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Apr 22 2013

Earth Day: Atheism+Environmentalism

We’ve started the hangout on Google+. Stop by if you’re interested.


And…here’s the result.

This is the brief introduction I gave, to try and focus the discussion:

For a long time, I’ve been saying that atheism is a heck of a lot more than just disbelieving in gods: we arrive at that conclusion by various means, so the history matters, and recognition of the consequent reality matters — it has implications. I am an advocate for increasing the depth and meaning of atheism, for broadening it and increasing its relevance to more people. In that sense, I’m kind of an ur-atheism-plusser.

But actually, I think we all are. Atheism has always meant more than just disbelief. Probably the narrowest interpreter of atheism on freethoughtblogs is Edwin Kagin, who has openly said that he thinks the only issue that ought to matter to atheists is separation of church and state. But even that is adding extra meaning to the word, and it’s also a terribly narrow meaning, that really only applies to constitutional issues in the United States. The New Atheists (and Old Atheists, too), blithely fold Science into atheism, with scarcely any complaint from other atheists. There seem to be some affiliated issues that atheists, even atheists who still dumbly assert that atheism just means an absence of god-belief, are happy to unthinkingly accept as natural parts of atheism.

And then there are others. All you have to do is look at the angry loons who have freaked out over Atheism Plus. You want atheists to care about equality, and ethics, and social justice? NNNNOOOOOO! How dare you add stuff that isn’t in my minimalist understanding of atheism to my obligations as a human being? I want to be selfish and self-centered and Darwinian!

Now I’m curious to see what would happen if we say that environmentalism is a natural part of atheism, too. Will there be a freak out again? Will the Libertarians finally go away? Or will a majority happily recognize it as a necessary component of an ethic that tries to build a sustainable society on a world that is not propped up by magic?

So you’re all here to agree or argue with me, to consider the ramifications, to suggest where we’re going to hit a brick wall. And maybe we can also talk about why religion is a poor foundation for a responsible stewardship of the planet.

131 comments

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  1. 1
    Mathew Lehmann

    I get an “This post could not be found. Your URL may be incorrect, the post may have been deleted, or this account may not have access to the post.” error message when clicking the link.

  2. 2
    sethmassine

    I got the same message. Thought it was my ancient hardware

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    Link updated.

  4. 4
    Ulgaa

    Not really.

  5. 5
    Ulgaa

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2WPQfbCkvY&feature=g-subs-u

    Found it there though.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    xerxes the magnificent

    This sounds like a topic I have a view on!

    Science to me is a tool. It gives us a framework for knowledge, and finding out how to do more stuff and know more. The role environmentalism would play here is one of, as they say, bringing ‘wisdom’ to the knowledge.

    Humans have been around for far longer than science has. In that time, we’ve developed many other worldviews not based on the actual structure of the universe we live in, but rather on those patterns observable to us at that time. Obviously I wouldn’t be advocating a return to unscientific life. It’s just that these ways of thinking have been developed before. We have all this history to learn from; why don’t we make some use of it?

    In terms of environmentalism, who better for scientist to turn to than those indigenous people for whom the land often has more meaning. We should work at developing a philosophy, ideology, whatever word best suits, to live in our environment, rather than destroying it.

    These guys say it so much better than I ever could. It’s rap, and I hate rap, but I love this. Do yourself a favour; it pays out Canada and Australia and ends with some deep thoughts.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM3W5XBrVEA

  8. 8
    angle

    Can I have an invite? I’m not an MRA, I swear.

  9. 9
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    I’m sorry angle, we just finished. :(

  10. 10
    angle

    It’s cool, I have terrible timing.

  11. 11
    PatrickG

    @ xerxes:

    In terms of environmentalism, who better for scientist to turn to than those indigenous people for whom the land often has more meaning. We should work at developing a philosophy, ideology, whatever word best suits, to live in our environment, rather than destroying it.

    Can you expand on this? I have to say I’m getting a strong sense of Noble Savage here (an idealization of purer/more innocent societies). Put differently, this sounds like indigenous = expert.

    I’m not sure if I’m reading you correctly. But I do have some problems with scientists turning to any group to develop philosophy or ideology. Emergent properties, those are.

  12. 12
    mikeyb

    A favorite quote from Zarathustra:

    “I beg of you my brothers, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!”

  13. 13
    yubal

    For a long time, I’ve been saying that atheism is a heck of a lot more than just disbelieving in gods.

    vs.

    “Atheism is a single position on a single issue. Does god exist? – Matt D. et.al.-”

    Please discuss/elaborate.

    (My point rests at Humanism >> Atheism >> Skepticism)

  14. 14
    xerxes the magnificent

    @PatrickG

    Yes, I definitely don’t want that sounding like a ‘noble savage’ kind of thing. I was more making reference to the idea of feeling that one is indigenous to an area as a way of guiding what is done with it. More of a non-specific thought process that can give us a way of understanding and valuing environments that isn’t solely based on property rights and potential resource value.

    Once again, the video says it far better: Do we want to belong to planet Earth, or to an invading civilisation? Watch it if you haven’t already!

  15. 15
    michaelbusch

    @yubal:

    I thought the idea was that atheism is not enough. As said in the video (I paraphrase): “You don’t believe in any gods. Now what are you going to do?”
    _
    Also, I’m confused as to your notation. Are you saying that atheism is a superset of skepticism, or that it is more important, or something else?

  16. 16
    =8)-DX

    [26:26] PZ: The people who talk about moving off planet. It’s not gonna happen. OK. Maybe it will happen for some tiny minority of the people on this planet. Or maybe we’ll figure out some technique to shift frozen sperm and ova and have them hatched out by robots on Mars. But it’s not gonna save us. The people who are living here on the planet. That the only thing that will work, for our long-term survival, is if we figure out how to maintain a stable, healthy, culturally interesting population on a small planet in the universe. And that kind of bioengineering, I think, is essential, not just for our survival here, but for this pie-in-the-sky sort of long-term, let’s live off another world sort of strategy. You’re gonna need that too, and it’s gonna be even more important on an ecologically marginal planet like a terraformed Mars. If we can’t survive here, you’re not gonna do it on Mars.

    Yes! I love this quote.

  17. 17
    Asher Kay

    Sorry I missed the hangout :(

    I believe that to “expand” atheism, there’s going to have to be some philosophical muscle behind it. It’s pretty clear that things like environmentalism and feminism “fit with” atheism. I’d want to see developed, systematic arguments that these things actually *follow from* atheism.

    I’m reminded of the back-and-forth in late January between Myers and Steven Novella. Novella said this:

    Issues of freedom vs security, individualism vs collectivism, meritocracy vs egalitarianism are all value judgments. It is not just counterproductive, it is simply wrong to frame these issues as empirical questions objectively resolvable with skeptical analysis.

    This struck me as an odd statement, because it seemed to create a false choice between things that can be established empirically and things we simply choose to believe. This ignores the fact that many “values” can be derived *rationally*, from axiomatic beliefs about the nature of reality. And Novella’s framing also obscures the fact that the elevation of empirical methodology is itself a value derived from axiomatic beliefs about the nature of reality.

    One other thought. It’s possible that atheism alone doesn’t provide enough of an axiomatic foundation to get to these other things, or that atheism isn’t the best starting point.

  18. 18
    Anti Kultist

    While I agree that environmentalism is a lot closer to science(as opposed to entirely subjective politics) than a lot of the other things people want to mix in with atheism, there are many capable organizations dealing with environmentalism that have been at it far longer, and more importantly, cover the various political niches of it all. What I’m thinking of here are decisions like whether a technological angle is better than a return-to-nature angle and which parts are most important to focus on. There’s a ton of stuff here that people could legitimately disagree about and I’d hate to see people being alienated for no reason. I have severe issues with enforcing views and stating that The Atheists Believe… blah blah.

    Also, there’s unfortunately been a push towards dogmatic indoctrination of the population for many decades now, where one pushes cartoon versions of really complex problems instead of educating people about when it’s necessary to consciously defer to the experts despite not having all the information necessary to justify it. It’s also important to have a population who are capable of figuring out who the experts actually are in situations where they can’t verify expertise through simple actions like buying a cellphone to verify much of physics. If anything, the atheist/skeptic angle shouldn’t be “for environmentalism” as much as the methods used to arrive there. Having talks about “How skepticism lead me to X” for example, could very well be interesting. Especially if people holding such talks are capable of defending their position and having formal competence in the area X. People arranging conferences would do well to look outside the core skeptic community to get expertise for such talks, as we have recent examples of disasters ensuing when people who are incompetent attempt the same.

    The way I have justified my own views on environmentalism is that, although I consider myself incompetent to have a fact based opinion about how the huge feedback system that regulates the earth’s temperature works etc, I consider research into terraforming to be a great investment. I also consider many types of actions one could take based on superficial information, such as recycling, replenishing ground water, desert reclamation etc to be obviously positive long term investments. IMO, it would be much more honest to back off from the dogma and use language that accurately reflects what one knows and then choose actions that are beneficial with respect to reversing the problematic effects experts are warning about while at the same time not being useless blows into thin air if one happens to be wrong.

    I also think this line of argumentation could be much more beneficial out in the real world, against flat out global warming deniers, as there really is no reason why anyone has to have unwavering trust in the IPCC to agree with a lot of beneficial policies.

    I suppose this could be framed like “How to be a safe and conscious skeptic when it’s not practical to do something about your ignorance” or something like that. =)

    But ultimately, I think it’s a mistake to confuse uncontroversial methodological questions, like whether or not science is a decent tool, with having to adopt specific conclusions that might arise from employing it in some narrow area. The first one you can resolve merely by thinking about it, the second depends on facts about the world(possibly copious amounts that no individual could be expected to have full understanding of) as well as value judgments. I can easily imagine versions of environmentalism that I would have issues with being forced to represent. Especially in a context where I see no reason for it to be that way, as is the case in the skeptic movement. I think you’ll find that this is the general problem with attempting to expand atheism because people like me will look at existing special interest organizations and just ask “Why?”, followed by getting the impression that overzealous politicians are simply trying to take control in a way that is inappropriate. Much like I’d think it inappropriate and counterproductive for the WWF to start pushing atheism.

  19. 19
    rorschach

    So yeah, I kinda slept in….Oops. Will listen to it now.

  20. 20
    fractalheretic

    If atheism is more than just disbelief in gods, then what do you call someone who doesn’t believe in gods but doesn’t necessarily agree with the other stuff?

  21. 21
    mikmik

    Well said, Anti Kultist.
    I have a bias, or expectation in general, that an atheist has a higher level of critical thinking than average. I am surprised, mildly, or maybe disappointed, when an atheist isn’t all that concerned with human rights, or environmentalism.
    But in no way do I think I should tell another atheist how to think about anything. I have no right to turn my expectations into demands, or judgements.
    Environmentalism is my number one concern, and global warming is the number one threat to human kind, but it is not a part of the atheist platform. I am militant about environmentalism. It is more important than atheism for our species to address, yet I do not care to align them whatsoever. It is nice when they coincide in a person, but it is bullshit to demand it, or even just openly expect it and use it as some sort of qualification.
    Yes, encourage it, absolutely. Encourage everyone to it. Make a group – Atheists for Environmental preservation – or whatever, no problem. But demanding that atheists be anything more, that is wrong.

  22. 22
    John Morales

    fractalheretic:

    If atheism is more than just disbelief in gods, then what do you call someone who doesn’t believe in gods but doesn’t necessarily agree with the other stuff?

    An atheist who doesn’t apply their atheism (AKA a dictionary atheist).

  23. 23
    =8)-DX

    Yes, encourage it, absolutely. Encourage everyone to it. Make a group – Atheists for Environmental preservation – or whatever, no problem.

    You mean like Atheism+?

    But demanding that atheists be anything more, that is wrong.

    I see no problem in “demanding” that anyone be more humane, reasonable, compassionate, educate themselves. If you’re part of any atheist community there’s nothing wrong with demanding that others who are part of your community don’t fall prey to stupid and harmful ideas like climate change denial, racism, sexism, (or belief in the paranormal), etc. They may not be less of atheists, but I wouldn’t want to be identify as part of communities that hold these beliefs and predjudices. Either I leave, they leave, or it’s ok for me to call them out on their bullshit.

  24. 24
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    What Mik-Mik said.

    I have a bias, or expectation in general, that an atheist has a higher level of critical thinking than average. I am surprised, mildly, or maybe disappointed, when an atheist isn’t all that concerned with human rights, or environmentalism.
    But in no way do I think I should tell another atheist how to think about anything. I have no right to turn my expectations into demands, or judgements.

    As far as I see it, Atheism + compassion = Secular Humanism. While Atheism may be no more than a disbelief in gods, your views on social politics are directly informed by your Atheism; so the mind boggles at anyone who insists that we keep the two completely separate.

  25. 25
    rorschach

    While Atheism may be no more than a disbelief in gods, your views on social politics are directly informed by your Atheism

    Except for those atheists who see nothing wrong with treating women as second class citizens, you know, holy-book-style.

  26. 26
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    According to my equation, those Atheists lack compassion :)

  27. 27
    colluvial

    Atheism frees one up to drop the narcissistic preoccupation with appointing Homo sapiens the only significant twig on the tree of life. Once we get that twig out of our eyes, we have the opportunity to see the rest of the tree. All species are in this together.

  28. 28
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    It’s reasonable to argue that atheists should be concerned with social issues, and should be able to address these rationally, unveiled, as it were by superstition. Or maybe more so than a theist anyway.

    But arguing that atheism entails this concern is semantic; it’s as tedious as the “dictionary atheist” stance which it opposes.

  29. 29
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Antiochus

    Yes, I’d agree that it is not intrinsic to Atheism. But it is intrinsic to being a combination of Atheist and “a decent person”.

  30. 30
    PatrickG

    @ xerxes: Thanks for clarifying. I’m hoping to carve out some time today to actually watch the damn video (grumble grumble too much to do).

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts

    PZ’s questions (paraphrased from memory):
    1) Is environmentalism something the atheist movement should be concerned with?

    Yes, because it’s something everyone should be concerned with.

    2) Would more atheists in positions of power/influence favour environmentalism?

    There’s no guarantee it would. We’ve all seen from MRAs and glibertarians that atheism is not necessarily accompanied by a “sceptical, evidence-based” approach (Michael Busch, I think) in other areas; and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is, presumably, largely atheist, but China is building coal-fired power stations like there’s no tomorrow – thus increasing the likelihood that there won’t be one you’d want to live in. So it depends what kind of atheists replaced what kind of religious believers.

    A sceptical, evidence-based approach ought to lead both to atheism, and to the recognition of the overwhelming evidence that current human-environmental systems are not sustainable – but the two conclusions are logically independent. To be willing to work to change those systems also requires concern for others – unless you believe you have a significant chance of being around when they start to crumble, or are forcibly changed by an authoritarian regime born of impending crisis.

    Anti Kultist

    The way I have justified my own views on environmentalism is that, although I consider myself incompetent to have a fact based opinion about how the huge feedback system that regulates the earth’s temperature works etc, I consider research into terraforming to be a great investment.

    This is a bizarre statement. Of course you (and I) may be incompetent to understand the earth’s climate system well enough to draw conclusions about its future if we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but climate scientists are competent to do so, and have done so. Research into terraforming is an irrelevance to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.

    I also consider many types of actions one could take based on superficial information, such as recycling, replenishing ground water, desert reclamation etc to be obviously positive long term investments. IMO, it would be much more honest to back off from the dogma and use language that accurately reflects what one knows and then choose actions that are beneficial with respect to reversing the problematic effects experts are warning about while at the same time not being useless blows into thin air if one happens to be wrong.

    By “dogma”, I infer that you mean “the consensus conclusions of climate science that global warming is real, human-caused, and an urgent problem”. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

    I also think this line of argumentation could be much more beneficial out in the real world, against flat out global warming deniers, as there really is no reason why anyone has to have unwavering trust in the IPCC to agree with a lot of beneficial policies.

    The IPCC simply reports the current consensus of climate science. Unfortunately, no “beneficial policies” other than drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades will make much difference. Pretending otherwise benefits no-one but the denialists – indeed, it is simply an alternative form of denialism.

  32. 32
    w00dview

    Now I’m curious to see what would happen if we say that environmentalism is a natural part of atheism, too. Will there be a freak out again?

    There will be a freak out but far smaller in scale. It will mainly just be the randian libertarians who will pout and sulk about atheism encompassing environmental issues but they can still disbelieve in gods so I don’t see why they should care all that much. No one will force them to recycle or anything like that. Social justice issues, on the other hand seemed to even bother a few atheists who would describe themselves as liberal or progressive. So yeah, I don’t think environmentalism will be as divisive as “Guys, don’t do that”. The harms of environmental damage might be an easier concept to grasp than privilege for most atheists.

  33. 33
    erik333

    22 John Morales

    I’m completely at a loss as to how you go about “applying atheism” to other topics. I don’t believe in god, therefore i prefer vanilla icecream?

    Sure, why not make a group for “atheist environmentalists”. Seems equally worthwhile to say “red-haired environmentalists”. Naturally, one hopes there is market for it that is not already covered by plain “environmentalist” groups. Say, if there is anti-atheist bigotry in the other groups.

    Coming up with some new terminology seems preferable to corrupting/coopting the meaning of “atheist”.

    It seems to me that PZ is right and wrong, people who think science is a part of atheism are dumb.

  34. 34
    Muz

    As a somewhat aside; people talk about colonising Mars fairly casually as a shorthand for humans branching out. Presumably via some sort of terraforming I suppose.
    I heard a planetary physics guy recently who reminded me one of those things you already know but didn’t put two and two together for… Mars’ atmosphere is in the crapper for a reason. It’s too small and its magnetic field offers not so great protection against solar winds and similar.
    So unless you can increase its mass and start up a magnetic field on there somehow seeding it with gas and bacteria and whatever else (as per the usual terraforming notions), which is a not insignificant undertaking in itself – this would likely be a pretty huge waste of effort on the whole.
    So even if we do figure out how to do this stuff, Mars probably isn’t the place we’re going to try it out on.

  35. 35
    Asher Kay

    @erik333

    I’m curious whether you see atheism as a conclusion with no further entailments. Do you ever have thoughts of the form, “if there is no god, then _______”?

  36. 36
    erikthebassist

    It seems to me that PZ is right and wrong, people who think science is a part of atheism are dumb.

    If you didn’t come to your atheism via science then how do you purport to know there are no gods? You just don’t believe in gods because your gut tells you there aren’t any?

    What good does that do you? It allows you to feel intellectually superior to god bots and that’s about it, but if science doesn’t inform your atheism, you’ve simply come to the right answer but completely by accident.

    Some of us look to the evidence science provides to answer the question of whether gods exist, find that evidence lacking, and that’s why we’re atheists. I think it’s better to have a reason to not believe in gods rather than just ‘because’.

    Science illuminates the universe in ways that religion or belief in gods can’t, it can answer empirical questions that theologists can not. It informs us in rational ways with facts about the world around us. Those facts can and should inform policy decisions and our political opinions.

    I’m an atheist for the same reasons I’m an environmentalist and a feminist and a humanist and a progressive liberal for that matter, because the world as I see it through the lens of science tells me that there are no gods, AGW is a real and imminent threat, that all life has intrinsic value because it is so rare, and that if we don’t start seeing each other and future generations as fellow human beings with all the same capacity for joy and suffering that we ourselves posses and act accordingly, we’ll end up destroying ourselves, and that would be the worst possible outcome of all.

    To be just an atheist is pointless. Atheism is not enough. If we want to make the world a better place we need to be more than just atheists otherwise atheism is nothing more than mental masturbation for the egocentric.

  37. 37
    David Marjanović

    I’m an atheist for the same reasons I’m an environmentalist and a feminist and a humanist and a progressive liberal for that matter, because the world as I see it through the lens of science tells me that there are no gods, AGW is a real and imminent threat, that all life has intrinsic value because it is so rare, and that if we don’t start seeing each other and future generations as fellow human beings with all the same capacity for joy and suffering that we ourselves posses and act accordingly, we’ll end up destroying ourselves, and that would be the worst possible outcome of all.

    I agree with all of this, but note that it turns things around: science isn’t a part of atheism – atheism is a well-tested scientific hypothesis.

  38. 38
    erikthebassist

    I agree David, and that was intentional. It most certainly is putting the cart before the horse in my opinion to talk about science as part and parcel of atheism when it is science that tells me that atheism should be the default intellectual position on the question of whether or not gods exist.

    If I had a nit to pick with PZ on the whole concept of Atheism+, it would be that. I’d rather call it rationalism+, or science+. I attempted to convey that last night (I was the guy on the left, didn’t realize I had to set up my own lower third) but I don’t think I got it across as well as I had wanted to.

    But it really is a nit and nothing more. I agree in principal that it is not enough to be an atheist and pine for the abolishment of religion, we have to ask ourselves what else we believe in, as atheists, who have come to that position through rational inquiry.

  39. 39
    erik333

    @36 erikthebassist

    “If you didn’t come to your atheism via science then how do you purport to know there are no gods?”

    It’s not possible to actually know such a thing, or come to such a conclusion via science. “god doesn’t exist” is a fundamentally unprovable claim. Even if you did come to the conclusion via science (if we for the moment assume such a thing is possible, for the sake of argument) – science still isn’t a part of “atheism”. Atheism would be a result of applying science, science would still not be a part of Atheism.

    Sure, you could fail to be convinced by claims of god’s existence for the wrong reasons – but thats really a backwards way to frame the issue. Positive claims require positive evidence, until such are presented you should not believe them. You might entertain such notions as thought experiments, or excercises in philosophy – but you should not believe them.

    You even say it yourself. Atheism is incidental to your environmentalism etc, so why would you try and cram those other things you do believe in into a term about disbelief? Especially when you find atheism itself to be pointless?

  40. 40
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    But it is intrinsic to being a combination of Atheist and “a decent person”.

    Or just being a decent person. You don’t need to be an atheist to do that.

  41. 41
    michaelbusch

    @Muz @34:

    If we were to melt the entire ice reservoirs on Mars to raise the surface temperature and pressure to the point that liquid water would be stable at the surface, we would be left with a CO2 dominated atmosphere with a pressure that was low but tolerable for humans – so you’d need to go around with a gas mask all the time. The timescale for such a thick atmosphere to boil off into space would be a few hundred million years, unless you somehow covered the whole planet with a tent that would last longer. But all of this is far outside any normal planning horizon.
    _
    All serious proposals for humans living on Mars assume the population would spend most of the time in enclosed habitats, be they buried vaults or surface structures covered in sandbags. But even a single human mission to Mars is out of range of any currently-planned space program (no, Mars One is not credible) – no one has been able to design a sufficiently-large spacecraft that can be landed on Mars intact without spending a very large amount of resources.
    _
    There certainly are other more plausible locations for human colonization of the solar system. I can recommend a list of accessible water- and organic-rich near-Earth asteroids that are easier to get to than Mars in every way. But, as PZ and others said, almost all of the human population is going to be on Earth for a long time yet.

  42. 42
    SallyStrange

    I’m completely at a loss as to how you go about “applying atheism” to other topics.

    I’m completely at a loss as to how people refuse to see how freaking obvious this is. There are religious people everywhere making various claims, promoting various viewpoints, policies, and modes of education, etc., based on their false beliefs about the nature of reality. Since they do exist, the obvious answer to how to apply atheism is to look at the real-world proposals offered by theists and evaluate them in light of the fact that there are no gods (it is a fucking fact, okay–people need to lighten up about making this assertion) and see if they make sense or not.

    As Asher Kay says, the typical formulation is “IF there are no gods, THEN_____________.”

    In the context of environmentalism, you could say, “If there are no gods, then we can be reasonably sure that no supernatural beings are going to save our butts from global warming so we better work on solving the problem ourselves.”

    “If there are no gods, then there is no afterlife and it would be cruel to condemn our descendents to life on an ecologically impoverished, unbearably hot planet.”

    “If there are no gods, then those U.S. Congressmen who cited Yahweh’s rainbow promise to never destroy mankind again after the great genocide flood as proof that global warming can’t be happening are probably wrong.”

    And so on and so forth.

    I am sorry if my response betrays some impatience, but several people have been arguing with me on Twitter on exactly this subject and I have really begun to lose patience. Atheism has real world applications because most of the world is religious. Until the whole world is no longer dominated by religious people, atheism will continue to have real world applications. Someone please explain to me what the hell is so hard to grasp about that simple point.

  43. 43
    erikthebassist

    You even say it yourself. Atheism is incidental to your environmentalism etc, so why would you try and cram those other things you do believe in into a term about disbelief? Especially when you find atheism itself to be pointless?

    See this is the exact problem with the anti-atheism+ crowd. This is a straw man. No one is saying that we need to cram these social justice issues into atheism.

    What PZ and others here are saying is that being just an atheist doesn’t get you very far, especially as the basis for a movement. If we want to grow and do outreach, we have to start talking about important questions that we as a society face.

    As atheists, we are necessarily going to approach these questions differently that a theist, so it’s worth talking about atheism in the context of how atheism informs our views on social justice issues.

    If I want to join the debate about gay marriage, I can do as an atheist, which means I can disregard biblical arguments.

    I can also do so as a rationalist with a scientific world view and disregard anti-scientific arguments about genetics and evolution that are also thrown out.

    As a humanist I can argue on behalf of individual freedoms and equal treatment under the law.

    As a secularist I can argue against religiously motivated legislation.

    I can be all of these things and can also fight for social justice. One aspect that informs my opinions about social justice is my atheism. I want to be more than an atheist. PZ wants us all to be more than just atheists.

    If you just want to be an atheist and nothing more you are free to do so. Some of us aspire to more. No one is changing definitions or cramming anything anywhere. It’s “Atheism+”, not “Atheism redefined”

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  44. 44
    PatrickG

    @ SallyStrange:

    As Asher Kay says, the typical formulation is “IF there are no gods, THEN_____________.”

    Unfortunately, for too many people the construct appears to be “IF there are no gods, THEN there is no need to examine how religious culture shapes my worldview. Because.”

    Also, Asher Kay needs to close hir statements. Where’s the END IF?

  45. 45
    David Marjanović

    “If there are no gods, then there is no afterlife

    Doesn’t strictly follow – there are atheistic strains of Buddhism that nonetheless believe in rebirth and nirvana. I think there’s no afterlife for the same set of reasons why I think there are no gods, not because I think there are no gods.

    “If there are no gods, then those U.S. Congressmen who cited Yahweh’s rainbow promise to never destroy mankind again after the great genocide flood as proof that global warming can’t be happening are probably wrong.”

    That one’s already wrong by their own logic: Yahweh promising he won’t destroy mankind again says nothing about us doing it ourselves, let alone about us not quite getting to whatever level counts as “destroy”.

    Of course I completely agree with this one, however:

    “If there are no gods, then we can be reasonably sure that no supernatural beings are going to save our butts from global warming so we better work on solving the problem ourselves.”

  46. 46
    erik333

    @42 SallyStrange

    “there are no gods (it is a fucking fact, okay–people need to lighten up about making this assertion)”

    Oh it is a fact is it? Then you’ll have no trouble showing the truth of your claim I am sure. I won’t hold my breath while waiting though. I am an atheist myself, but your claim is simply an unprovable assertion that you shouldn’t be saying when people can hear you – it’s dishonest. If you can’t show it you don’t know it, and thus shouldn’t claim that you do.

    “If there are no gods, then we can be reasonably sure that no supernatural beings are going to save our butts from global warming so we better work on solving the problem ourselves.”

    You could be reasonably sure about that, even if you thought god existed. Atheism is neither necessary or sufficient.

    “If there are no gods, then there is no afterlife and it would be cruel to condemn our descendents to life on an ecologically impoverished, unbearably hot planet.”

    Ignoring that atheism does not exclude the belief in an afterlife, even with a god belief it would still be cruel and irresponsible to ruin earth. Atheism is still neither necessary or sufficient.

    “If there are no gods, then those U.S. Congressmen who cited Yahweh’s rainbow promise to never destroy mankind again after the great genocide flood as proof that global warming can’t be happening are probably wrong.”

    Correct, if god never existed – he couldn’t have caused any floods. Atheism is not required for the assessment that the flood story is not literal truth though, many christians agree.

    Not “believing bullshit for bad reasons” has practical application, i.e. applied scepticism. Atheism, in my view, is a product of a sufficiently sceptical mind. But you *can* be an atheist while still believing bullshit – and clearly, you agree.

    You even admit to intentionally putting the cart before the horse, it’s hard to view this as something other than intellectual dishonesty that you admit to with pride. I wonder why, it’s incomprehensible to me. You probably don’t consider the issue important, or relevant – which makes me wonder why you would bother to do it intentionally.

    @43 erikthebassist

    “See this is the exact problem with the anti-atheism+ crowd. This is a straw man. No one is saying that we need to cram these social justice issues into atheism.”

    Meet PZ “Ulusses” Meyers ;-)

    “For a long time, I’ve been saying that atheism is a heck of a lot more than just disbelieving in gods”

    Don’t take that too seriously, because I didn’t :-)

    What i don’t understand is why you bother with atheism in this context, secularism, for instance, might be a more useful and inclusive tag to add to the “plus”. There are plenty of religious folks who agree that the bible isn’t Truth with a capital T, though, I imagine they are relatively few in the U.S.

    You might be able to disregard biblical references as an atheist, but simply disregarding them doesn’t make a compelling argument – you still have to argue for your position. Atheism gets you nowhere with that.

    What seems weird to me is to use “Atheism+”, while all the action is in the “+”. PZ, for instance, seems less than careful in making sure that the label is made distinct from a redefinition of atheism.

  47. 47
    SallyStrange

    “If you didn’t come to your atheism via science then how do you purport to know there are no gods?”

    It’s not possible to actually know such a thing, or come to such a conclusion via science. “god doesn’t exist” is a fundamentally unprovable claim.

    See, this is nonsense. If it is impossible to “know” that no gods exist, then it is impossible to know anything. The claim that gods do not exist is not provable, true, but then, neither are any other claims about reality. It is, however, like all the other claims about reality, disprovable. So I suggest that atheists stop pussyfooting around this issue and go right ahead and shout it from the rooftops: “THERE ARE NO GODS! NONE WHATSOEVER!” And invite theists to provide evidence to contradict that claim. We will find, as with other true claims about reality, that contradictory evidence is not forthcoming. And you’re on solid epistemological ground.

    Atheists should stop being so cowardly about proclaiming the non-existence of gods.

  48. 48
    erik333

    @ Sally

    “You even admit to intentionally putting the cart before the horse, it’s hard to view this as something other than intellectual dishonesty that you admit to with pride. I wonder why, it’s incomprehensible to me. You probably don’t consider the issue important, or relevant – which makes me wonder why you would bother to do it intentionally.”

    I completely retract this, i somehow forgot to remove it. You never mentioned cart or horse, erikthebassist did. My bad.

  49. 49
    mikmik

    SallyStrange

    In the context of environmentalism, you could say, “If there are no gods, then we can be reasonably sure that no supernatural beings are going to save our butts from global warming so we better work on solving the problem ourselves.”

    Exactly. There is also the expectation that Armageddon will happen – some bizarre number like 44% of Christians think it will happen in our lifetimes(well, maybe not min ie 53yrs age), and those that think the beasts and plants and Earth are here for our domination and exploitation.

    =8)-DX

    In the context of environmentalism, you could say, “If there are no gods, then we can be reasonably sure that no supernatural beings are going to save our butts from global warming so we better work on solving the problem ourselves.”

    We can also use atheism to confront religious based views that we mentioned above.

    I see no problem in “demanding” that anyone be more humane, reasonable, compassionate, educate themselves. If you’re part of any atheist community there’s nothing wrong with demanding that others who are part of your community don’t fall prey to stupid and harmful ideas like climate change denial, racism, sexism, (or belief in the paranormal), etc. They may not be less of atheists, but I wouldn’t want to be identify as part of communities that hold these beliefs and predjudices. Either I leave, they leave, or it’s ok for me to call them out on their bullshit.

    I don’t care where we are, we should call them on their bullshit! But especially here at a science based, or influenced, blog site.
    – - -

    NEW YORK, Oct. 24 /PRNewswire/ — Forty percent of all Americans and 45
    percent of Christians believe that the world will end, as the Bible predicts,
    in a battle at Armageddon between Jesus and the Antichrist, according to a new
    Newsweek Poll on prophecy. Fully, 71 percent of Evangelical Protestants, but
    only 28 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 18 percent of Catholics
    share that view.
    The poll is part of the cover package, “Prophecy: What the Bible Says
    About the End of the World,” in the November 1 issue of Newsweek (on
    newsstands Monday, October 25), which also includes articles by Religion
    Editor Kenneth L. Woodward, on “The Way the World Ends,” and “Millennium
    Madness” by Senior Editor John Leland. According to the poll, almost half of
    believers in the Biblical prophecy of Armageddon (47%) think the Antichrist is
    on earth now, and 45 percent of them believe Jesus will return to Earth in
    their lifetime. But, only a modest group –15 percent — of believers in the
    Armageddon prophecy — or about 6 percent of all Americans — think Jesus will
    return as early as the year 2000.
    In the poll, large majorities of believers in the second coming of Christ
    believe that current events such as natural disasters (83%), epidemics like
    AIDS and Ebola (66%) and outbreaks of violence like shootings (62%), are a
    sign that it will happen soon. An overwhelming majority of believers in a
    second coming (95%) believe that, under such circumstances, it is important to
    get right with God and a majority (65%) think it is important to convert non-
    Christians. However, less than half of believers (42%) think that converting
    people to the Christian faith hastens the return of Jesus to Earth. Among all
    of those surveyed, 57 percent expect that people will be divided between
    heaven and hell after the world ends. An even larger majority (68%) expect
    that they will be going to heaven.
    For this Newsweek Poll, Princeton Research Associates interviewed
    755 adults, 18 and older from October 21-22. The margin of sampling error is
    plus or minus 4 percentage points.

  50. 50
    Asher Kay

    @PatrickG


    if (!gods) {
    try {
    takeResponsibility();
    } catch (AssholeException ae) {
    log.error("Unable to connect beliefs with actions");
    }
    }

  51. 51
    Asher Kay

    @David

    Doesn’t strictly follow – there are atheistic strains of Buddhism that nonetheless believe in rebirth and nirvana.

    Good point. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not convinced that atheism is the best starting point. Physicalism might work better.

  52. 52
    Asher Kay

    @erik333

    but your claim is simply an unprovable assertion

    If it’s A) an assertion; and B) doesn’t imply other beliefs or values, then it’s completely empty.

  53. 53
    erik333

    47 SallyStrange

    Great! We’ve been waiting for this a long time! So what is the proof of the non existence of gods?

    Can you even name what type of evidence that could, in principle, be presented that would disprove “gods”?

    As a hint, one common objections to god claims is that they are normally unfalsifiable. That last word is relatively important…

    It’s due to honesty that we don’t proclaim the non existence of gods as a fact, not cowardice.

  54. 54
    SallyStrange

    If you disagree that gods don’t exist, please: present the relevant evidence and I will reconsider my claim. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.

  55. 55
    SallyStrange

    Also, if you can figure out a way to tell the difference between gods that don’t exist and gods that are unfalsifiable, let me know. To me, they look identical, i.e.: nonexistent. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.

  56. 56
    SallyStrange

    I will also note that applying this standard of hyperskeptical proof-seeking to ordinary activities would mean that nothing ever got done. I can’t prove that we’re not all in the Matrix, either. Get over it and get on with the important things in life, like preventing (well, mitigating, at this point) the imminent ecological catastrophe that is the subject of the OP.

  57. 57
    SallyStrange

    Doesn’t strictly follow – there are atheistic strains of Buddhism that nonetheless believe in rebirth and nirvana.

    Fair point. As are your other points. But the act of quibbling about what exactly does follow once you accept that there are no gods (oh geez, there I go again!) provides evidence for my main assertion, which is that there are literally thousands, nay, millions of ways to apply atheism to subjects not directly related to atheism. There are as many ways to apply atheism to subjects outside of atheism as there are religious believers who allow their theistic beliefs to anything outside their church, temple, or mosque. Indeed, the placement of temples and mosques and so on is another topic where atheism is applicable to, say, city planning and tax policy. That’s the main thing I was trying to get across.

  58. 58
    erik333

    52 Asher Kay

    The assertion has implications in regard to what you think about god claims, if your world view is somewhat coherent.

  59. 59
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    So what is the proof of the non existence of gods?

    There can’t be a “proof”, unless the gods are sufficiently defined to be falsifiable. Vaguely defined negatives cannot be disproven. Godbots are extremely careful to keep their deities vague and ill-defined, which means they can’t be disproven.

    This then requires the use of the null hypothesis to change the parameters of the argument. By using the null hypothesis, “there is no solid and conclusive physical evidence for deities, therefore we declare they don’t exist. Show this conclusion is wrong with solid postive evidence.” You then put the proof where it belongs, on those making a positive claim of deities. And this allows you to challenge them to properly define their deities so falsification can occur. Watch them run away….

  60. 60
    Nick Gotts

    It’s due to honesty that we don’t proclaim the non existence of gods as a fact, not cowardice. – erik333

    Do you feel the same about vampires, leprechauns and invisible, inaudible, intangible dragons?

  61. 61
    erikthebassist

    Erik333

    I know PZ is less than careful with it. In another thread I said much the same and made that point myself. I’d prefer rationalism+, or science+ or something to that effect. But Atheism+ is fine too. It’s just a name.

    It’s nit picking to say it shouldn’t be called Atheism+, and I’m happy to pick that nit, so long as it’s importance isn’t over stated.

  62. 62
    michaelbusch

    @erik333 @53:

    one common objections to god claims is that they are normally unfalsifiable.

    That is not true. Most religions claim some idea of god / gods / supernatural entities that have effects on the observable universe. This makes them subject to investigation and falsifiability. So far, all such god claims that have been tested have been proven false. Therefore, the null hypothesis of atheism remains correct.
    _
    Notice how you’ve confused the burden of proof and said “prove that there is no god”? The proper logic goes the other way around. Atheism is the null hypothesis, since it makes no claims of anything outside of known physical properties of the universe. To be considered seriously, any god claim that says there is a god with any effect on the universe at all would have to be enough of a better explanation of the universe than the null hypothesis. As so far, no such claim has been made.
    _
    You can formulate ideas of entirely non-interventionist gods. But, as I said, those are a small minority of current religious opinions. And, as Sally said, an entirely non-interventionist god is by definition indistinguishable from one that does not exist. If you are asserting the existence of such a god, then you have already agreed to functional atheism – because by definition you should act the same way if such a god exists and if such a god does not exist.
    _
    Incidentally: the logic above means that I, and a great many other atheists, are technically “functionally-atheist agnostics”. As long as there is no compelling evidence for any sort of supernatural entity, I will act as though there is none. If such evidence should at some point be presented, then I will change my actions.
    _
    Re. the connection between atheism and environmentalism:
    _
    I repeat what I said in the hangout. I think the idea is that atheism and environmentalism both follow from valuing evidence and critical thinking. People do become either atheists or environmentalists for many other reasons – and that’s a good thing. But this can sometimes become a problem, if those reasons lead to other bad ideas (e.g. “God says we should care for the Earth” – good environmentalist ethic, bad when atheists get falsely blamed for all environmental problems).

  63. 63
    michaelbusch

    @myself @62:
    And I see that Nerd got there first. But I hope what I wrote adds to what others have said.

  64. 64
    Asher Kay

    Great! We’ve been waiting for this a long time! So what is the proof of the non existence of gods? Can you even name what type of evidence that could, in principle, be presented that would disprove “gods”?

    Your second statement implies that you accept empirical evidence as proof. Empirical evidence only operates with respect to an empirical theory. Further, empirical theories do not operate in the same way as, say, logical proofs — that is, the truth of an empirical theory is always considered to be provisional in some way.

    So all you seem to need as assumptions to get you there are A) that a correct physical theory is not contingent upon time; B) causal closure; and C) the absence of supernatural events. A “theory of everything” would provide conclusive evidence of causal closure. The reach of our best existing theories provide good (but not conclusive) evidence of causal closure. In other words, we have seen nothing to directly contradict the idea that events in the universe are explicable, even if they are not yet fully explained.

    So we have decent evidence that there are no beings that produce supernatural effects. If there are supernatural beings that produce *no* effects, we can safely call them “non-existent” by simply defining existence in terms of having causal efficacy.

  65. 65
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    If deities aren’t sufficiently defined as to be falsifiable, they are deist type gods. Then parsimony comes into play. If the same explanation occurs with or without the non-interventionist deity, then the deity is just an imaginary placeholder, and can be ignored.

  66. 66
    Asher Kay

    The assertion has implications in regard to what you think about god claims, if your world view is somewhat coherent.

    Those implications seem to be already present in the assertion. What you would think about god claims is that they are false, which is already stated in the assertion. Or would you think more things about god claims than that?

  67. 67
    erik333

    54 SallyStrange

    “If you disagree that gods don’t exist, please: present the relevant evidence and I will reconsider my claim. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.”

    I don’t believe gods exist, thus i have no such evidence. I never claimed I did. I’m an atheist…

    You asserted that gods do not exist. Surely you *do* have evidence in order to claim that as a fact? It’s surely not just a faith based assertion, of the same kind we find unconvincing from theists?

    “Also, if you can figure out a way to tell the difference between gods that don’t exist and gods that are unfalsifiable, let me know. To me, they look identical, i.e.: nonexistent. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.”

    You can’t tell the difference (at least while alive), that’s why they are unfalsifiable and unconvincing.

    “Fair point. As are your other points. But the act of quibbling about what exactly does follow once you accept that there are no gods (oh geez, there I go again!) provides evidence for my main assertion…”

    What in the… counter arguments prove your point… handy ;-)

  68. 68
    SallyStrange

    “If you disagree that gods don’t exist, please: present the relevant evidence and I will reconsider my claim. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.”

    I don’t believe gods exist, thus i have no such evidence. I never claimed I did. I’m an atheist…

    So, you have zero evidence that gods exist. Yet you maintain that I should refrain from claiming that gods exist. Whatever. You just sound silly.

    You asserted that gods do not exist. Surely you *do* have evidence in order to claim that as a fact? It’s surely not just a faith based assertion, of the same kind we find unconvincing from theists?

    2,000+ years of motivated, dedicated, yet fruitless searching for said evidence.

    Also, null hypothesis.

    “Also, if you can figure out a way to tell the difference between gods that don’t exist and gods that are unfalsifiable, let me know. To me, they look identical, i.e.: nonexistent. In the meantime, I will continue to assert that there are no gods.”

    You can’t tell the difference (at least while alive), that’s why they are unfalsifiable and unconvincing.

    What’s your point? You don’t even have a point here. Yes, they are unfalsifiable and unconvincing. That’s why I say they don’t exist.

    “Fair point. As are your other points. But the act of quibbling about what exactly does follow once you accept that there are no gods (oh geez, there I go again!) provides evidence for my main assertion…”

    What in the… counter arguments prove your point… handy ;-)

    First of all, fuck your passive aggressive smiley face. If you want to say nice things, then fucking say some nice things. If you want to say confrontational, unpleasant things, then fucking go ahead and do that. If you are saying confrontational things but want to defuse the inevitable hostile response by including a stupid fucking smiley face, then fuck you for being stupid AND passive aggressive.

    Second of all, yes, the existence of a conversation about how I applied X to a real world situation correctly in one instance but incorrectly in another circumstance is indeed a data point in favor of the hypothesis that X has real world applications.

    You need to respond to Nerd, Michael Brusch, and Asher Kay.

  69. 69
    erik333

    @ 62 michaelbusch, 59 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    “Notice how you’ve confused the burden of proof and said “prove that there is no god”?”

    No, I’m all about the burden of proof and the null hypothesis. Sally Strange isn’t, shes asserting the negative – that requires justification.

    “That is not true. Most religions claim some idea of god / gods / supernatural entities that have effects on the observable universe.”

    Granted. Some claims about the afterlife do not, though. There is also, plausibly, some space in the noise of random events and lack of data for the signal of an interventionist god to hide.

    @64 Asher Kay

    C would be pretty hard to demonstrate.

    @66 Asher Kay

    As previously pointed out, it also means you are (hopefully) unimpressed by arguments which depend on gods existence for validity.

  70. 70
    SallyStrange

    Sally Strange isn’t, shes asserting the negative – that requires justification.

    Null hypothesis.

  71. 71
    SallyStrange

    See, I’m just skipping the “I believe” part of “I believe no gods exist.”

    Functionally, they are the exact same statement.

    The resulting arguments are exactly the same, with the bizarre exception of occasionally causing dunderheaded atheists like mike333 to adopt the theist’s position of demanding I prove a negative, which of course is impossible whether the negative is regarding gods, unicorns, vampires, or alien civilizations.

    It’s cowardice, I tell you.

  72. 72
    SallyStrange

    Errata:

    Yet you maintain that I should refrain from claiming that gods exist.

    Yet you maintain that I should refrain from claiming that gods DO NOT exist.

    2,000+ years of motivated, dedicated, yet fruitless searching for said evidence.

    2,000+ years of motivated, dedicated, yet fruitless searching for positive evidence for the existence of gods.

  73. 73
    Eristae

    If you want us to “disprove the existence of God,” you’re going to have to define the qualities of this “God” before we even make the attempt. In other words, what qualities does your God have that we could test against reality? What kind of proof is even theoretically or logically possible?

    Because for a lot of people, “disprove the existence of God” is basically saying, “disprove the existence of X, and I refuse to tell you what X is.”

  74. 74
    Eristae

    Oh, and anyone who asks to see proof that x/God doesn’t exist while holding definition of x/God includes “something that cannot be proven,” has earned a swift kick in the pants.

  75. 75
    SallyStrange

    Sorry, erik333.

  76. 76
    mudpuddles

    @ erik333, #53

    47 SallyStrange
    Great! We’ve been waiting for this a long time! So what is the proof of the non existence of gods?
    Can you even name what type of evidence that could, in principle, be presented that would disprove “gods”?

    Gaahh! So frustrating, because some of your other arguments are otherwise pretty reasonable.

    First, science does not deal in “proofs”, so that’s a big flaming strawman. Science works to establish evidence, and builds a view of the world built upon the weight of evidence. Where evidence from any one scientific endeavour is ambiguous or uncertain, but nonetheless suggests a particular reality, we then search for consilience, which can lead to consensus. Such is the case with current knowledge of climate change, or mass extinctions. In many cases, absence of evidence – if arrived at through a scientific method – may be taken as evidence of absence. Second, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Or, in the case of supernatural beings, pretty much any credible objective evidence will do.

    As a hint, one common objections to god claims is that they are normally unfalsifiable. That last word is relatively important…

    Everything is pretty much unfalsifiable to 100% certainty, but just because something can’t be disproved doesn’t mean its not horsecrap, and when the preponderance of evidence – or glaring lack of it where it would be expected to be found – suggests its horsecrap, then all else being equal, it probably is horsecrap. There is a massive amount of evidence against the existence of many of the supernatural beings claimed by various religions, or against the assertions of their faith about how the world is or was. Most have little or no evidence for their claims beyond mythology or ancient texts. Therefore, in these cases the scientific approach strongly suggests “no gods”. But every scientist worth their lab goggles knows that this could be overturned or thrown into significant doubt with just one solid and verifiable piece of objective evidence.

    Likewise, no one can disprove the notion that the processes of climate change have been caused by a god who is angry about The Gay Agenda, as Pat Robertson once suggested. But the vast weight of contradictory evidence, and lack of supporting evidence other than what Pastor Obnoxious claims he heard direct from Holy Baby Jesus in his dreams, says he’s wrong.

    PZ once gave a classic example on this blog – he has no proof that his family love him, neither can they proove that he loves them. But the vast weight of evidence for the notion of mutual love, respect and caring makes things pretty clear to anyone who cares to examine it. Science has never proven anything, ever, to absolute 100% certainty, because it doesn’t try to. That doesn’t mean we can’t be just about 100% certain that the world is as science tells us it is. Sorry for ranting, but this bullshit over scientific “proof” is such a bad argument and a diversion constantly used by creationists and other religious, and it pisses me off.

  77. 77
    SallyStrange

    Sorry for ranting, but this bullshit over scientific “proof” is such a bad argument and a diversion constantly used by creationists and other religious, and it pisses me off.

    Quoted for the motherfucking truth! And don’t apologize for ranting.

  78. 78
    erik333

    75 SallyStrange

    I’m sorry if I caused offense, I’m not usually trying to be offensive deliberately.

    I’ll try to respond to counter arguments people have made tomorrow, so as to not make your efforts ignored. For now I have to sleep and get up for work in less than 5 hours, so don’t get annoyed when i suddenly stop responding.

  79. 79
    Rey Fox

    I too say there are no gods. I do it because I’m pretty damn sure that I’ll never be proven wrong, and if I am, then it won’t be the end of the world. I’ve been wrong about things before.

  80. 80
    SallyStrange

    It only takes a minute to type, “Whoops, I was wrong.”

  81. 81
    SallyStrange

    I too say there are no gods. I do it because I’m pretty damn sure that I’ll never be proven wrong, and if I am, then it won’t be the end of the world. I’ve been wrong about things before.

    This is the courage that contrasts with the cowardice I mentioned before. Fear of taking a strong position. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being challenged in a difficult argument and failing to meet the challenge.

    Cowardice, disguised as a concern for accuracy. If the same concern for accuracy were present regarding questions of the existence of other supernatural creatures besides gods, I would not call it cowardice. I note that erik333 has thus far chosen not to respond to questions of whether he is confident enough to assert that leprechauns do not exist.

  82. 82
    mudpuddles

    More on-topic… I agree with the idea that for people who want their atheism to move beyond a mere lack of belief in gods in order to advocate more on humanist and humanitarian issues, then environmental issues are a no-brainer.

    But I see some significant conflicts on the horizon relating to how science and atheism can address some fundamental issues that are looming in the area of sustainable development. I work at a cross-roads of environmental science, international development, human rights and public health. I am also an atheist. And I see a struggle coming between secular worldviews and certain aspects of sustainability and environmental science that I cannot yet reconcile in my head. Much of it comes back to the notion of morality and ethics, and unless there can be a clear agreement that science can inform moral judgements (and I’m not convinced on that yet), things will get messy.

    I have prepared an explanation of this but it is very bloody long, so unless folks want to explore it a bit further I’ll hold it back. but its an area I’d really like to see discussed here. I’d particularly like to hear Chris’ and PZ’s views on the matter, so maybe I’ll share it with them by email and see if they think its worth airing.

  83. 83
    PatrickG

    Referencing 3 separate comments by erik333:

    There is also, plausibly, some space in the noise of random events and lack of data for the signal of an interventionist god to hide.

    You might be able to disregard biblical references as an atheist, but simply disregarding them doesn’t make a compelling argument – you still have to argue for your position. Atheism gets you nowhere with that.

    I don’t believe gods exist, thus i have no such evidence. I never claimed I did. I’m an atheist…

    *To the tune of the well-known Sesame Street song* One of these things is not like the other. One of these things is not quite the same…

    erik333… if you want to pretend to be an atheist, you’re going to have to try harder.

    @ Asher Kay:

    Brilliant coding there, but I don’t think the catch really allows the program to fail gracefully. :)

  84. 84
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Sally Strange isn’t, shes asserting the negative – that requires justification.

    No, she’s asserting the null hypothesis, which you apparently agree with. You’re still not making any sense with your insistence she’s wrong, and unnecessary mental wanking the whole discussion if you fail to get her point. You must be a mental wanker at heart.

  85. 85
    SallyStrange

    I’m interested, mudpuddles! I spend a lot of time thinking about environmental science, sustainability, and public policy and I’m quite curious about this struggle you see coming up.

  86. 86
    PatrickG

    Sorry for ranting, but this bullshit over scientific “proof” is such a bad argument and a diversion constantly used by creationists and other religious, and it pisses me off.

    Agree with SallyStrange. Don’t apologize for ranting.

    @ SallyStrange: Enjoyed your position, rebuttals, and venemous irritation. The positive assertion here is that god(s) exist. Nobody’s actually proven it — it takes faith, after all! So why do the god-botherers only discover the concept of “proof” when it comes to disproving god(s)?

    Yeesh. I’m just going to start quoting you when I run into said god-botherers.

  87. 87
    PatrickG

    Apologies for responding post-by-post. I should be a bit more organized when I’m late to a thread.

    @ mudpuddles:

    its an area I’d really like to see discussed here

    Post it! It is, after all, the original point of the post. :)

  88. 88
    Rey Fox

    This is the courage that contrasts with the cowardice I mentioned before.

    That’s nice of you to say, but I actually am pretty fearful of being wrong in a lot of other arenas. This one seems pretty low-risk though, despite what the Pascal folks say.

  89. 89
    fractalheretic

    If you put a bunch of atheists in a room, they tend to agree on more than just lack of belief in gods. So there is a belief system there, but atheism doesn’t sufficiently describe it. Fortunately, we already have a word for that broader collection of beliefs. It’s humanism. So why all the kerfuffle?

    Just because one belief (or lack of belief) leads to another or correlates to another, doesn’t mean that belief A must be redefined to include belief B. For instance, if gun control activists are more likely than not to believe in marijuana legalization, it doesn’t mean that we should redefine gun control to include marijuana legalization and then call anyone who disagrees a “dictionary gun control activist.” That would be ridiculous, right?

  90. 90
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Fortunately, we already have a word for that broader collection of beliefs. It’s humanism. So why all the kerfuffle?

    Humanism also include those who believe in spiritiality and/or imaginary deities. Some (most) atheists prefer to avoid such delusional fools.

  91. 91
    Eristae

    If you put a bunch of atheists in a room, they tend to agree on more than just lack of belief in gods.

    I dunno. Over the last two years a really ugly underbelly of atheist has had light shone on it, and now I’m not really sure about this any longer.

  92. 92
    mudpuddles

    Hi Sally & PatrickG,

    OK thanks for the interest. I’ll trim it down as much as I can and I’ll post it here tomorrow afternoon so as not to hog the board while the discussion of other aspects are ongoing. Because it very, very long…. ;)

  93. 93
    Crissa

    PZ’s giant head is staring down at me barely fitting on my 40″ TV up on the mantle at head height. o-o

  94. 94
    SallyStrange

    That’s nice of you to say, but I actually am pretty fearful of being wrong in a lot of other arenas. This one seems pretty low-risk though, despite what the Pascal folks say.

    In that case, consider exactly how much of a coward one has to be to let THAT fear stop you from doing something as simple and easy as saying, “I don’t believe there are any gods… because there are no gods.”

  95. 95
    Kagehi

    And I see a struggle coming between secular worldviews and certain aspects of sustainability and environmental science that I cannot yet reconcile in my head. Much of it comes back to the notion of morality and ethics, and unless there can be a clear agreement that science can inform moral judgements (and I’m not convinced on that yet), things will get messy.

    Hmm. Also interested. In my experience, a lot of the conflicts that arise tend to fall into a few categories:

    1. Cases where there is an assumption that the result will be good, but isn’t – often due to not thinking it through completely.
    2. Cases where there are multiple possible solutions, and someone opts for the “available” one(s) – when the proper solution would be to find an alternative, with fewer drawbacks. This is sometimes laziness, sometimes lack of imagination, sometimes.. just biased perspective.
    3. Taking the easy way out – similar to #2, except it implies an active decision to not find an effective solution, consider all the consequences, or otherwise examine the long term effects, because doing so would “cost too much”, or some other excuse.

    Mind, there is always the favorite of some people – 4. Conclude that you need a solution, and just endlessly study it, without ever doing anything about it, such as California, and their “light rail” improvements.

    In very few cases are the outcomes “unknown”, “unknowable”, or without a consequence that requires, at minimum, some discussion of whether or not its allowable within the context of one’s culture, someone else’s. or even if there may be a problem with the same, and the solution “might” be the best one, but require a change in cultural perspective, to implement. In some cases, unfortunately, the culture can be dead wrong, the consequences real, only because of the cultural situation, and the solution, obvious, but, as a result, totally impossible to implement at all. Which is just… bloody frustrating.

    Yes, conflicts are likely to arise. But, they arise anyway, and generally in the same framework, and conditions. All that applying a more scientific approach does is, one would hope, remove some of the more absurd handicaps, while, never the less, allowing for the formation of a framework that has fewer totally absurd positions, and more, “mutually agreed on”, ones, which at least bare some semblance to universal “human” principles, instead of, non-universal, constructed, principles, which often run directly contrary to either human nature, or which, when its decided that some behavior should be mitigated, attempts to do so in the most useless, ineffective, and delusionally constructed way possible (like religion).

  96. 96
    Azuma Hazuki

    It looks like PZ and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one :/ I understand why he dislikes “dictionary atheism,” but I don’t think the attempt to say “If you’re an atheist than you’re also X Y and Z” does any good.

    For one thing, it’s empirically disproven; an IRC chat I hang out in is all atheists, but several of them are self-centered assholes and I am fairly certain at least one of them is a clinical psychopath. Then there’s thunderf00t.

    As someone said upthread, “Okay, you don’t believe in any gods. Now what?” I think even PZ implicitly acknowledges this with the rise of the Atheism+ moniker, as it logically makes someone ask “Atheism plus what?” (the response being “humanism with all that that entails”).

    It’s almost like being gay. I do not let my being a lesbian define me; it is part of who I am, but that in itself is a very basal and low-level quality. My hopes, dreams (most of them) and morals are informed very little or not at all by the fact that I fall in love only with other women. They are based in what I’ve learned about other humans and the world around me, heavily informed by chaos theory, human history, and a tendency to synthesize across disciplines, and predicated on a desire to reduce human suffering.

    Far from being damaging, “dictionary atheism” actually makes us less of a target, because it’s a lot harder for others to point to some attribute they dislike and go “See? They’re all evil because of X!” It’s about having a smaller attack surface, to make an analogy to computer security.

  97. 97
    mudpuddles

    OK, here goes! Apologies that this is so long.

    Preamble: In my opinion, atheism+ aims (inter alia) to promote / foster / support / advocate policies and practices based on scepticism, reason and science that work towards bettering humanity. It rejects belief in gods, superstition and pseudo-science. This philosophy has human well-being as its core principle. I know that’s a bit simplistic, but its my summary for this comment. I also think that many atheist environmentalists are already doing “atheism+” to a large extent.
    I see a recurring conflict between atheism+ (and perhaps generally secular humanism) and environmentalism – a philosophical one, though one which has started to manifest itself in practical applications.

    I’ve said here before that “environmentalism” to me is a term which is overused or misused and problematic. Environmentalism is not always led by scientific evidence, but it should be. It is poorly defined and includes a whole range of pseudo-scientific, spiritual, quasi-religious and conspiracy-theory based notions. This has often hampered the ability of “environmentalists” to gain respect, support and credibility, and can greatly undermine serious science-based efforts to tackle significant issues. For example, several environmentally-focussed political parties (i.e. under the banner of Green Party) fail to get full support from within the scientific community because they often propose policies for addressing real environmental concerns that are in fact not evidence-based; in other cases, they may campaign on issues for which the science is far from clear that these are issues worth campaigning about at all. e.g. some European Green Parties support homeopathy, because its “natural” and therefore allegedly good for the environment – which is utter nonsense and not supported by any science, let alone environmental science. So, atheism+ really needs to engage with environmentalism in order to help promote rational public policy on issues affecting people’s well-being. So I’m on board with the general principle.

    Now, the area where I see major difficulty has to do with the wider issue of sustainable development. Sustainable development is not simply an environmental issue, but it started that way and is founded on environmental science and ecological principles. Whilst “sustainable development” is itself a poorly defined term, and I acknowledge that the concept has changed significantly in the past 40 years, it is largely based on the principle that society today should meet its needs in a manner that does not limit the ability of tomorrow’s society to meet its own needs. Solutions demand rigorous scientific assessment, wise use of technology, and co-operative approaches. For at least the past 10 years the traditional “three pillars” of sustainable development” (environment, society, economy) have become four, and now also include culture. This in large part reflects the growing awareness of the global humanitarian importance of cultural diversity and its relationship with biological diversity and livelihood security. For anyone unsure about this, you will be wonderfully informed by googling recent books and UN reports on biocultural diversity (useful works by UNESCO, UNCBD, Luisa Maffi and Jules Pretty are available online).

    This itself throws up big ethical challenges. Sustainable development demands that we improve the lot of the poorest, weakest and most disenfranchised, in a manner which supports them economically & socially and sustains their cultural identity into the future. The dilemma is that lifting many communities out of poverty would fundamentally change the nature of their culture and their societies. In essence, some cultures exist as they are now and have been for centuries because of their isolation. There are circumstances where giving certain local and indigenous communities the means to improve their lives in one avenue – perhaps better education, access to certain natural resources, access to primary health care and stable employment etc – will effectively wipe out their culture. So, promoting development for many communities in a modern world in a manner that is sustainable can be very difficult and often may in fact be impossible. We see situations where the choice is to secure (at best) three of the four pillars and sacrifice the remainder. This is rarely a workable trade-off because failing to secure one pillar can destabilise the others, and evidence suggests that this form of unsustainable development ultimately has negative human consequences. One major ethical challenge arises in the decision-making process – i.e. deciding which (and who’s) values we should use to build decisions pertaining to sustainable development. If we are to respect human rights and human dignity, then the community or culture being addressed must make key decisions that affect its well-being for itself. But what if those decisions are ultimately damaging to one of those four pillars, for that community or another? We might say that the decision should be evidence-based. What if the culture concerned rejects the evidence because it does not comport with their worldview? We can’t force people to change their worldview, but should we even try to educate them when in any case to do so may ultimately destroy their culture?
    Here’s a theoretical example, based on my own experience: An uncontacted forest-based culture thrives in some country in the tropics. They live a subsistence lifestyle and have a polytheistic worldview. Their medicine is biodiversity-based, and health care is based on indigenous knowledge. Many of their therapeutic approaches succeed. But much of it, and various rituals which form a vital part of their culture – are based on superstition and have potential negative local impacts. These people have a comparatively high burden of infectious disease, and are (by most definitions) in material poverty. There are many such cultures, and many choose not to be contacted. We know from history that initial contact can be extremely dangerous for such peoples. One view is that these people should be left well alone, and left to make contact if they so wish on their own terms in their own time. Another view is that these people are denied the benefits of the modern world – including education and healthcare – and should be contacted and thus fundamentally changed forever. For some people, choosing to not contact them is wrong, akin to saying “they don’t matter” – let’s leave them to disease and lack of representation. For others, leaving them live as they wish to live regardless of the outcome is best. If we are to approach this as atheists+, what would we advocate? Leaving these people alone completely? That suggests we should accept their level of poverty and their disease burden. Do we give them primary health care? Bye bye traditional knowledge systems and socially important belief systems. Do we give them education? Provide them access to local markets? Bye bye indigenous culture, hello diseases of affluence. Do we address superstitions that pose some degree of risk? Bye bye community tradition and social cohesion.

    The sustainable development movement does not yet know quite how to deal with these issues, particularly when you start to look at the global development goals that include universal primary education and fighting diseases such as malaria. So far its either been a softly-softly approach that has achieved relatively little, or a heavy handed approach which has destroyed many communities and cultural identities.
    I imagine that atheism+ would advocate decisions based on science and reason and human compassion, rejecting responses that might choose to facilitate or perpetuate superstitious thought if that belief system is harmful to some. But superstition is a cornerstone of many indigenous and local communities. It is a fundamental element of their cultures and though we might not like it, it is often vitally important for social cohesion and for mental well-being. I would have no problem saying that some cultural elements should be abolished to the bin of human history – FGM, embedded sexism etc. But there are other issues less contentious to us that nonetheless would be appalling to certain cultures; “don’t use that plant anymore”, “take these pills instead”, “no, that’s not how the world works, you’re entre worldview is false”. Whichever aspect I want to address (and I don’t believe we can pick and choose which aspects of sustainable development we care about), immediately I’m imposing my worldview on another, and no matter how morally correct I believe I am, it is always a case of my values over someone else’s. The educated vs. the isolated. The strong vs. the weak. The privileged vs. the relatively powerless. The globalised vs. the disenfranchised. And, crucially when you see how environmental debates play out at the highest levels, it is the northern countries vs. the southern countries. Wealthy secular societies telling poorer religious people how they should live. The religious-apologist approach is to turn a blind eye to all but the grossest inhumanities in the interest of religious tolerance and freedom. Other right-wing responses include “fuck human rights, assimilate them into modern society and they’ll be better off”. I expect that atheism+ would want to avoid a world with increasing inequality and a growing gap between rich and poor, but what if our approach suggests interfering with the cultural integrity of tens of millions of people? We need rational approaches to addressing sustainable development goals that do not actually erode any pillar of sustainable development. This will become more vital in the next decade as environmental and development issues become more pressing.
    The issue of sustainable development is a global one. Local issues are affected by global processes and global decisions, and vice versa. So it will not always be practical or rational to suggest that local people should just sort these issues out for themselves. If we are to engage with environmental issues, we are dealing with sustainable development, and its all-in. I don’t think we can choose to ignore certain issues or communities. And I see many situations where a science-based approach in one sphere may have negative impacts on culture, with negative impacts on human well-being.
    TLDR: My problem is how can atheism+ engage in the critically important issue of sustainable development (which I believe it must) when its philosophy is fundamentally at odds with those of many indigenous and local communities? Hw can a purely secular, scientific approach be reconciled with the needs and basic rights of certain cultures? I usually agree with the sentiment that acommodationist approaches within atheism are unhelpful and perpetuate malign religious influence on society…. but that’s when I consider MY society. How do we deal with issues in other societies where accommodationism may be important to preserving cultural identity and promoting self-determination?

  98. 98
    Nick Gotts

    mudpuddles,
    I think you’re seeing a non-existent problem. There is nothing in atheism, or Atheism+, that says: “You must always combat superstition, whatever the likely outcome”. The example often used is the “dying Christian grandmother”: do you try to convince her she’s shortly going to be nonexistent, rather than enfolded in the loving arms of Jesus? Of course not. In all the problematic cases you cite, the issue is what will do most good or least harm. Atheism+ is pretty squarely aimed at changing the societies its adherents live in; and perhaps assisting those in other societies who want to move theirs in a similar direction.

  99. 99
    Peter Dahlseide

    My applogies for “butting in” here but I thought I’d offer a slightly different perspective on the “Atheism+” issue (feel free to label me as an “angry loon” at your own discretion).

    Where I live, in northern Europe, issues like equality regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, (non-)belief, environment, animal treatment etc etc, are important to theists and atheists alike. Sure, you have the occasional religious nutjob that uses the bible to argue against gay marriage etc, but these people are either ridiculed or ignored in mainstream media and the government (usually) disregards any theistic arguments out of hand. On the other hand, lots of christians support equal treatment etc based on the “love thy neighbour” edict. There might be a higher percentage of atheists that support gay marriage than the percentage of christians, but there are way too many theists here that care about equality, ethics and social justice the same way atheists do to justify saying that these things “follows” being an atheist. Perhaps they do, but the deciding factor here isn’t atheism.

    To me the definition/meaning of atheism is, and should be, unrelated to the society one lives in. It seems to me that there is a correlation between being an atheist and caring about equality etc in the US, which makes it understandable that you may want to lump these together, but that correlation doesn’t hold in other parts of the world, like most of Europe and big parts of Asia. Which is to be expected if the deciding factor isn’t lack of belief in any god. Calling it “American Atheism” rather than “Atheism+” would be more appropriate, although (hopefully) only for a time. Hopefully the USA will get rid of the fundamentalistic christians in power etc such that equality etc isn’t something only/mostly associated with atheists, but humans in general.

    The way I see it, it’s the variations within the theistic population that influences these apparent correlations, not the history or view on reality of atheists. Hence, in a country with a large population of christians that would rather believe their favourite charismatic evangelist rather than some boring faceless scientists, the differences between (most) atheists and theists will be different than in a country where many people believe in a (personal) god, yet wouldn’t dream of teaching their children that god created the world/universe in six days as it’d contradict what established science says.

    I have other reasons as well for being against adding sets of values etc to the term “atheism” but I assume you’ve already been through those.

  100. 100
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Yawn, I still no reason why Atheism+ hurts anybody or the label is offensive. Why those who don’t what to join a voluntary group group like Atheism+ keep complaining about it is beyond rationality. Stop your complaining and don’t join. End of story. Nobody gave you control over labels.

  101. 101
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @erik333 #53

    Great! We’ve been waiting for this a long time! So what is the proof of the non existence of gods?

    Can you even name what type of evidence that could, in principle, be presented that would disprove “gods”?

    As a hint, one common objections to god claims is that they are normally unfalsifiable. That last word is relatively important…

    Jesus hopping Christ on a pogo stick, Russell’s fucking Teapot!

    The relevant part of the quote:

    Many orthodox people [and apparently some Atheists] speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

    It is impossible to prove a negative, therefore it is illogical to ask anyone to do so. This is a central tenet of science. Therefore the onus must be on the person proposing the hypothesis to prove their hypothesis is true; the null hypothesis obviously being that they are wrong. Theists propose that there is a God(s); they cannot prove it, therefore we as Atheists revert to the null hypothesis: they are wrong, and there are no Gods.

    There is no burden on us to prove anything.

  102. 102
    Nick Gotts

    Peter Dahlseide,

    feel free to label me as an “angry loon” at your own discretion

    Hackneyed, illogical bore would be nearer the mark.

    Sure, you have the occasional religious nutjob that uses the bible to argue against gay marriage etc, but these people are either ridiculed or ignored in mainstream media

    Have you noticed the campaigns against marriage equality in France and the UK? They are pretty much entirely religious in leadership and ideology, and archbishops and cardinals braying their homophobia are treated with great respect in the mainstream media in the UK.

    There might be a higher percentage of atheists that support gay marriage than the percentage of christians, but there are way too many theists here that care about equality, ethics and social justice the same way atheists do to justify saying that these things “follows” being an atheist.

    Of course, the fact that there are many pro-social-justice theists has no bearing at all on whether pro-social-justice, or environmentalist commitments follow, or should follow, from atheism.

    To me the definition/meaning of atheism is, and should be, unrelated to the society one lives in.

    There is an atheist movement, but there isn’t an aleprechaunist movement. No-one identifies as an aleprechaunist, but many people identify as atheists. Why do you think this might be, Peter? Could it possibly have anything to do with living in societies where theism is widespread and socially powerful, but leprechaunism is not?

  103. 103
    rorschach

    It is impossible to prove a negative

    Man I hate this phrase. Parsimony is actually quite a powerful tool, and when it comes to the existence of gods, leprechauns and winged horses in the sky, the fact that we have not observed these things for millenia despite constant claims of their existence, lends more than just credibility to the idea that their absence is indeed a feature and not a bug.

    We can actually confidently consider “gods don’t exist” as proven, since none have ever been seen(nor defined, for that matter) during the thousands of years that their existence has been proposed.

  104. 104
    Peter Dahlseide

    @Nick Gotts #102

    I’m sorry I’m boring you, but since you took the time to reply regardless, I’d appreciate it if you could point out where I’m being illogical.

    No, I haven’t payed particular close attention to France and the UK in regards to opposition to gay marriage, but I’m not surprised to hear that they are religious people of power or that the media there treat them more respectfully than the media here does. “Here” is in Norway by the way, and it was how it’s here that I was comparing to.

    Still, same-sex marriage is now legal in France. Does that mean there are more than 50% atheists in the french government? No, it only means that 50+% are able to put a certain interpretation of “god’s word” aside and vote according to a set of etchics that coincide with what atheists apparently share simply because they’re atheists. It’s pretty much the same way in Norway – more than 50% are religious, yet they are capable of the same things that supposedly go together with atheism in a way that justifies saying “this is how/what atheists are/think/do”.

    As long as there are theists who are indistinguishable from atheists when it comes to a certain set of values, ethics etc, any such additions to the definition of “atheist” only makes it less clear what an atheist actually is, while at the same time making it less accurate. Even if one assumes that all (“true”) atheists are rational, sceptical or whatever, there are lots of theists that are rational, sceptical etc too. Humans are inherintly incosistent, hence it’s not a problem for us to believe strongly in god in church on sundays and for all practical purposes be atheists outside that musty old building, including when voting on issues like gay rights etc. It’s illogical (on the surface anyway) and irrational, but it’s real; it’s observable, predictable etc.

    I assume you by “leprechaunism” mean the specific belief in the existence of leprechauns. Just like there’s no need to create an “ajesus” movement, as that’s incorporated into most religions apart from christianity, there’s no need to create an “aleprechaun” movement – it’s incorporated into most religions as well as sceptisism etc. So, in a way there are about seven billion people in the “aleprechaun” movement. Yes, I’m being silly, but that’s what you get when comparing apples and oranges; atheism isn’t about any particular divine/mystical being, it’s about all of them.

    I do see your point, though, regarding “leprechaunism”. I just fail to make the connection between people identifying as atheists and the justification for changing the meaning of atheism so that it can be changed into a movement. It’s not necessary for me to have a movement in conjunction with the views I hold.

    Anyway. I didn’t mean to start any arguments – call yourself the A++ movement and write a manifest on all the additional properties that automatically go with being/becoming an atheist etc for all I care. I don’t believe in any god; if that’s being an atheist or only part of being an atheist doesn’t matter; I am what I am regardless of labels.

  105. 105
    Nick Gotts

    Peter Dahlseide

    I’d appreciate it if you could point out where I’m being illogical.

    Certainly. Indeed, I already have:

    There might be a higher percentage of atheists that support gay marriage than the percentage of christians, but there are way too many theists here that care about equality, ethics and social justice the same way atheists do to justify saying that these things “follows” being an atheist.

    Of course, the fact that there are many pro-social-justice theists has no bearing at all on whether pro-social-justice, or environmentalist commitments follow, or should follow, from atheism.

    It’s thus illogical to make the claim you did.

    No, I haven’t payed particular close attention to France and the UK in regards to opposition to gay marriage

    Evidently, or you’d have been aware you were writing rubbish.

    any such additions to the definition of “atheist”

    Tell me, why do you think “Atheism+” includes a “+”? Yes,

    Humans are inherintly incosistent, hence it’s not a problem for us to believe strongly in god in church on sundays and for all practical purposes be atheists outside that musty old building

    So according to you, even theists can be atheists!

    Yes, I’m being silly, but that’s what you get when comparing apples and oranges; atheism isn’t about any particular divine/mystical being, it’s about all of them.

    Ah, so you want to add disbelief in leprechauns to the definition of atheism. How about ghosts? Is it impossible for an atheist to believe in ghosts? Reincarnation? (Many Buddhists and Jains do not believe in gods, but do believe in their own version of woo-woo. Atheists or not?) Homeopathy, which is a form of sympathetic magic? Mind-body dualism? If you’re going to insist on the dictionary definition, then at least be consistent about it.

    <block

  106. 106
    SallyStrange

    I just fail to make the connection between people identifying as atheists and the justification for changing the meaning of atheism so that it can be changed into a movement.

    First, there’s no connection. (The connection exists between a movement and people who identify as atheists AND want an atheist community/movement.) Second, nobody’s changing the definition of atheism. Hence the +.

    It’s not necessary for me to have a movement in conjunction with the views I hold.

    Precisely. Nobody wants you to join; you don’t want to join; everybody’s happy. Except you, for some bizarre reason. You are apparently put out that some atheists DO want a movement in conjunction with their views on atheism PLUS other things.

    Anyway. I didn’t mean to start any arguments

    Well then you are extremely incompetent at not starting arguments.

    – call yourself the A++ movement and write a manifest on all the additional properties that automatically go with being/becoming an atheist etc for all I care.

    I’m just ever so grateful for your permission.

    I don’t believe in any god; if that’s being an atheist or only part of being an atheist doesn’t matter; I am what I am regardless of labels.

    I agree that your atheism is unrelated to your apparently willful ignorance and studied avoidance of simple logic.

  107. 107
    Eristae

    call yourself the A++ movement and write a manifest on all the additional properties that automatically go with being/becoming an atheist etc for all I care

    Then why are we having this conversation?

  108. 108
    PatrickG

    @ Eristae:

    Then why are we having this conversation?

    Because apparently atheism does mean more than a lack of belief in gods. It automatically includes pedantry and a moral imperative to defend the strict dictionary definition of words!

  109. 109
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @rorschach

    From a common sense point of view, yes. But the mere fact no evidence exists for their existence doesn’t empirically prove that they don’t exist. The possibility exists that you just haven’t found them. Lack of evidence merely justifys the presumption that they are wrong, it doesn’t empirically prove them wrong.

    That’s kind of my point though, you don’t have to prove a hypothesis wrong in order to have a good reason to disbelieve it. The mere fact it is unevidenced is enough.

  110. 110
    Peter Dahlseide

    @Nick Gotts #105

    I disagree on it being illogical. Some humans are pro-social-justice but not all; more specifically: Some theists are pro-social-justice but not all, and some atheists are pro-social-justice but not all. These are observable facts, even if they aren’t as easily observable in every country. I thus argue/claim that whatever it is that makes being pro-social-justice follow, it isn’t something unique to being or becoming an atheist. Rather, it’s something within the domain of being human and not tied to the stance on whether or not any gods exist.

    If by “writing rubbish” you mean what I said about mainstream media ridiculing/ignoring bible fanatics, I’d like to once again point out that I was talking about Norway (although the same goes for the rest of Scandinavia as well) and invite you to have a look for yourself at norwegian media online, or ask any norwegian if they think it’s rubbish that religious beliefs like homosexuality being offensive to god etc isn’t ridiculed in mainstream media. I’m fully aware that it’s different elsewhere, but you only need one white crow to disprove all crows being black.

    That really isn’t the point, though. While I haven’t closely followed the opposition to gay marriage in UK and France I’m fully aware of how these debates go, what arguments religious and not-so-religious people come up with (I’ve been through it several times on and off the ‘net). Not once, however, has the non-/existence of a god been necessary in my arguments – saying “same-sex marriages should be allowed because I don’t think there’s a god” is even less of an argument than “same-sex marriages shouldn’t be allowed because I believe there’s a god that might not approve of it”. The fact that some theists use the bible to push inequality does not mean that atheists must push for equality (although as humans they should), nor that theists can’t fight for equality despite holding to the same bible as the others. Which brings us back to my actual point: Using (lack of) belief in gods as a divider is almost completely arbitrary, although it seems less arbitrary some places in the world. It’s still too arbitrary to base these expanded claims upon.

    I shouldn’t have mentioned “atheism+” but rather kept to what PZ Myers says about atheism “being more”. “Atheism+” is obviously a sore spot and I might have been wrong in assuming that what PZ Myers is talking about and “atheism+” is more or less the same; atheism with some extra stuff thrown in. To me it’s like calling a week “monday+”, which is not exactly false in and of itself, yet quite misleading and not useful in any way.

    “So according to you, even theists can be atheists!”
    That reminds me of an exchange between Kent Hovind and thunderfoot (I believe – I’m terrible at remembering names). But, no, “for all practical purposes” does not equate “being”.

    No, I don’t want to add disbelief in leprechauns into the definition of atheism; not until someone claim to believe in them as gods anyway – it’s quite easy to elevate any imaginary being to an imaginary deity. The reason for the incosistency in that sentence was laziness and english being a second language – I didn’t bother to look up a suitable word in english to cover imaginary, mystical beings that aren’t actual gods. I was hoping you’d debate my stance on this subject rather than scoring cheap points on my poor wording.

    My mind isn’t set on anything, including atheism – show me something that is more rational/logical/useful than what I already believe, and I’ll happily change my views/stances accordingly. This exchange hasn’t provided anything of use, though. Well, other than what I learned about current gay rights in France when I looked it up after reading your question about the campaigns in France and UK (I actually thought they passed that law a couple of years ago but it was apparently turned down at that time).

  111. 111
    Nick Gotts

    Peter Dahlseide,

    I thus argue/claim that whatever it is that makes being pro-social-justice follow, it isn’t something unique to being or becoming an atheist.

    Since no-one has claimed it is, there would have been no point in arguing that. But that isn’t what you said. You said (and do try to read your own words for comprehension this time):

    There might be a higher percentage of atheists that support gay marriage than the percentage of christians, but there are way too many theists here that care about equality, ethics and social justice the same way atheists do to justify saying that these things “follows” being an atheist.

    If Y “follows” from X, that means that where you find X, you expect to find, or believe you should find, Y. Whether this is true or not is entirely independent of whether you sometimes, or often, or even always, find Y where X is absent. The number of pro-social-justice theists has no bearing whatsoever on whether a concern for social justice follows from atheism. Got it yet?

    I’d like to once again point out that I was talking about Norway

    No, you were not:

    Where I live, in northern Europe, issues like equality regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, (non-)belief, environment, animal treatment etc etc, are important to theists and atheists alike. Sure, you have the occasional religious nutjob that uses the bible to argue against gay marriage etc, but these people are either ridiculed or ignored in mainstream media and the government (usually) disregards any theistic arguments out of hand.

    The UK is, without a doubt, part of northern Europe.

    The reason for the incosistency in that sentence was laziness and english being a second language – I didn’t bother to look up a suitable word in english to cover imaginary, mystical beings that aren’t actual gods. I was hoping you’d debate my stance on this subject rather than scoring cheap points on my poor wording.

    I can only go by your words in trying to work out what your stance is, and while I accept that being a second language speaker makes clarity more difficult, it’s rather silly to blame me for your lack of clarity. I still don’t know what you meant by saying:

    atheism isn’t about any particular divine/mystical being, it’s about all of them.

    if, as you now say, you didn’t mean to include disbelief in leprechauns in atheism: leprechauns are surely mystical beings, if that term has any meaning at all.

  112. 112
    Nick Gotts

    Peter Dahlseide

    Further to your claim that you were talking specifically about Norway (or even Scandinavia), you also said:

    It seems to me that there is a correlation between being an atheist and caring about equality etc in the US, which makes it understandable that you may want to lump these together, but that correlation doesn’t hold in other parts of the world, like most of Europe and big parts of Asia.

    So, better drop that claim, as it’s very easily shown to be false.

  113. 113
    erik333

    @ 59 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I completely agree with everything you wrote in this post.

    “There can’t be a “proof”, unless the gods are sufficiently defined to be falsifiable. Vaguely defined negatives cannot be disproven.”

    Exellent point, i wished I had brought that up myself. You actually have to define your terms when you say things like

    SS: “there are no gods (it is a fucking fact, okay–people need to lighten up about making this assertion)”

    , you are left in a position of having to define “gods” before you go about showing that their non existense is a “fact” rather than a hypothesis… and no theist worth their salt is even going to accept your definition, let alone accept the assertion. I completely agree that gods non existence is the default position, half of my argument with SallyStrange has (from my perspective) been about whether calling it a “fact” is justifiable. Maybe this has been less than apparent, if so – I’m most likely to blame. Even “try hard” mode is not always enough when trying to express myself in english.

    60 Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Vampires and leprechauns are probably tangible and comprehensible enough for me to agree that their non existence is as close to a fact we can get, with black swans in mind. The dragon only becomes meaningful to discuss if people start worshiping it and base their morality around books it supposedly wrote. Until then its only useful as a hypothesis for what dark matter is ;-)

    62 michaelbusch

    I agree with everything you said, except that I was demanding justifications for calling the claim a fact. I’m perfectly willing to accept it as the best working hypothesis.

    I tend to use theist/atheist with regard to belief, gnostic/agnostic with regard to knowledge. I would call myself an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe a god exists, but I don’t know that no god exists.

    @ 64 Asher Kay

    “Your second statement implies that you accept empirical evidence as proof.”

    I apologize for being cryptic and sloppy. It was meant to be a rhetorical question, in the hopes that the impossibility of the task would be apparent.

    @ 68 SallyStrange

    If you had said something like “its a fact that there is no good evidence for believing in gods”, I would have agreed. Stating that gods are non-existant as a matter of fact rather than as a (completely valid) assumption, in my mind, requires you to define the charactaristics and evidences that the existance of gods necessarily implies – and then either show where we necessarily would have evidence if any such being existed, and that it is missing. Its hopeless.

    “What’s your point? You don’t even have a point here. Yes, they are unfalsifiable and unconvincing. That’s why I say they don’t exist.”

    I was agreeing with you, while acknowledging that even unfalsifiable gods may have implications in the real world – due to believers caring about what they percieve to be the will of the deity.

    @ 73 Eristae

    “What kind of proof is even theoretically or logically possible?” None that I can think of.

    @ 76 mudpuddles

    “Gaahh! So frustrating, because some of your other arguments are otherwise pretty reasonable.

    First, science does not deal in “proofs”, so that’s a big flaming strawman.”

    I gratefully accept the rebuke, I was sloppy and cryptic. I agree with everything you wrote.

    @ 81 SallyStrange

    Insofar I understand the concept of leprechauns, and what type of evidence their existence (on earth) would imply, im perfectly happy to assert that they do not exist.

    @83 PatrickG

    Please explain.

    @84 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    “No, she’s asserting the null hypothesis, …”

    Again sloppy, soz. I’ve been complaining about calling it a “fact”. Though perhaps my understanding of what “fact” implies in this context could be wrong, there seems to be more uses of it in english than i realized.
    Perhaps i should’ve asked Sally what she meant by calling it a fact, first, so as to not waste everybodys time.

    “You must be a mental wanker at heart.”

    Very probably. Or maybe demented wanker, not sure.

    @102 Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    “Of course, the fact that there are many pro-social-justice theists has no bearing at all on whether pro-social-justice, or environmentalist commitments follow, or should follow, from atheism.”

    It demonstrates that atheism is not a necessary condition, even if obvious, that might be a worthwhile thing to take into account if you live in a country where most everyone will reject the “god doesn’t exist” premise to an argument.

    If yet to hear an argument that derives environmentalist commitment from atheism directly, people tend to have to add stuff to the argument that is not implied by atheism. It always seems to turn out that, on close inspection, all the meat of the argument is in the stuff that, perhaps implicitly, was added.

  114. 114
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Peter Dahlside

    I thus argue/claim that whatever it is that makes being pro-social-justice follow, it isn’t something unique to being or becoming an atheist.

    Not unique to, certainly. But anyone thinking through the logical consequnces of there being no God is surely going to arrive at the conclusion that social justice issues are important. If there is no God to help people, then people have to help people. Of course this pre-supposes that those doing the thinking want to see other people’s lives change for the better, which isn’t always the case.

    Not once, however, has the non-/existence of a god been necessary in my arguments – saying “same-sex marriages should be allowed because I don’t think there’s a god” is even less of an argument than “same-sex marriages shouldn’t be allowed because I believe there’s a god that might not approve of it”.

    That’s because you’ve only got half an argument. You’re laying out one of the premises and the conclusion while ignoring another premise and the inference, thus resulting in an illogical argument. “Same-sex marriages should be allowed because I don’t think there’s a god” isn’t an argument, but “The only logical reason for opposing same-sex marriage is religious, but since there is no God this argument is invalid. Therefore there are no logical reasons for opposing same sex marriage, therefore it should be allowed” is a perfectly good argument.

  115. 115
    Peter Dahlseide

    @SallyStrange #106

    Thanks for clearing things up a bit for me – I hope. If I understand you correctly, “atheism+” is kind of a proposed name for a movement consisting of atheists that also share other views like on equality, possibly on environmental issues etc. Something like the Norwegian Humanist Association (apparently one of the largest humanist organisations in the world, which isn’t bad considering how few norwegians there are). That makes perfect sense to me.

    I didn’t understand PZ Myers statements in the original post to be about a movements/organisations, though, but rather a call (or how one phrases it?) to change the meaning of atheism to include more than just the lack of belief in a god. That’s quite different and, as I see it, serves no purpose, nor is it very accurate. However, if nobody’s changing the definition, I merely disagree with PZ Myers way of “selling” the concept “atheism+”, which really is a non-issue as I’m not looking for any movements to join.

    Is this as simple as me using “atheism+” in the wrong context? If so I appologize to everyone.

    I’d like to point out that I’m not unhappy about “atheism+”, though – neither in the form I originally thought it to be, nor the one I’m assuming in this post – it just didn’t make any sense to me, and I tend to want to make sense of things (or at least try).

    And, yes, I suck at not starting arguments. I’d much prefer exchanges of thoughts and information, but I don’t seem to have the knack for achieving that without a lot of “dust being stired up” in the process.

    I regrett that I come across as willfully ignorant and avoiding simple logic; it’s not been my intention.

    ——-

    @Eristae #107

    Short answer: Because I try to make sense of things, even when it’s none of my business.

    I didn’t expect this reception in a place like this, which is why posted here rather than just go do something else. We live and learn, I guess.

    ——-

    @Nick Gotts #111

    I have been arguing from the assumption that “atheism+” is intended as a new way of defining – and thus replacing – “atheism”. If this has been a false assumption, as SallyStrange informs me, there isn’t much point for me to continue our “debate”, but I can do so if you like (and it isn’t against any written or unwritten “blog rules” here).

  116. 116
    mikmik

    I apologize if I repeat someone – I have to go and can’t keep up with the rate of commenting at the moment.
    I think that environmentalism necessarily follows from humanism, for obvious reasons – that of securing future well being, and indeed, survival. From environmentalism, bio-diversity is crucial, so that this sets limits on what can, and should, be called sustainable.
    So, I see environmentalism as an inextricable part of humanism, and also Atheism+, already. Human rights also relies on economic, as well as social, equality, therefore sustainable development should include fighting poverty and lack of education, not just maintaining the status quo, or the further creation of ghettoization. This is a concern that needs to be considered when it comes to whether or not primitive or unknown cultures should be disturbed, as well. Undiscovered cultures may be poor, but it must count in the argument against interfering if it will result in merely marginalizing them and condemning them to comparable poverty, at least.
    However, we won’t have any of that to worry about, as I think it is safe to assume that environmental destruction and global warming will soon erase all of our cultures unless sustainability at any cost is not quickly realized. Very fucking quickly. We don’t have the luxury of making many ethical decisions outside of stopping the erosion/mass destruction of quality of life, and life itself, right now. Basically I am saying that if it works, fucking do it. Now. Anything and everything, within reason, of course, but stopping global warming and maintaining biodiversity has to happen now, as much as possible.
    Environmental destruction is fast becoming the root of all suffering, as it will led to more economic and social inequality

  117. 117
    mudpuddles

    @ Nick Gotts, #98

    Hi Nick, many thanks for the reponse mate, but I think you’re quite mistaken.

    I think you’re seeing a non-existent problem.

    Wrong. This is a current ongoing problem, which is becoming more prevalent as a result of increased human-mediated ecosystem change, and increased efforts to implement local and global development goals. This is my job, its what I do, and the ethical conflict is significant, and plays out at every inter-governmental and scientific meeting I attend. It is highly divisive and getting more so, especially with more secular perspectives being presented by developed countries. In addition, we see emerging challenges on the horizon that will be even more contentious.

    There is nothing in atheism, or Atheism+, that says: “You must always combat superstition, whatever the likely outcome”.

    I didn’t really say anything about atheism+ having to combat superstition; but it has to respond to superstition if it is to engage with these issues. Sustainable development policy and practice has to deal with some very difficult choices. These choices are less difficult if you take a religious or accommodationist perspective, or if you are simply willing to throw sustainability and indigenous cultures under a bus. Atheism+ rejects the religious, libertarian and pseudo-scientific approaches, and it aims to enhance the fundamental human rights and well-being of all people. And if atheism+ is to engage in sustainable development, it has to respond to problems that are rooted in the superstitions or religious tenets held by at-risk communities, without destroying the cutlural fabric built around those belief systems.

    the issue is what will do most good or least harm

    No its not that simple. You’re assuming its a zero-sum game where all stakeholders value each outcome equally. Its rarely an “either / or” scenario. What if every choice will cause a significant amount of harm to the target population, but in different ways? e.g. a course of action that entails the least physical harm or promotes physical well-being can cause significant emotional and social upheaval which may last decades. You or I don’t get to decide what’s best for the community involved simply based on science and reason. We can make an educated assessment based on our perspectives and knowledge, but we don’t get to overrule the community’s own choices simply because we think we’re right. A choice we might advocate for the good of a community might be utterly repulsive and frightening for that community to comprehend. If we are, as you say, aiming for “the least harm”, the least harm is not always clear, and it cannot just be what we decide it is. Atheism+ folks who intend to get involved in these environmental issues need to have a clear, rational stance which adequately weighs the pros and cons from all perspectives, and makes a clear choice. That choice must justify why one form of damage is acceptable, while another is not. And right now, until there is a wider discussion and approach that can fully account for indigenous perspectives, we can’t do that.

    The example often used is the “dying Christian grandmother”…

    I’m lost here… It seems to me that this fictitious lady does not really equate to an existing threatened community who’s health and security depends simultaneously on being fundamentally changed and remaining just as it is!

    Atheism+ is pretty squarely aimed at changing the societies its adherents live in; and perhaps assisting those in other societies who want to move theirs in a similar direction.

    PZ’s discussion forum was about exploring how atheism+ might engage with environmental causes. It sounds as though your response is to declare that atheism+ should only engage with environmental causes in places where people sign on to atheism+. So, people who are suffering from any cause in any corner of the world that has no interest in atheism+ are of no interest to us? If that’s atheism+, its bollocks. Are the rights of Iranian women not of interest to atheism+? So much for advocating a better world. In any case, environmental issues and the solutions they require transcend borders and boundaries. We can’t simply decide that atheism+ has nothing to say about certain pressing global problems because they are not arising in our backyard. Your approach says “Emerging infections that threaten thousands in Papua New Guinea? Not our concern. Decimation of endangered primate populations in devoutly Islamic states? Nope, next! Poverty and malaria amongst the Baka people of Cameroon? Someone else’s issue, we don’t worry about that stuff.” Sorry, but I don’t believe that is the philosophy atheism+ represents. As I said in my previous input, if atheism+ is going to engage in sustainable development issues, its all-in. Otherwise by definition it is not sustainable, and neither is it rational.

  118. 118
    Eristae

    I’m going to take a nap, but really quick before I do

    @erik333
    We can’t prove that we aren’t in the Matrix. However, I feel no hesitation in saying, “We aren’t in the Matrix.” I am simply uninterested in fluttering around with the idea that the only thing we can be sure of is our own existence. It isn’t a useful or helpful mentality to go with, and it’s one that we don’t apply to anything else. Using the kind of formula, I don’t see how we could know anything. Like, if I say, “I’m not eating a banana.” Can I know this isn’t true? Maybe I’m dreaming and sleep-eating a banana. How can I prove that this isn’t the case? Or if I say, “I am eating a banana,” maybe I’m a brain in a jar and people are sending electrical shocks to my brain to make me think I’m eating it.

    The level of evidence that people require before saying “there is no God” is much higher than the level of evidence that is required anywhere else.

    If we can’t even imagine a way that God might be proven or tested, I see no reason to hedge about and say, “Well, we can’t know” when we don’t do this with things that we actually have the ability to find evidence for.

  119. 119
    PatrickG

    @ erik333:

    Other people covered this already, but since my original post regarding you was apparently unclear, I’ll just say this again:

    There is also, plausibly, some space in the noise of random events and lack of data for the signal of an interventionist god to hide.

    Heh. Plausible. Haven’t seen a god of the gaps argument so baldly put in some time. That, coupled with your insistence that atheists bear the burden of disproof — even while you simultaneously say that positive assertions require positive evidence! A significant number of your viewpoints seem to come straight from apologetics sites. It should be clear why I might be skeptical of your self-identification, yes?

    @ mudpuddles:

    Thanks for posting your more expanded thoughts. If I could ask, are there really that many isolated populations out there at this point in time? My weak google-fu brings up many cases of communities attempting to maintain isolation, but not really very many that are actually succeeding. Any references would be quite welcome.

  120. 120
    erik333

    @118 Eristae

    mm naps rock.

    I’d say, “I don’t believe we are in the matrix.” Susskinds holographic universe theory has caused a seeming resurgence of the simulated universe camp, sadly.
    Also, as agents within such a simulation – it would still be real to us. Whether or not we are in the matrix doesn’t affect how we best play the game of the matrix, we must play it by the rules presented anyway.

    Agreed, absolute knowledge is scarce in the real world.

    “…we don’t do this with things that we actually have the ability to find evidence for.”

    Having the ability to look for evidence that should be present (but isn’t) helps increase our certainty.

    @ 119 PatrickG

    I was trying to argue (possibly incorrectly) that claiming something as a fact does require justification, as opposed to simply stating it as an assumption/default position/null hypothesis or so. It could be I’ve misunderstood what was meant by calling it a “fact”, and I haven’t had time yet to check if maybe the language barrier may have caused my complaint.

    It’s not really about a god of the gaps in that case, its about the nature of evidence we would expect to see given certain charactaristics of a god claim. The point is that it may be impossible to discern supernatural interference even if it does exist, if it is unpredictable and rare enough. I believe it was a response to someone claiming that interventionist gods would be detectable (guessing from memory), which is not necessarily true.

  121. 121
    SallyStrange

    I think you’re reading far too much into what is required before calling something a “fact.” And yes, you do sound exactly like a religious apologist.

  122. 122
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Agreed, absolute knowledge is scarce in the real world.

    Thanks for the tell you are a religious idjit, trying their idjiotic apologetics on a well versed crowd. Only the religious talk of absolute knowledge. Everybody else knows that knowledge is relative, and tentative. Now, everything you say can *floosh* be dismissed. That comes when one lies.

    I was trying to argue (possibly incorrectly) that claiming something as a fact does require justification,

    Sorry, claiming something doesn’t exist as there is no evidence for it is justified, when the negative can’t be proven. Which your statements on the subject ignore. Which is another tell for you being a religious apologist.

  123. 123
    Amphiox

    There is also, plausibly, some space in the noise of random events and lack of data for the signal of an interventionist god to hide.

    God of the Gaps, eh?

    Well, that “space” is rather small now, and shrinking daily. Only a relatively impotent interventionist god, impotent enough not to deserve the appellation of “god” can hide therein.

  124. 124
    SallyStrange

    To expand further:

    SS: “there are no gods (it is a fucking fact, okay–people need to lighten up about making this assertion)”

    , you are left in a position of having to define “gods” before you go about showing that their non existense is a “fact” rather than a hypothesis…

    No. Wrong. I am not left in the position of having to define “gods.” I am working with all the definitions of gods I’ve heard so far. Some of them are falsifiable, and those have all been falsified. Some of them are not falsifiable and those I regard as irrelevant since nobody can provide evidence either for or against the existence of something whose main attribute is “can’t define it.”

    and no theist worth their salt is even going to accept your definition, let alone accept the assertion.

    I don’t need to provide a definition for them to accept. If they believe in a god, then they must have a definition of god which they accept. If they think they can provide evidence for their version of god, then let them present it. Seriously, you have this totally backwards. Theists are the ones who have to provide a definition of god. My asserting that I do not believe in any of the definitions of god that have been proposed so far in no way obligates me to spend one single iota of time trying to think of new and novel definitions of god. That’s a completely ridiculous assertion on your part, and presumptuous to boot. I don’t have to do anyone’s homework for them.

    I completely agree that gods non existence is the default position, half of my argument with SallyStrange has (from my perspective) been about whether calling it a “fact” is justifiable.

    Yes, it’s justifiable. It’s justifiable because of all the reasons we’ve been discussing–people have defined gods in many different ways. Those with falsifiable definitions have all been falsified. Those with non-falsifiable definitions are indistinguishable from those that don’t exist. People have been searching hard for evidence of the existence of many different kinds of gods and supernatural beings for centuries, but have come up empty 100% of the time so far. All of this justifies characterizing the non-existence of gods as a FUCKING FACT.

    Maybe this has been less than apparent, if so – I’m most likely to blame. Even “try hard” mode is not always enough when trying to express myself in english.

    Advice for folks with English as a second language: do NOT start an argument that hinges almost entirely on the fine gradations of meaning contained in a one-syllable word that’s in extremely common use. All you’re going to do is frustrate yourself and annoy everybody else. Maybe if you had started out asking, “Well, what does it mean when you call something a fact?” then I wouldn’t be so goddamned irritated with you right now.

    60 Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    Vampires and leprechauns are probably tangible and comprehensible enough for me to agree that their non existence is as close to a fact we can get, with black swans in mind. The dragon only becomes meaningful to discuss if people start worshiping it and base their morality around books it supposedly wrote. Until then its only useful as a hypothesis for what dark matter is ;-)

    If it’s not a fact that vampires are not real, then THERE ARE NO FACTS, period. And I don’t understand what possible relevance there is to a creature’s existence or not, whether people worship it or not, or look to it as a source of morality. Also, your smiley faces still make me rage-ful.

    I tend to use theist/atheist with regard to belief, gnostic/agnostic with regard to knowledge. I would call myself an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe a god exists, but I don’t know that no god exists.

    If you were to apply this standard of evidence universally, you would not be able to say that you know that ANYTHING exists. Do you routinely going around claiming that you BELIEVE that the USA exists, but you cannot KNOW FOR SURE that the USA exists? No? Then why make a special exception for god/gods?

    @ 68 SallyStrange

    If you had said something like “its a fact that there is no good evidence for believing in gods”, I would have agreed. Stating that gods are non-existant as a matter of fact rather than as a (completely valid) assumption, in my mind, requires you to define the charactaristics and evidences that the existance of gods necessarily implies – and then either show where we necessarily would have evidence if any such being existed, and that it is missing. Its hopeless.

    As a writer and an editor, I detest fluff and useless, pointless, unnecessary words. “It is a fact that there is no good evidence for believing in gods” means exactly the same thing as “It is a fact that there are no gods.” Well, not exactly the same thing, but they both express the exact same reasoning: no evidence–>belief is unwarranted–>gods don’t exist.

    “What’s your point? You don’t even have a point here. Yes, they are unfalsifiable and unconvincing. That’s why I say they don’t exist.”

    I was agreeing with you, while acknowledging that even unfalsifiable gods may have implications in the real world – due to believers caring about what they percieve to be the will of the deity.

    Excuse me, what? No, “unfalsifiable gods” do NOT have implications in the real world. The BELIEFS that BELIEVERS have about gods, falsifiable or not, have implications in the real world.

    That was not an intelligent statement you made there, and I’m certain it’s not the language barrier that’s making you look dumb here.

    @ 73 Eristae

    “What kind of proof is even theoretically or logically possible?” None that I can think of.

    Then you’re kind of an asshole for demanding it from me.

    @ 76 mudpuddles

    “Gaahh! So frustrating, because some of your other arguments are otherwise pretty reasonable.

    First, science does not deal in “proofs”, so that’s a big flaming strawman.”

    I gratefully accept the rebuke, I was sloppy and cryptic. I agree with everything you wrote.

    Again, it takes only a few seconds to type, “I was wrong, I am sorry for burdening you all with my tediousness.”

    @ 81 SallyStrange

    Insofar I understand the concept of leprechauns, and what type of evidence their existence (on earth) would imply, im perfectly happy to assert that they do not exist.

    Then you are a hypocrite for refusing to claim that gods do not exist.

    I await your succinct apology and admission of wrongness.

  125. 125
    PatrickG

    @ erik333:

    All I can really find in your posts disputing “facts” boils down to two arguments:

    - that a whole lot of people believe god(s) exist. That’s kind of a recognized fallacy, that one. It’s even got a name!
    - that an inability to prove a negative means we can’t assert facts. Which you refute yourself by saying:

    “Vampires and leprechauns are probably tangible and comprehensible enough for me to agree that their non existence is as close to a fact we can get, with black swans in mind.

    God(s) are just as tangible and comprehensible. So why not concede this as well? By the way, I’m going to treat “as close to a fact as we can get” as “a fact”. Otherwise why have the word fact at all?

    To quote you from above:

    Positive claims require positive evidence, until such are presented you should not believe them.

    As SallyStrange said much more eloquently upthread, thousands of years of searching have produced no definite evidence. Therefore the proposition of the existence of god(s) can be dismissed. Therefore it is a fact that god(s) do not exist. As with all facts, this is subject to reevaluation from new evidence.

    Got some? Otherwise, we’re done.

    On a side note, you are aware that many people here used to be religious? Your posts at 46 and 113 seem to indicate otherwise. We’re quite aware of what deities are; in particular, we’re quite aware of the precise “charactaristics [sic] and evidences” of the god(s) being dismissed as nonexistent. In fact, my intimate knowledge of bible verse is a proximate cause of my atheism.

    Our assertion of fact is not flawed by lack of intimate knowledge of the subject. Quite the opposite.

  126. 126
    PatrickG

    SallyStrange: May the FSM’s noodly appendages wreck havoc upon you, and may all your sauces — tomato or cream-based — be overly seasoned with fiery peppers! I knew I should have refreshed before posting.

  127. 127
    SallyStrange

    No worries, PatrickG. And thank you!

  128. 128
    mudpuddles

    @ PatrickG, #119

    Hi Patrick.

    There are somewhere in the region of 120 unconctacted groups in the world at present. The largest of these is known to have about 2,000 members. The average amongst the rest is around 200. So that’s somwehere around 25,000 people. There are around 2,000 other groups globally that have been contacted to some extent – e.g. they are known to local or national authorities or NGOs, but shun further or regular contact and do not use modern technology or healthcare or intergate in any other way with “settled” communities. These also have an average estimated population of 200 people (about 400,000 in total). Then there are indigenous groups that are somewhat more indifferent to contact and will engage with outsiders to some limited degree – perhaps to gain selective access to modern healthcare, or for trade; others accept limited interaction from NGOs or academic interests – these also number in the region of 400,000 people in total.

    Uncontacted groups aside, the major issue is how should efforts to implement sustainable development goals deal with the contentious issue of indigenous rights. Its basically a debate over how to extend sustainable development to peoples for whom any form of development or meaningful intervention could result in negative impacts, but who – as human beings – the rest of us cannot imagine leaving to their own fates in a rapidly globalised and degrading world. Approaching these issues from an atheist / skepitcal / rational perspective raises significant ethical challenges.</p.

  129. 129
    PatrickG

    @ mudpuddles:

    Thanks for the numbers. If you have a summary link handy, I’d very much enjoy learning more about the subject.

    I don’t have a lot of expertise in this area, but since you seem to know something about this field, I’m going to subject you to a somewhat stream-of-consciousness account of my personal observations. Perhaps you can comment from the broader perspective of your work.

    Wise readers will not only stop reading, they’ll throw their computers out of a window to prevent the verbal pain that follows.

    You have been warned.

    One final note: if anybody out there wants to call me on absolutely ridiculous bullshit, I’m more than happy to hear it. Everything that follows comes with the “I am SO not an expert, and this is all SO anecdotal” disclaimer.

    ——-

    What follows is strictly anecdotal (I’ll repeat this ad nauseum) accounts from the travels of myself and my partner in Central America. Specifically my impressions of my encounters with the Kuna, specifically in Panama, and specifically those living on some of the San Blas island chain.

    There were several interesting/notable points from my trip there (strictly as tourist). In no particular order:

    - an interesting blend of sea and air travel, ranging from large ocean-going canoes to motorboats to single-prop aircraft. Local commerce seemed to be done through non-motorized island-to-island transport, with supply dumps and tourist travel using fuel power.
    - local deployment of outside technology. Specifically solar panels for night-time lighting, water gravitationally pumped from sand filter systems on the mainland, and of course fuel-powered transport.
    - variation in population density on the islands seemingly correlated with “contamination” of outside building materials (scare quotes deliberate, not sure how else to describe). Highest density seemed to correlate with willingness to use corrugated aluminum, plastics, insulation, etc. as opposed to more traditional housing.
    - appalling sanitation. Jakes that emptied directly into ocean. Trash everywhere on dense islands (no landfills, obviously).
    - extreme poverty of the denser, more urbanized islands contrasted with the relative affluence of the more traditional islands
    - concentration on traditional crafts (molas) as revenue source (i.e. commerce with more modern world). Side note: I still wish we hadn’t been backpacking through Central America, because we had the money and a full outfit would have been so nice. Not so portable, though. Maybe one day — absolutely gorgeous crafting.
    - our resident interpreter, only person on island (Isla Tigre Kunayala) who spoke Spanish (imperfectly), studied at Universidad de Panamá, cited prohibitive cost of off-island education. We were the only tourists on the island at the time, and we got a lot of attention. Still feels kind of weird.
    - heavy emphasis on spiritual government via the Casa de Congreso and the Saila community organization
    - the atrocious past behavior of the Panamanian government towards the Kuna (effectively an attempt to eradicate local culture), still very strongly remembered. The continued poor treatment in combining semi-autonomous status with policy neglect.

    Those are my impressions from going over my journal and scrapbooks and such. I’ll turn here to concerns more directly related to atheism.

    My (completely anecdotal) impression was that a fairly rigid hierarchy exists, and is rooted in the spiritual traditions of the culture. The islands that were relatively affluent were precisely the ones that centered their day-to-day administration in the Casa de Congreso (the native term escapes me, I can provide more detailed sourcing if requested). The Casa was both figurative and literal — it referred to the community governance mechanism as well as investing the actual structure with power — was the spiritual center of the community as well as the seat of government, and our access to it was heavily proscribed. No photos, no actual entry to the building allowed (only visual inspection from outside).

    So, as an atheist, this is something that really struck me. Authority was explicitly derived from religious belief, and that seemed to have direct impact upon the relative living standards of various islands. Technology wasn’t shunned per se, but was strictly limited, and again, seemed to follow the hierarchy of the islands. Kunayala was a local seat of government, and had a rudimentary power grid with a dedicated mainland filter system for water — for an island that had maybe 200 people on it. Islands where many more people lived seemed to depend on delivery of bottled water (and oh wow, the disinfection byproducts in that water! Heavy chlorination, with subsequent taste effects).

    You may have noticed my particular concern for the living conditions of individuals. I hope it goes without saying that this is not exactly unique to the situation I describe here. Hierarchy is hierarchy, and it seems to express itself the same way in Panama as it does in Louisiana.

    The initial questions for atheists intruding into such a situation seems both obvious and extremely complex. How does one enter such a system (one based in spiritual government) attempting to provide basic services and rights? Is it appropriate to circumvent an explicitly spiritual government? Would doing such impair success? Are individual rights actually important enough to justify intervention? Will the intervention cause measurable harm to those individual rights?

    I have absolutely no answers to this. Not my field, and I certainly don’t have enough data to really opine beyond what I’ve already said. In fact, I’m not sure I have an actual point — the subject is extremely complex, and I’m trying to work myself through it rhetorically based on the only personal experience I have. But as an atheist, the clear markers of religious hierarchy were evident, and that manifested in the disparate living conditions of this particular community.

    Again, this is not limited to the Kuna. It’s a fairly widespread phenomenon.

    I’ll end this rambling post here. Maybe there’s food for thought/discussion in there, but then again, maybe not.

    * Sadly, we’d mistimed our trip. If we’d been able to stay 3 days longer, we would have gotten to see firsthand the assembly of the Kuna leaders, from southern Costa Rica to Columbia, which would have met at least once on the island we spent most of our time on. Though, of course, worth noting that if we had been there, we were told we’d be kept at extreme arms length, the village itself would have been closed to us, and we would have to stay in the designated area for tourists (an abandoned airstrip, actually). Not intended to be censure — we were tourists, and we had no business being there for that. Still, it would have been quite an experience.

  130. 130
    rickmalin

    Am I missing something? Why the hubbub about defining Atheism when it already has a marvelous definition? And isn’t this discussion really about Humanism?

    I’m one of the riff-raff who thinks Humanism should be the umbrella group of all the non-religionists. And I believe there would be important advantages to making it more competitive with religion. Objections to this are understandable, but it would speed up the process. I’m not willing to wait a hundred more years.

    It’s fun to play ‘I’m more rational than you’ except there are never any winners. ‘Rational’ is relative. Even ‘facts’ are relative. No human is totally rational — though some are more so than others. We seem to see it as an ideal, but why does it seem so evasive?

  131. 131
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    And isn’t this discussion really about Humanism?

    No.

    I’m one of the riff-raff who thinks Humanism should be the umbrella group of all the non-religionists. And I believe there would be important advantages to making it more competitive with religion. Objections to this are understandable, but it would speed up the process.

    Evidence to back this up would be helpful. Otherwise, your opinion is matched and superseded by the opinion of any other atheist.

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