyway, and not all atheists will subscribe to all or even most of them. It is a matter of personal preference.

    Perhaps that is one “atheist” (or rather, secular/liberal) value I like to promote: to allow people to make up their own minds about how they give meaning to their lives.

    Good night.

  305. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I have a problem with saying, if your an atheist, you must believe in A, B and C.

    Who the fuck is saying that? WHO THE FUCK CARES WHAT YOU BELIEVE? THAT HAS NOT BEEN THE ARGUMENT ALL ALONG EXCEPT IN YOUR MIND. Stop lying to yourself, so you can stop lying to us.

    The problem we have with you is that you are defining what we must believe. Which is just the dictionary definition, which isn’t enough. Either join us or step aside. Those are your options. You make yourself relevant or irrelevant, and at the moment, you are irrelevant.

  306. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Perhaps that is one “atheist” (or rather, secular/liberal) value I like to promote: to allow people to make up their own minds about how they give meaning to their lives.

    Then shut the fuck up and let them do it.

  307. scenario says

    329 John Morales

    Yes it has to be secular but why does it have to be humanism? I don’t believe that there are no other possible moral systems in the world.

  308. scenario says

    333 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Whenever P.Z. posts something about feminism, there are a whole bunch of people who come in an argue that atheism is not about feminism. Well I agree that atheism does not have to be about feminism, but to P.Z. and most of his minions it does,since they believe that once you stop believing in god and religion and look at the world logically, feminism follows naturally.

    There is a group who say that atheism is not about ABC. How many groups on the internet say that they are the real atheists?

    P.Z.’s version of atheist is A+. There are other versions of Atheism out there. Some of them are quite adament that there way of thinking is the only way. Sometimes P.Z. comes close to saying his version of atheism is the only one.

  309. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Sometimes P.Z. comes close to saying his version of atheism is the only one.

    Keep repeating that and it’ll come true little jimmy!

  310. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    How many groups on the internet say that they are the real atheists?

    Who the fuck cares if ten groups say so? Atheism isn’t, nor should it be, a monolithic group. Why can’t you let others think for themselves?

    Yes it has to be secular but why does it have to be humanism?

    Who says it has to be humanism. More stupid strawmen. But whatever it is, it is decided by humans, not imaginary deities. So it will be called humanism by the theists.

    but to P.Z. and most of his minions it does,since they believe that once you stop believing in god and religion and look at the world logically, feminism follows naturally.

    It doesn’t have to follow, but often does. Why do you have a problem with that, unless you are an MRA fuckwitted idjit? This is you attempting to define what we do. Who gives a flying fuck what you do, once you disbelieve in deities? Or, is that the problem? You don’t want to be left behind, but you won’t join….That’s your problem, you deal with that on your own. That is called being a responsible adult.

    Sometimes P.Z. comes close to saying his version of atheism is the only one.

    CITATION NEEDED CONSIDERING HIS DIRECT REFUSAL TO GO THERE. Stop being stupidly obtuse. Only liberturds or MRAs are that stupidly obtuse. I know don’t give a shit about, or listen to either of those morally bankrupt groups. Don’t join them. Acknowledge PZ is fine with whatever YOU DECIDE. Just stop trying to convince the rest of us that the dictionary definition is the only definition.

  311. consciousness razor says

    I don’t necessarily believe that there are only two possible sets of moral values, religious or humanistic.

    You don’t, or you don’t necessarily? What does that mean? Would you say that there only two possible kinds of people, religious and non-religious?* Is there some third way that nobody knows about?

    *Seriously, what’s with all the strawmen everywhere?
    ———
    scenario, #326:

    2000 years ago there were a lot of different versions of Christianity.

    Not as many as today. I’ve heard it claimed there are thousands or tens of thousands of Christian sects now, though I’m not sure which differences are counted to get that number. In any case, your claim is false that there’s some elaborate and unified core of Christianity with all sorts of beliefs that every Christian has.

    Not that it’s relevant anyway. That was just SIWOTI syndrome kicking in for me.

    What are you expected to know or believe in if you are an atheist?

    Lots of things about reality and what people should do in it, presumably things which don’t involve gods.

    When I use the word imply inherent beliefs I mean that the lack of belief in god/gods does not automatically lead to any one or small group of ideas.

    As I already said, it’s not a causal claim about how all atheists become atheists, and it’s not a description of all atheists. It’s a normative claim. So what do you think “does not automatically lead to” is supposed to mean, if you believe there’s some disagreement about that?

    Atheism implies a lot of different thing to different people.

    So now you’re saying it does imply a lot of things? Just not “automatically.” Maybe there’s some kind of waiting period before the implications kick in? Fucking logic: how does it work?

  312. says

    Darling Olav. I do hope you return.

    First of all, the situation in the USA is something I try to keep informed of by reading weblogs such as this. So I do get a glance, but I admit I am not too intimately familiar with it. Perhaps this is my luck, or my privilege, as the inhabitant of a mostly secular little country in Western Europe. That is certainly possible. For what it is worth, I do enjoy interacting with Americans on these issues – but blimey, they can be fanatical sometimes ;-)

    Please, Olav, if you’re going to call me a fanatic, do it with a straight face. None of this passive-aggressive smiley face stuff. By golly, I’m sensing emotional content! Watch out, your Spock mask is slipping.

    So, who is conflating atheism with social justice, you ask. From my perspective PZ does, you do, and also several others who have contributed in this discussion. It is not that I do not understand, but I do feel a bit of relativism is in order sometimes.

    Neither PZ nor I are saying that atheism IS social justice. What I am saying, at least, is that if you arrived at atheism because you value truth, then you will probably also arrive at other conclusions, for example: the truth is that the differences within any one race far eclipse the superficial differences between the various groups of people. Therefore racism is like theism: untenable, irrational, both supporting and supported by humanity’s worst impulses.

    I see what is happening. There is a difference between recognizing that an idea is untrue, and deciding to take action to make the truth known instead. For those of us of a certain temperament, who hate unfairness and have no tolerance for unjustifiable rules and restrictions, it is hard to make the distinction between perceiving unfairness or untruth, and deciding to do something about it. PZ is collecting both the perception and the (for him and for many others) the pretty much automatic reaction of wanting to destroy the lie and replace it with truth into the label “atheist.”

    Perhaps you care passionately that this is wrong. You perceive that PZ is spreading an untruth: lack of belief in gods is not the same thing as the decision to oppose the lie that gods exist. Well, in order to prevent “atheism” from becoming a word that means both “a person who lacks god belief” and “a person who lacks god belief because this is the only rational conclusion and would like other people to be rational as well and who takes action to work towards that goal,” you will have to become a bit of an activist yourself. Perhaps the first step is posting on message boards. Perhaps later you will pen an op-ed for the newsletter of an atheist publication.

    If you do all that, and more, perhaps you will succeed in convincing people that your definition of “atheist” is the correct definition.

    At that point, would you be able to say that none of the actions you took were a result of your atheist lack of belief? That your atheism had no real world consequences, that any actions you took were completely separate from your beliefs about the nonexistence of supernatural deities but flowed strictly from your beliefs in, oh, say, fairness and accuracy? Would you also like us to believe that your lack of belief in gods is unrelated to your interest in accuracy and fairness?

    If so, well. Cheers, I salute you: your commitment to internal consistency is admirable but perhaps counterproductive in this instance.

    In any case, I doubt you will do any of these things, and inevitably the public face of atheism will be defined by those who are speaking in public the most about it, which will not include you. If that bothers you, why?

    Probably it also has to do a bit with the way my mind works. I like to take an analytical, perhaps even philosophical approach. Especially when the debate is heated and emotional. I may fail but I will try to keep it rational.

    Oh how cute! A Scandinavian Spock! (Educated guess: the name, plus the mention of English as a second language, plus the mention that anti-atheist prejudice isn’t much of an interest where you live.)

    Your language suggests that you regard “analytical and philosophical” as being opposed to “heated and emotional.” Well, it’s a logical fallacy to think that lack of emotional response is a guarantee of correct analysis. Or philosophy, if you go in for that sort of thing. Granted, anger can make it hard to reason well in the minute, but then, deliberate avoidance of emotion can blind one to certain realities as well. And it is certainly possible to be both angry and analytical. I do some of my best data analysis when I’m slightly annoyed.

    So, does everyone at least agree on the raw dictionary meaning of atheism? According to the simple definition, atheism is the disbelief in God or gods, whether they be the Abrahamic god or any other deity that mankind has ever invented. There does not seem to be much room for differences there. Rather, the disagreements appear to arise from the question: what next, after we have decided that there are no gods?

    Yes.

    To not believe in something someone else has dreamt up does not automatically give a lot of meaning to our thinking. We have to fill our need for meaning and philosophical fulfilment elsewhere.

    True. It does not AUTOMATICALLY give a lot of meaning to our thinking to disbelieve in something someone else has dreamt up. However, in a world where the thing that someone else has dreamt up is pervasive, and extremely wrong and harmful, in that particular situation, it DOES give a lot of meaning to disbelieve in this extremely widespread and pernicious idea.

    Do you disagree that religion is both harmful and widespread? If not, why do you not oppose it? If so, on what basis? I hope it is not simple selfishness–the fact that it does not affect you personally.

    You mention advocacy. I agree that advocacy for atheism and for the rights of atheists is a very worthy endeavour, especially in places where atheism is not well accepted (such as the USA, but in other places it is even worse). Were I an American, I would probably join in that endeavour, and not just sit at home at my computer. But I would still see it as an activity that is quite distinct from the activity of not believing in deities. Which is of course, not much of an activity at all. Unless one spends a lot of time “not” believing in God, in which case I would say someone is doing something wrong.

    Hmm, this does look like selfishness. “Not your problem,” eh? Maybe. The religious right’s insistence that God is in control is in large part responsible for the USA’s inaction on climate change. So it is, indirectly your problem.

    This is a world in which so many people believe in an idea that is flagrantly, insultingly false that we have had to invent a word to describe people who do not believe in this transparently stupid idea. I would prefer to live in a world where it’s not necessary to even use this word. You are close to living such a world. Why you have chosen to pick a fight with me, rather than the people who make it necessary to even use the word “atheist”–that is, theists–is baffling. You are, in fact doing activism, but in favor of the unjust status quo. I’m quite willing to believe that your impulse to do this is unrelated to your atheism, but what IS it related to?

    Then there are the other social justice issues that we have discussed previously. Such as feminism, gay rights, anti-racism et cetera. These do not depend, logically or philosophically, on atheism as a requirement. In other words one does not necessarily have to be an atheist to be in favour of them.

    I invite you to point out where anyone has claimed otherwise.

    They also do not follow automatically from not believing in deities.

    I invite you to point out where anyone has claimed otherwise. I repeat: the argument is not, “Social justice follows from atheism.” The argument is “Social justice follows from reason, and atheism also follows from reason.” In other words, IF you arrive at the conclusion that there are no gods by a certain path, that is, the path of skeptical reasoning and testing truth claims, THEN you should also arrive at the conclusion that claims about the inferiority of women, the immorality of gays, and so on, similarly fail the test of reason.

    If you are an atheist because it’s popular, then you won’t necessarily arrive at those conclusions–though you might, anyway. If you are an atheist because you enjoy feeling superior to superstitious savages, then you probably won’t arrive at those conclusions either. If you are an atheist because nobody ever taught you about gods, ditto.

    Basically, what we’re saying is that skepticism and reason lead to both atheism and an interest in, or at least a recognition of the importance of, social justice. If you call yourself a skeptic and an atheist, and fail to reject sexism, you’re doing it wrong. And of course those skeptic atheists who have fallen prey to various the various bigotry mind viruses don’t like hearing this. Nobody likes hearing that they have reached the wrong conclusion.

    That some (arsehole) atheists do not care for these issues is the unfortunate evidence for that. These are of course liberal causes that should in theory appeal to others than atheists as well.

    That some people don’t like hearing it is not evidence that we are incorrect. “Should appeal in theory”–yes, exactly. In theory. In practice, we have biases and it’s hard to admit it. If we’re being reasonable then we have to admit that categorizing people according to stereotypes is an ignorant and unskeptical way to go through life.

    To sum up: atheism is not believing in any gods. What one does with that negatively defined philosophical position is up to the individual. In atheism, there just aren’t any commandments to follow or rites to perform. There is no “meaning” to be had from atheism, you must look for that elsewhere (humanism, rationalism, etc.). Advocacy and activism for liberal causes may be a logical choice for many atheists to get involved in but it is a political choice, not necessarily a part of being an atheist. These causes should not be exclusive to atheists anyway, and not all atheists will subscribe to all or even most of them. It is a matter of personal preference.

    That’s all that’s being said: not that any of this is mandatory, but that it is, in our view, a rational, reasonable conclusion based on the various premises, one of which is that no gods exist.

    Perhaps that is one “atheist” (or rather, secular/liberal) value I like to promote: to allow people to make up their own minds about how they give meaning to their lives.

    Again, please point out where anyone has promoted NOT allowing people to make up their own mind. It’s quite funny that you say this, in fact: the very act of (metaphorically) standing out in a public square and presenting an argument is evidence of a desire to respect other people’s ability to make up their own minds. We just think that we have a good idea, that is correct, and we think we may be able to convince you why. It may or may not work, but ask yourself honestly: If I did not want to allow you to make up your own mind, would I have taken the time to write any replies at all to you? How is that at all consistent with NOT wanting to allow you to make up your own mind. The idea is absurd.

    Please, take a look at your argument here. This last paragraph went extremely badly for you. When you find yourself talking to people and imputing the motive of perhaps not wanting to allow other people to make up their own minds, and you’re not talking to some sort of evangelical proselytizer, that is a pretty good sign you are on the wrong path.

  313. says

    Olav:

    Were I an American, I would probably join in that endeavour

    :laughs: You seem to think you’re terribly safe in your secular Spockland, and perhaps you are, for the moment. However, expanding your thought processes to be more global in nature might be the better thing. The U.S. does not exist in a vacuum and has effects on what happens in the rest of the world, even secular Spockland. The religious right, who wield too much power in the U.S., have a lot to do with things such as climate change, as Sally Strange mentioned. Along with a lot of other important things, which will and do have a global impact.

    You seem to be under the impression that secular Spockland is safely on another planet, where you can look down in bemusement at those silly ‘mericans and others you find all silly because they have *gasp* emotions and actually care about others as well as themselves.

  314. imaginggeek says

    @294[blockquote]So you’re an atheist that agrees with PZ’s larger social agenda, you merely disagree with linking atheism with that social agenda and therefore such linkage is divisive because it excludes those who don’t make such a linkage.[/quote]
    Exactly. I don’t presume that my beliefs should be those all atheists have – with one exception: not believing in god(s) is pretty much mandatory. And for that reason, I would not present my beliefs as the ‘face’ of atheism, or try to build an atheist community to the exclusion of those whom are atheists, but hold other beliefs.

    [blockquote](But you and many such as yourself aren’t being exclusive, misrepresentative or divisive by disagreeing with those who do make such a linkage, right?)[/blockquote]
    I’d have to say “usually not”. Wanting atheism to be presented in a representative fashion – rather than in a fashion which mis-represents many of us – is not being decisive, its being inclusive. But I’d point out that I thought PZs use of insult and mis-representation (to dismiss the concerns of those who point out his beliefs are not reflective as atheists as a whole) was the more important/more divisive issue.

    @296[blockquote]If you were to ask that, I’d probably answer that your conditional doesn’t apply, and wonder how you got that impression.[/blockquote]
    John, I wasn’t replying to you, but to sallystrange’s post #281:
    Receiving insults is an appropriate price to pay for undermining the ongoing struggle for equality and sustainability

    I didn’t @281, so I can see why you thought I was attributing that too you – I did not intend to do so. To answer your question, I wouldn’t ask that of you, as you’ve not stated anything that would imply that sort of behaviour on your part.

    @322[blockquote]Since dictionary atheists eschew drawing ANY conclusions from the premise that there are no gods, they have effectively ceded the field to other atheists[/blockquote]
    Again, the repetition of the false claim that dictionary atheists eschew drawing any conclusions from the premise that gods do not exist. I’ve drawn a number of them – some of which are different than the conclusions reached by others. The dictionary-ism only comes into play when I/they point out – correctly – that one atheist’s beliefs are not atheism.

    I’ve tried to not use an extreme example, as they’re perceived (often correctly) as false dichotomies. But since trying to represent my issue here has failed, lets try another example that may be a little more clear – though-be-it – extreme:

    Internationality, one of the largest groups of atheists are those in current/former communist nations. These atheists generally did not come to atheism through the route most of us here did – it wasn’t rational analysis and logic that brought them to atheism – they were indoctrinated into atheism, by the state. Most of them are 3rd or 4th generation atheists. They (communistic atheists), in many cases, would hold to ideologies we (rationalist atheists) would find repugnant. Now imagine they tried pushing the mores and ideologies of communism under the ‘flag’ of atheism.

    Would you not find that offensive?

    Would you not ask them to not claim their beliefs as being the beliefs upon which atheism is built?

    Would you not base part of your argument against that on the dictionary definition of what atheism is?

  315. scenario says

    339 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Yes it has to be secular but why does it have to be humanism?
    Who says it has to be humanism. More stupid strawmen. But whatever it is, it is decided by humans, not imaginary deities. So it will be called humanism by the theists.

    Please see post 329 by John Morales

    How not so? It has to be humanism, because it’s not supernaturalism, and it has to be secular, because the alternative is religious.

    Secular Humanism is a philopsophy among many, Per Wikipedia “The philosophy or life stance secular humanism (alternatively known by some adherents as Humanism, specifically with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism) embraces human reason, ethics, social justice and philosophical naturalism, whilst specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.[1][2][3]”

    340 consciousness razor

    John Morales stated in several posts that people have two choices in moral values, religious or secular Humanism. Secular Humanism is a specific set of values. Humans have had many moral systems that were not either of these two.

    To be a Christian today, you must believe in god, you must believe in Jesus, you must know some of the basic Jesus stories, such as the Jesus birth myth and jesus was executed, you must know some basic biblical stuff like the 10 commandments and the golden rule. Where did I claim that there is an elaborate core of christian beliefs? That is a strawman.

  316. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    imaginggeek

    How to blockquote

    <blockquote>Quoted text in here</blockquote>

    Looks like this

    Quoted text in here

  317. imaginggeek says

    I knew that Rev. BigDumbChimp, I slipped up and used BB code square brackets where I should have used triangle brackets…

    Lesson is, use the damned preview feature.

  318. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Please see post 329 by John Morales

    I have. Doesn’t prove your point, only offered one alternative. You have no point.

    Secular Humanism is a specific set of values. Humans have had many moral systems that were not either of these two.

    This isn’t either/or, so stop your abject stupidity pretending it is. But any new morality isn’t from imaginary deities, it is from humans. Call it anything you want. Just stop being stupid about the labels.

  319. scenario says

    Let me go back to my original argument.

    Up to a point (but only up to a point) dictionary atheist have a point.

    Some people say that if you are an atheist, you must believe in AB and C.

    This is incorrect because the only assumption you can make about an atheist, is that he/she does not believe in gods or the things that people say gods do.

    This comes up when dealing with some theists. Common myths about atheists held by some theists include, they have no morals, they hate god, they must have had some kind of trama in there childhood that made them hate god, etc. Starting the counter argument with the dictionary definition is a perfectly valid starting place.

    The opposite is also incorrect. If you are an atheist, you cannot believe in D,E and F.

    This can come up when dealing with other atheists, including many dictionary atheists. Whenever P.Z, has a post about feminism, the comments and P.Z.’s mailbox are full of people who complain that feminism has nothing to do with atheism. Technically, they may be right because there are many paths to atheism. However, the path that P.Z. and many of his minions took to atheism was a logical thought process. Once you reject religion for logical reasons, it is common for people to use the same logic to examine social issues. If you find that an opinion is pretty much solely backed by religion, you reject the opinion.

    If you were got your atheism by another path, you may not look at social issues the same way. For example, someone was raised in a small town somewhere in scandinavia or the former soviet union. The town had no active churches. They never met anyone who said they believed in god. The grew up before the internet and their town had limited tv and radio. Religion is something they read about in history books. They are an atheist because they were raised that way. They never thought about the fact that they were atheists, everyone was. They may be sexist, racist etc. but the reasons they are is not overtly caused by religion. If they decide that sexism, racism, etc. is wrong, it won’t be because they are an atheist.

    The valid point that dictionary atheist have is that the only thing that an atheist has to believe in is that god does not exist. Not all atheists believe in the same set of values. When someone says that if you are an atheist, you have to or you cannot believe in something, they are wrong.

  320. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Some people say that if you are an atheist, you must [[can also] believe in AB and C.

    Fixed it for you liar and bullshitter. There is no complusion to believe anything. You keep pretending their is, show abject stupity and irrelevancy for everything said past that lie. Stop lying to yourself, then stop lying to us.

  321. scenario says

    351 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Some people say that if you are an atheist, you must [[can also] believe in AB and C.

    Fixed it for you liar and bullshitter. There is no complusion to believe anything. You keep pretending their is, show abject stupity and irrelevancy for everything said past that lie. Stop lying to yourself, then stop lying to us.

    So you are denying that some theists have irrational beliefs about atheists such as:
    if you are an atheist you also must hate god,
    if you are an atheist something bad must have happened in your childhood
    if you are an atheist you have no moral values etc.

    You cut out the next sentence in my quote where I said that these beliefs are incorrect.

  322. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So you are denying that some theists have irrational beliefs about atheists such as:

    No, I’m not reading past lies and bullshit about you being compelled to believe anything. Either cite where this is true, or shut the fuck up about it.

    Once you stray over the line, like Plantinga making a mistake about science in his “proof of god”, everything becomes invalid. You aren’t saying anything cogent enough to read if your paranoia gets in the way of your rationality. Which it has.

    Yes, theist make these mistakes, but due to their own presuppositions, not ours. Don’t know why you even went there.

  323. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Theists presuppositions:
    if you are an atheist you also must hate god,[presumes god exists]
    if you are an atheist something bad must have happened in your childhood [presumes everybody must believe in god]
    if you are an atheist you have no moral values etc. [presumes morals only come from god through their holy book]
    Which has nothing to do with why you must be the one to define what atheism means to other atheists. Keep your definition. But don’t complain when others go further. It’s called choice, not compulsion.

  324. scenario says

    353 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    No, I’m not reading past lies and bullshit about you being compelled to believe anything. Either cite where this is true, or shut the fuck up about it.

    Your argument doesn’t make any sense. Where in any of my quotes did I say anyone is compelled to believe in anything? I specically argued the exact opposite. I’ve said many times that the only thing atheists have to believe in is that gods do not exist.

    Yes, theist make these mistakes, but due to their own presuppositions, not ours. Don’t know why you even went there.

    The original post was about dictionary atheists. Using the dictionary definition of atheists is a good starting argument when dealing with theists who have irrational views about atheists. This is one of the few areas where dictionary atheists have a valid point.

  325. scenario says

    354 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Theists presuppositions:
    if you are an atheist you also must hate god,[presumes god exists]
    if you are an atheist something bad must have happened in your childhood [presumes everybody must believe in god]
    if you are an atheist you have no moral values etc. [presumes morals only come from god through their holy book]
    Which has nothing to do with why you must be the one to define what atheism means to other atheists. Keep your definition. But don’t complain when others go further. It’s called choice, not compulsion.

    I really don’t understand this argument. The dictionary definition of atheism is not my definition. The dictionary definition is what it is. I can say that my two yorkies are really cats but it doesn’t make it true.
    I can say that being an atheist means that you must love cute pictures of kitty cats, but I would be wrong, (ask P.Z.)

    I’ve never complained when others go further. I see nothing wrong with someone being an atheist and a feminist etc. That’s why some people came up with the idea of Atheist+. This means that we are atheist’s but we also believe in other things.

    For example, when I look at the arguments for and against gay marriage, I automatically throw out any argument that is based solely on religion because I am an atheist. Then I look at the arguments that are left. The list of arguments for gay marriage is long and detailed. The list of arguments against gay marriage is short and based almost exclusively on emotion.

    I say that I am an atheist and I am for gay marriage. The two beliefs are somewhat related in my thought process but they are not the same thing. I do not insist that you must believe in the same things I believe in in order to be an atheist.

    I am a dictionary atheist only when someone says that as an atheist you must believe in something or other. This generally happens when dealing with theists. I have seen it with other atheists but it is much rarer and even rarer on FTB.

    I feel like I’m saying the answer is 9 and you are saying no you’re wrong you fucking idiot, the answer is 9.

  326. consciousness razor says

    To be a Christian today, you must believe in god, you must believe in Jesus, you must know some of the basic Jesus stories, such as the Jesus birth myth and jesus was executed, you must know some basic biblical stuff like the 10 commandments and the golden rule. Where did I claim that there is an elaborate core of christian beliefs? That is a strawman.

    They only have to “know” these things? They don’t need to believe any of it? Is there some test all Christians have to pass, so everyone else can identify that they know their stuff? Why are most of them so ignorant of their religion anyway? (Maybe they forget Sunday School, if they ever took it. Should they have to re-take the test occasionally, like for a Driver’s License?)

    Let me go back to my original argument.

    Translation: “let me ignore everything in the thread and beat the same, dead, irrelevant horse one more time.”

    The valid point that dictionary atheist have is that the only thing that an atheist has to believe in is that god does not exist. Not all atheists believe in the same set of values. When someone says that if you are an atheist, you have to or you cannot believe in something, they are wrong.

    What if they said “atheists should believe X, Y, Z to have any set of consistent atheistic beliefs”? No one’s forcing anyone to be consistent. You could be an atheist, a total dipshit, a clueless asshole, etc., all at the same time. But why should anyone want to?

    Your argument doesn’t make any sense. Where in any of my quotes did I say anyone is compelled to believe in anything?

    Here, for example:

    When someone says that if you are an atheist, you have to or you cannot believe in something, they are wrong.

    The phrase “you have to or you cannot” certainly implies to me that it’s a claim that you must do something, or that there’s some kind of compulsion. There’s not really a need to be logically consistent, though — it’s an ethical obligation, which people are capable of not respecting. So it’d be accurate if you said “ought to or should/shouldn’t.”

  327. scenario says

    357 consciousness razor

    They only have to “know” these things? They don’t need to believe any of it? Is there some test all Christians have to pass, so everyone else can identify that they know their stuff? Why are most of them so ignorant of their religion anyway? (Maybe they forget Sunday School, if they ever took it. Should they have to re-take the test occasionally, like for a Driver’s License?)

    What defines an atheist? If someone says that they are an atheist and then 5 minutes later says seriously “I have to go pray to god about that” would you believe that he was an atheist?

    What defines a christian? If someone says they are a christian and they don’t know anything about how Jesus died, or never heard about the Jesus birth myth would you believe he is a christian?

    Let me go back to my original argument.

    Translation: “let me ignore everything in the thread and beat the same, dead, irrelevant horse one more time.”

    Translation: I’m getting tired of defending quotes out of context.

    Your argument doesn’t make any sense. Where in any of my quotes did I say anyone is compelled to believe in anything?

    Here, for example:

    When someone says that if you are an atheist, you have to or you cannot believe in something, they are wrong.

    The phrase “you have to or you cannot” certainly implies to me that it’s a claim that you must do something, or that there’s some kind of compulsion. There’s not really a need to be logically consistent, though — it’s an ethical obligation, which people are capable of not respecting. So it’d be accurate if you said “ought to or should/shouldn’t.”

    Read the last three words of the sentence you quoted, “they are wrong”.

    Lets break down my sentence:

    “When someone says that if you are an atheist” (I am am about to quote what a hypothetical third party might say)
    “you have to or you cannot believe in something,” (I am quoting what a hypothetical third party might say”
    “they are wrong.” (I am disagreeing with the hypothetical third party.)

    Someone says “you are an atheist, you must believe in feminism.” They are wrong.
    Someone says “you are an atheist, you cannot believe in feminism.” They are wrong.

    As an atheist, you can believe or disbelieve in feminism. Belief in atheism is not dependent on a belief in feminism in any way. Belief in feminism is not dependant on atheism.

    Of course, someone may or may not believe in feminism if they are an atheist. They may have determined their opinions on feminism using the same logic that they used to determine their opinion on atheism. To them, atheism and feminism are related but that does not necessarily apply to anyone else.

    I’ve seem this type of tactics in a book by Anne Colture. I read about it in Al Franken’s book Lies and the lying liars who tell them. I don’t remember all of the details but it went something like this:
    Mr. BBB wrote a book. In the book, he quoted hitler saying something bad about the Jews. In her book, Ann said that on page XXX. Mr. BBB said “something bad…” but did not mention that what she was quoting was something said by a third party. The words were on the page she said, but she didn’t mention that the words she quoted were the exact opposite of the actual opinion of the person who wrote the book.

  328. consciousness razor says

    What defines an atheist? If someone says that they are an atheist and then 5 minutes later says seriously “I have to go pray to god about that” would you believe that he was an atheist?

    What defines a christian? If someone says they are a christian and they don’t know anything about how Jesus died, or never heard about the Jesus birth myth would you believe he is a christian?

    I suppose some level of knowledge about the myths is necessary, but of course that’s not sufficient. I know lots of things about Christians myths, more than a lot of Christians; but I’m not a Christian because I don’t believe many of those things are true. So even though this is going way off on a tangent to the topic of the thread, the comparison you’re making with an atheist who believes in and prays to a god (of which there are none) to an ignorant-and-believing-Christian (of which there are many) is comparing apples to oranges. It isn’t valid.

    Lets break down my sentence:

    “When someone says that if you are an atheist” (I am am about to quote what a hypothetical third party might say)
    “you have to or you cannot believe in something,” (I am quoting what a hypothetical third party might say”
    “they are wrong.” (I am disagreeing with the hypothetical third party.)

    Who do you think this hypothetical third party is, who might say that? PZ, me, Nerd of Redhead, Santa Claus? Who? Have you gotten the impression yet that this is a strawman, or is there a reason why you’re having a public conversation on a blog with hypothetical people?

    The words were on the page she said, but she didn’t mention that the words she quoted were the exact opposite of the actual opinion of the person who wrote the book.

    You’re awfully confused. You’ve been implying we’ve been making certain claims. You’re wrong about that, because you’re confused (or can’t read or are intentionally misrepresenting it). No one’s been saying you have been making those claims yourself; that really takes the confusion to a whole other level.

  329. scenario says

    359 consciousness razor

    The point about christianity boils down to there is a lot more bs you have to know and at least say you believe in to pass for christian than to pass for an atheist. Also, I’m more concerned about what Christians do than what they believe. If they say the right words, I’ll take them at their word that they believe, It’s all BS anyhow.

    Who do you think this hypothetical third party is, who might say that? PZ, me, Nerd of Redhead, Santa Claus? Who? Have you gotten the impression yet that this is a strawman, or is there a reason why you’re having a public conversation on a blog with hypothetical people?

    I don’t limit myself to just this blog or thread. I’ve already used one example. Christians have a lot of foolish beliefs about what atheists believe and stand for. This goes under the category of if you are an atheist you must believe in.

    I typed in the phrases
    “No atheist believes” in google and got 115,000 hits.
    “Every atheist believes” in google and got 101,000 hits.
    “Every atheist must believe” in google and got 10,400 hits
    “Atheists must believe” in google and got 125,000 hits.
    “Atheists never believe” got 13,100 hits.

    These are only the groups that took the time to set up web pages. Most websites have more readers than posters. It looks like hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of people know what every atheist believes or doesn’t believe. You say that my idea that there are people out there that believe that they know what every atheist believes is a strawman. I’ve got a couple of thousand hits on google that say that there are at least some people believe they do.

    You’re awfully confused. You’ve been implying we’ve been making certain claims.

    I asked you to point out an example of where I said that an atheist has to believe something or other.

    When someone says that if you are an atheist, you have to or you cannot believe in something, they are wrong.

    The phrase “you have to or you cannot” certainly implies to me that it’s a claim that you must do something, or that there’s some kind of compulsion.

    The phrase “you have to or you cannot” was the phrase I was arguing against.
    I asked what did I claim and you came back with a quote of what I was arguing against.

  330. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yawn, more strawmen, irrelevancies, and paranoia from scenario. Still can’t tell us why only he gets to define atheism, and nobody else can.

  331. cm's changeable moniker says

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/01/why-are-you-an-atheist/

    Babies are all atheists or I’m an atheist by default, because I was raised without religion. Nope. Uh-uh. Same problem as the Dictionary Atheist — it implies atheism is simply an intellectual vacuum. Babies aren’t Christians or Muslims or Hindus, and they aren’t atheists, either, because we expect at least a token amount of thought is given to the subject. If babies are atheists, then so are trees and rocks — which is true by the dictionary definition, but also illustrates how ridiculously useless that definition is.

    Babies might also have an in-built predisposition to accept the existence of caring intelligences greater than themselves, so they might all lean towards generic theism, anyway. Mommy is God, after all.

    There are a fair number of adults who ought to know better who insist on the dictionary definition, too. They’ve been brought up without god-belief, and some of them may not have even considered religion much at all. Unless they are real lightweights, genuine feathers adrift in the wind, they also carry a set of values that incline them towards godlessness…otherwise you’d expect them to fall on their knees and turn Christian the instant they first hear about Jesus. They don’t, and why? Probably because they learned some critical thinking skills from their parents. They carry positive values that make them resistant to the cheap promises of faith.

    Yeah, we also studied a bit of anthropology, too.

    ===

    Well, that’s how I was brought up, and how I’m raising my atheist children. Does this mean we have the “same problem [note: unspecified] as the Dictionary Atheist”?

  332. scenario says

    362

    Yawn, more strawmen, irrelevancies, and paranoia from scenario. Still can’t tell us why only he gets to define atheism, and nobody else can.

    200,000+ people say something and its a strawman because noone ever says it, uh huh.

    How do you define Atheism?

    Anyone can have their own personal definition, but a personal definition does not apply to anyone else. Anybody can define anything as anything but it means nothing to everyone else. I never said or implied that I defined atheism. Its already defined. Maybe the definition will change sometime in the future but a few people talking on a blog aren’t going to make it happen.

    I’m getting bored with arguing with a troll and my internet is kinds flaky today so I’m signing off.

  333. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    How do you define Atheism?

    Irrelevant to your argument, and you are abjectly illiterate if you haven’t caught where I am coming from.

    Anyone can have their own personal definition,

    Right, we all have our personal definition. Since there is no atheist organization to properly define it, we are on our own. Each and every one of us. You and I have different definitions.

    I never said or implied that I defined atheism. Its already defined.

    No its not. That is your idiocy speaking, not the facts. The fact is each and every one of us has our unique definition of atheism, just as each and every “insert any group” has theirs.

    Maybe the definition will change sometime in the future

    Its already changed as its usage has changed. Your diction is behind the times, like your “thinking”. Or rather, lack thereof.

    but a few people talking on a blog aren’t going to make it happen.

    NO, THATS WHAT MAKES THE DEFINITION CHANGE, THE USAGE, NOT YOUR IDEAL. You keep losing the logical argument, because you can’t understand the concept things change, and the references need to catch up.

    I’m getting bored with arguing with a troll

    You are the troll fuckwitted idjit. You come onto this blog to upset us. I don’t come to your blog to upset you. You are the interloper, the stupid one, and the idjit making waves. I just love how fuckwits like you think you own the world. You are irrelevant to us.

  334. says

    The more you see the world in black and white the less accurate is your picture. The same goes for a name like “Atheist”

    Many subtleties flavor a person’s position and calling one right or wrong is largely ridiculous. At the same time the whole point of language is a shared understanding. So expecting the term atheist to mean a bunch more than what the dictionary says simply subverts language.

    So many of us are technically agnostic by virtue of accepting the possibility of a god but, since we so heavily doubt his existence, it’s still most accurate to just call ourselves atheists. Hopefully at some point we’ll be able to be more expressive and help those around us embrace evidence-based knowledge, but that’s not an intrinsic part of most people’s understanding of the word atheist.

  335. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So expecting the term atheist to mean a bunch more than what the dictionary says simply subverts language.

    In your OPINION. In my OPINION, the dictionary definition is behind usage.

    So many of us are technically agnostic by virtue of accepting the possibility of a god but, since we so heavily doubt his existence, it’s still most accurate to just call ourselves atheists.

    That’s called the null hypothesis, which is a conclusion based on lack of solid evidence for deities. Which now requires solid and conclusive evidence to move out of the null hypothesis. It allows for evidence to presented and considered. It is an agnostic position.

    but that’s not an intrinsic part of most people’s understanding of the word atheist.

    You think atheists aren’t aware of this? That is the problem with the dictionary definition. It explains nothing beyond a basic term, when they are facets that are part of our experiences.

  336. says

    >In your OPINION. In my OPINION, the dictionary definition is behind usage.<

    Of course it's my opinion; this is a blog — they're ALL opinions. The dictionary *reflects* usage more than it dictates it. But that commonality underpins the useful exchange of ideas. We both have to know the meaning of words.

    "That is the problem with the dictionary definition. It explains nothing beyond a basic term, when they are facets that are part of our experiences."

    Again, it's a critical starting point because language requires such commonality for communications to be meaningful. Implying a bunch of nuance to base word will frequently result in confusing and/or frustrating exchanges to the degree of that nuance.

  337. John Morales says

    scenario @346:

    John Morales stated in several posts that people have two choices in moral values, religious or secular Humanism. Secular Humanism is a specific set of values. Humans have had many moral systems that were not either of these two.

    Name but one that is neither religious nor secular.

  338. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Atheism just like being gay or black or whatever is not just a check mark in a column on your fucking character sheet.

    That’s the point paraphrased, end line.

  339. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Implying a bunch of nuance to base word will frequently result in confusing and/or frustrating exchanges to the degree of that nuance.

    People will put that nuance there whether you want them to or not. We all do it. Which is a better nuance: atheist, somebody who hates god and is nihilistic morally. Or atheist, somebody who doesn’t believe in god, but has as set of morals. Some of us prefer the latter nuance when people hear the word atheist.

  340. says

    >People will put that nuance there whether you want them to or not. We all do it. Which is a better nuance: atheist, somebody who hates god and is nihilistic morally. Or atheist, somebody who doesn’t believe in god, but has as set of morals. Some of us prefer the latter nuance when people hear the word atheist.<

    They may put nuance there but it won't necessarily be what's intended. Far better to let the word serve its minimalist purpose (because it WILL whether we like it or not) and add the nuance we WANT to convey. Mind you, I LIKE this nuance, I just think we must work realistically within the limits of language.

    Jeff (now "Rationalist Missionary")

  341. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I was involved in an “frank exchange of views” with a climate denialist on a well known Intertubes cesspit of despair. The guy claimed to be an atheist and claimed that this meant that he couldn’t get upset over 2-3 billion people dying. Indeed, he couldn’t care about people any more than he cared about bacteria. Typical fricking glibertarian

    That is not atheism. That is nihilism. And as long as the two are confused in the public mind, atheism will continue to be reviled. Rejection of deities is only the first step in atheism. It’s the easy part. The hard work starts when we try to define meaning without having a cosmic meaning imposed on us from outside. It is a path that others have trod since at least the beginning of recorded history–from epicurians and stoics through Voltaire and Christopher Hitchens. They have all had to answer the question of meaning and morality without God.

    Atheism cannot simply be a negation. It has to present positive alternatives. Merely rejecting god does not make one a fully realized atheist any more than the realization that the world follows physical laws makes one a physicist. Atheism is a process of realization where the emphasis is on the real.

  342. says

    Ray,

    I sure agree with you on the desire to see our species thrive. Don’t know why, either, but it goes to show that gods are not needed. Life is just too cool.

    An interesting sidenote on climate deniers. I recently on a skeptics cruise and was amazed to find someone who identified as a skeptic and denied the human part of climate change. I found that fascinating since I always assumed that skeptics, of all people, would take scientific consensus as the null hypothesis. Not necessarily, it turns out. We should, of course, be willing to change our thinking but only when better evidence demands it.

    As to the term atheist, it’s merely an element of language that will mean what the listener thinks and, in most cases, that will be “one who doesn’t believe in god(s)”. Dictionarys merely reflect that fact. As mentioned earlier, it’s important that we be clear on our own level of nuance added to the term.

    Lastly, I must confess to a certain resignation at the eventual loss of a few billion of us. Usually I note this when talking about various calamities that are horrific for individuals but, for humanity, will most certainly not be extinction events.

  343. Theomanic says

    Usually I like to read all the comments before I post on something, but at 374… Forgive me, I am weak.

    It seems to me (an perhaps I misunderstand) that you are seeking to redefine the term “Atheist” as “Humanist”. I don’t really see the problem with Atheism being simply a lack of belief in god(s). That’s what it is. I define myself as an Atheist, a Humanist, and a Skeptic. And you know… a lot of other things too. But I don’t think one needs to redefine what Atheism is (though I think the word is a bit silly and unnecessary), merely note that to be an Atheist and nothing more is to live an arguably meaningless life.

    Maybe I’m being pedantic or I am misunderstanding the point. I agree that for one to stop at “I’m an Atheist!” without thinking through the effects of that world-view is very small-minded. Once you come to that conclusion, how can you not go further? But Atheists are not all Humanists, and I don’t think Atheism should incorporate that idea into its definition because it’s not really accurate.

    I guess for me, I would state “Because I am a Skeptic, I am an Atheist, and because I am an Atheist, I am a Humanist”. They are all different things, but related.

  344. says

    I guess for me, I would state “Because I am a Skeptic, I am an Atheist, and because I am an Atheist, I am a Humanist”. They are all different things, but related.

    The bolded part implies that you think that there are consequences to your atheism (i.e. humanism), which means that you are not one of those PZ call dictionary atheists who argue that atheism is ONLY the lack of belief in god and that it has no consequences.

    It seems to me (an perhaps I misunderstand) that you are seeking to redefine the term “Atheist” as “Humanist”.

    Nope, he is not trying to say that dictionary atheists are not atheists, he’s just criticising those that get to the atheism conclusion but refuse totake it further.

    Of course elsewhere he can argue against people who do take it further but in what he view as the wrong direction (nihilism? libertarianism?), but you cannot have such a debate with people who insist that there is no direction to go to.

    Usually I like to read all the comments before I post on something, but at 374… Forgive me, I am weak.

    Others who have participated much more in the thread and should thus have read at least some of it still can’t get it through their head that here PZ is not saying that only his version of atheism is the true atheism but only that, in effect, the conclusion of atheism can be used as a premise in further logical deduction and thus that atheism has consequences so I’m not sure that reading the thread would necessarily have helped.

    Oh, and we also have those arguing that because you need other premises beside atheism to get to some conclusions then those conclusions are not a consequence of atheism.

    And then there are those who claim that because there are other ways to reach those conclusions than atheism then they are not consequences of atheism.

    There probably are other that I forgot.

    And the kicker is that neither skepticism, nor advocating for the separation of church and state (by fighting creationism in public schools for example), nor science are consequences of atheism on its own, you need to add other premises or atheism flows from those things, yet nobody complains about adding those to the Atheist movement on the basis of the dictionary definition of atheism, yet when it comes down to feminism the dictionary definition of atheism gets trotted out as a club to bash those who want to add feminism to the mix, aided by “useful idiots” who misunderstand PZ’s claim even after having it pointed to them.

    Their position would be a lot more consistent if they were also riling against all the skepticism & atheism advocacy that is part of the atheist movement yet not part of the definition of being an atheist.