The scarlet crayon of atheism


redcrayon

I’ve been trying to understand how people — not just people, but self-declared “leaders of the atheist movement” — can claim that atheism is only the lack of belief in any gods, and further, that absence of god-belief entails no other significant consequences. It’s been difficult, because that way of thinking is alien to me; atheism for me is all tangled up in naturalism and scientific thinking, and it’s not just a single, simple cause but has a whole cascade of meaning. But I’m trying, and I think I’m beginning to get it. There is a reasonable way to regard atheism as important while at the same time limiting its import.

Think of atheism as something like having a favorite color in a world with a set of cultural mores that dictate the value of colors. You’re five years old, and in kindergarten, and the teacher asks you to draw a picture of your mommy in your favorite color. You proudly go for the big red crayon in your box, and you start to draw, and everyone in the class turns to look at you strangely…and every single one of them is holding a blue crayon. “Everyone knows your favorite color is supposed to be blue,” they say, “You’re weird.” The teacher helpfully takes your red crayon away and gives you a blue one instead.

You might be a little resentful. You might think this is an infringement of your rights and an attempt to police your thoughts, and you’d be right. That would be a terrible thing to do to children. And then, what if you grew up and discovered that enshrined in your country’s constitution was a clause that specifically said the government did not have the right to dictate the citizenry’s favorite color? Why, you might become a crayon activist, fighting for the right of everyone to choose their own color, and you’d go to meetings where everyone would wave red crayons in the air and draw slogans on signs in red.

You might even be angry with other militant red crayon activists who tried to explain why red was the best color — that smacks too much of the blue crayonists who spent your childhood nagging at you why blue was the best. No, your cause is simply to let everyone have the right to choose their own color — it’s all about individual liberty and freedom of conscience. The crayon has no meaning beyond personal expression, and you don’t believe these stories that it has further implications, and you certainly don’t want to discuss why you liked red the best. It just is.

I sympathize with that perspective, and I think it’s entirely valid. There is a level at which you can fight for atheism in our culture purely on principle — that everyone should have a right to personal beliefs without meddling interference from outsiders, and certainly the government should not be in the business of supporting religion or its absence. There’s also a purely legal component to the argument, since America does have a constitution that plainly says “”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — you can be a believer and still support the rights of atheists, just as someone in your kindergarten class could favor blue but still respect your choice of red.

But like all metaphors, this crayon story breaks down.

If religion were a purely personal matter, a case of individual preference (and for many people it is), the analogy would hold up. When we “militant” atheists speak about eradicating religion, that’s really what we mean — not that we’ll close all the churches and force everyone to publicly repudiate their faith, but that it will be reduced to a curious hobby or matter of choice, something that you might feel deeply (BLUE IS THE BESTEST COLOR!), but that you don’t get to impose that view on others, and that on matters of public policy, everyone will approach problems objectively and try to make decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than opinions about angels and ghosts and what’s best for your afterlife. So, yeah, someday I want your choice of religion to have about as much significance as your choice of a favorite color.

But that day is not now.

Religion is not merely a matter of taste. People attach great importance to an irrational explanation for how the universe works, to the degree that they use it to shape government and community decisions. You cannot get elected to high office in most districts in the US without professing a belief in a god — and in most places, it must be a belief in the specific Christian god. They use their irrational beliefs to justify actions that have real effects on thousands or millions of other people: we can pollute the atmosphere because god says we have dominion, and he promised to not ever kill us en masse again; black people and women are destined to servility because the holy book says so; you should punish or ostracize people who do not have sex in the traditional ways of your people.

Religion and atheism are not just different colors in the box of Crayolas.

Some of us are atheists for different reasons than just arbitrariness or thoughtless acceptance of a particular perspective. Among the New Atheists, we’re largely in this position because we reasoned our way to it, or adopted doubt and testing as our philosophical guidelines, or preferred science to faith. Atheism wasn’t a choice at all: we’re naturalists who accept observable reality and the universe around us as the metric for determining the truth of a claim, and every religion fails that test spectacularly, while science struggles honestly to accommodate understanding to the evidence.

I didn’t “choose” atheism. I can’t reject it without paying too high a price, the simultaneous rejection of a vast body of knowledge and a toolset that effectively discovers new knowledge.

Atheism also has implications. It actually makes significant claims about the nature of the universe…you know, that place we live in? The big box of rules and phenomena that determines whether we live or die, and how happy we’ll be during our existence? It’s important. As a science educator, that understanding of our world directly affects my occupation. As a human being, it directly determines how I will live my life.

When I say there is no god, it means that the foundation for a huge number of arguments that currently poison public policy evaporate. God created woman to be a helpmeet to man and to serve him as man serves God? Nope. We’re going to have to actually look at the evidence and determine from observations whether women are inferior (answer so far: no.) Black people were marked with that color as a curse from God and have servile natures? Nope. No god, no curse, no way to claim independent peoples are destined to be master or slave. Two men having sex together is an abomination unto the Lord, and the only fit response by a moral culture is to kill them, or at least abuse them? Nope. Your objective moral standard is a fiction, and perhaps a truly moral culture is one that gives all of its citizens equal respect.

Being an atheist means you can no longer learn your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority*, but have to rely on reason and empathy and greater human goals, and you don’t get to justify actions simply because they “feel” right or good — you have to support them with evidence or recognition that they directly serve a secular purpose. Our atheism, our secularism, our rejection of divinity and ecclesiastical authority determines how we move through our life, and that movement matters. It’s not superficial, it’s not a fashion choice, and the absence of god has meaning.

Thank you to those who are willing to stand up for atheism simply as a matter of choice and principle, but you should know and be warned that we intend to change the world. We are more dangerous than you can even imagine. And apparently, more dangerous than even some atheists can imagine.

*I have to add that many theists also accept a secular morality — they may like their religion, but they also recognize that you must have a better excuse for community action than “god said so.”

Comments

  1. Lofty says

    Thank you to those who are willing to stand up for atheism simply as a matter of choice and principle, but you should know and be warned that we intend to change the world. We are more dangerous than you can even imagine. And apparently, more dangerous than even some atheists can imagine.

    Mmmm hmmm.

  2. says

    I think I’d summarize this as “people don’t understand humanism.”

    After I had had about half a decade to really think about where a lack of a god put humanity, I very naturally linked non-belief to empathy and a humanistic outlook. It seems a necessary conclusion after non-belief; that everyone should be equal in personhood and choice, because there are no other moral authorities. It’s the Ultimate Golden Rule.

  3. says

    The crayon metaphor also breaks down because the two crayons are, presumably, identical apart from colour. There’s no moral value attached to choosing one or the other. There’s no right or wrong answer. Even if religion were just a hobby it would be the fruit of a broken epistemology. I’ll be satisfied when religion no longer informs public policy, when it’s no longer assumed in public discourse that GOD is responsible for stuff, when it no longer interferes with the exercise of human rights and freedoms. But some day, I hope that humanity will leave at least the demonstrably factually wrong religions behind altogether–especially the toxic Abrahamic ones. Children ought not to be indoctrinated into that crap.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Being an atheist means you can no longer learn your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority*, but have to rely on reason and empathy and greater human goals, and you don’t get to justify actions simply because they “feel” right or good — you have to support them with evidence or recognition that they directly serve a secular purpose. Our atheism, our secularism, our rejection of divinity and ecclesiastical authority determines how we move through our life, and that movement matters. It’s not superficial, it’s not a fashion choice, and the absence of god has meaning.

    Very nice addition to the morning cup of coffee.

    With choice comes the responsibility for the results of those choices. If one rejects gods, then one logically should also reject moral constructs built on the premises of those gods. The whole theistic moral code, and everything allowed by the babble should be swept out. Then supplant that with something built on reality, like women are people too. It’s hard work, too hard for lazy minds.

  5. pschoeckel says

    While I agree with the goals of the atheist movement, I have to point out that not everyone goes from theist to atheist and it is that change I think, that would include an analysis of why theism is wrong and a natural progression to what you refer to as atheism+. For me and others I know, we weren’t indoctrinated with religion and didn’t have a god or gods to dismiss or beliefs to overcome. We are atheists by default. Ethics, morals and appreciation for equality come later from family, friends and empathy. Unfortunately, like religion, if you get bad information early it’s hard to change.

  6. georgelocke says

    I’ve been trying to understand how people — not just people, but self-declared “leaders of the atheist movement” — can claim that atheism is only the lack of belief in any gods, and further, that absence of god-belief entails no other significant consequences.

    Can someone provide a link to the people Myers is disagreeing with here? The whole “atheism debunks arguments premised on theism” thing seems to be one of the things on which there is broad agreement.

    Is he talking about ppl like Chris Stedman? These people don’t seem to be “leaders of the atheist movement”.

  7. Useless says

    Aw, shucks. Can’t I impose red on just a couple people? And I get to pick who they are?

  8. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    A good response to the happenings on the Own Goal thread…and so many other occurrences over the past few years.

    It’s interesting how smart people can be sufficiently steeped in our own way of thinking that it takes a while to understand how one’s critics or opponents are thinking. I’ve had that problem a ton, though not in this particular area [I think I had a handle on this Red Crayon Brigade before]. But the sign of a great mind is not in our blocks – we all have them, great, modest, or diminutive, and me more than most. One of those signs is that when we get something, we are able to express that something. One particular type of mind is able to beautifully express truths in maths. My best childhood friend is one of these. Einstein with E=Mc^2.

    I think PZ is a nice thinker, though I don’t know him well enough to tell the difference between “great” and “very good”. But it’s leaping over that barrier to his own understanding, landing in a foreign field of thought, taking in the important landmarks, *and then coming back to give the rest of us a map to the place* that I really appreciate.

    Red Crayon Brigade may very well become as useful a concept as Atheism+.

  9. scarr says

    It’s A-theism, not Athe-ism. (A-bluecrayonism?) the most militant of us recognize this.

  10. says

    I don’t know that, because many of us arrived at atheism through skeptical/naturalistic methods, that it should be presumed that atheism should imply those things. It’s more likely the other way around, really. In any case, there are plenty of folks who are really atheists that believe in the supernatural and are even religious, and I don’t think we should deny their identities or suggest that they are “bad atheists” because they don’t subscribe to the things we do in addition to atheism.

  11. badgersdaughter says

    I have always been a bit puzzled by people claiming that atheism is “just the absence of belief in gods”. Certainly my own deconversion was marked not by the exact time that I began to disbelieve, which I cannot identify, but by the point at which I stopped fighting the doubts, accepted the nonsensical nature of my previous religious training and the things associated with it such as the Bible, and realized that now I was going to have to change my life in certain ways that I had yet to fully discover and understand.

    I like to draw an analogy to my later “deconversion” from libertarianism. It’s not that I suddenly stopped believing in the “invisible hand” of the “free market”. It’s just that I eventually realized that the world does not work that way, and that I could not construct my thoughts or conduct my behavior as if it did work that way.

  12. badgersdaughter says

    I should clarify. I suppose to those who were never religious believers the distinction is just not obvious. But because you don’t believe in a god, you do things in a certain way. When I was a religious believer, I did things in a different way from you. The fact that people who have a god belief, and people who don’t have a god belief, do things in different ways because of this difference, is the key to why there is an atheism+. In its simplest form it’s a way to try to understand and codify what godless people think and do differently from godly people by virtue of their godlessness.

  13. Jo York says

    I’ve been trying to understand how people — not just people, but self-declared “leaders of the atheist movement” — can claim that atheism is only the lack of belief in any gods

    I would dearly love you to have this conversation with Matt Dillahunty and the other co-hosts of The Atheist Experience, because you seem to be at odds with their definitions of atheism.

    They define theism as a belief in a god or gods and a-theism as a lack of belief. A person may lack a belief for many reasons but it’s usually down to a rejection of the claim that a God exists. You can be an atheist asshole or a morally good person who also happens not to believe in a God. Either way you’re still an atheist. It tells you nothing of what else they positively do believe. The term atheism only deals with the notion of whether or not a God or Gods exist(s). If I’ve mis-represented the AXP stance on this issue, please correct me.

  14. fourtytwo says

    What are people who don’t believe in gods, but also happen to be sexist or racist? I would argue that they are assholes, but they are still atheists. I happen to be atheist AND I consider myself a feminist. However, it’s confusing to label them both under the atheism banner as you will unfortunately continue to get sexist atheists. Atheism+ on the other hand, that differentiates a movement and grouping of like-minded individuals from the general notion of atheism, so this seems clearer.

  15. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    Jo York, I think you’re conflating the world atheist with the acts of becoming and being an atheist. The world is defined as you say, but being an atheist has implications beyond that definition. Mind you, I’m speaking for myself here and not AXP.

  16. says

    Merely declaring a lack of belief in gods leaves one as a cork bobbing in an ocean of belief.

    Or…you can start swimming.

  17. sonorus says

    It would be foolish to assume that just because someone abandons one set of unproven claims (theism) that they will abandon all the others. There are a lot of unproven beliefs in politics and plenty to go around. However, I would hope that atheists would be more open to rational arguments than theists. I’m not sure that’s true, at least not in all cases. I’d use the anti-gay atheist caller from France on last week’s (#813) episode of The Atheist Experience.

  18. stevem says

    I have always been a bit puzzled by people claiming that atheism is “just the absence of belief in gods”.

    Isn’t that what we call a “dictionary atheist”, i.e. the dictionary meaning of the word atheist with no consideration of what it really means to be an atheist (as a person, not just the word itself). This is what PZ is writing about here, as a person atheism entails many other behaviors than just saying, “I don’t believe in god”.
    But speaking of dictionary atheism, I have a quibble about it too. Is atheism “disbelief in god”, or “disbelief in religion”? I think it is more the latter, but that doesn’t mean atheism only hates religion but still believes in God. To me, the important thing is rejecting religion more than rejecting God. But maybe that’s just my atheism itself, talking. God can’t do anything to me, since He doesn’t even exist, but Religion is harmful all around, Religion is real people doing real things and that’s worth actively opposing. And we (atheists) can’t just oppose, but provide viable alternatives to the religious dogma.
    But back to my quibble, the point is, atheism isn’t just “Gods don’t exist”, but really “There’s no evidence for God, maybe He does or doesn’t.” Does that make me agnostic? I don’t think so, agnostics say, “There’s no way to decide either way, don’t even try.” That’s different than, “Show me the evidence”.
    Sorry to ramble, TTFN (ta ta for now)

  19. Pen says

    Things look rather different from my perspective, growing up in an environment where atheism was the norm but rarely talked about (what is there to say?), and science, secular ethics and community based thinking were also the norm and a constant subject of discussion. II suppose it’s being an atheist that I don’t really care about, except in so far as I’ve been exposed to American culture. To use your analogy, it’s as though I’ve never questioned everyone using whatever crayon they like and spent all my time thinking about the subject of the drawings. Then someone says, oh, those people over there get hassled if they use red.

  20. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    Er, that’d be “…the word is defined as you say…” Definitely time for sleep.

  21. R Johnston says

    There is, unfortunately, a long tradition of people claiming not to believe in gods yet continuing to make special pleadings on behalf of god and related claims. The red crayon brigade is the new agnosticism. Rather than the agnostic special pleading in order to conclude an uncertainty over the existence of gods that they don’t apply to unicorns, buses, leprechauns, gravity, and Santa, the red crayon brigade special pleads in order to not have to dismiss their beliefs derived from divine authority after claiming that divine authority does not exist. They beg and plead to not have to dismiss their argument from authority merely for having dismissed the authority in question as nonauthoritative and nonexistent.

    If you’re an atheist and you special plead on behalf of god beliefs there is something seriously wrong with you.

  22. says

    It comes down to semantics. I would use ‘atheism’ to describe the ideology, and I would claim that it is positively defined as a body of thought, a historical tradition and a movement.
    On the other hand ‘atheist’ can mean either someone who subscribes to the ideology of atheism, or it could mean someone, who is not convinced, that the propability of Gods existence is >50%, for some definition of God(s).
    Such an atheist may not care about atheism. Or not know about it. Or may even oppose it.
    Here (Denmark) many, perhaps most, people just don’t care about religion one way or the other. This group may technically be called atheist. Yet they don’t subscribe to or care about atheism.

  23. says

  24. says

    Yes, the question is not “What does atheism mean?” but “What does a lack of belief in gods mean?”
    .
    Religious zealots wear blindfolds.
    Religious moderates wear rose-colored glasses.
    Atheists don’t wear anything.
    .
    You can see how looking at the world would be different for all three.

  25. says

    You can be an asshole or an apathetic citizen and still be an atheist. I am not saying the meaning of the word is wrong, I’m saying that people are more than unthinking collections of dictionary entries.

    Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. Atheists are human beings who have rejected those supernatural conclusions, and…what? That next step is the interesting one. How does this idea change your life? How does it change your expectation of what constitutes a good explanation? What are the basic understandings that led you to reject gods? Somehow we’re supposed to believe that atheists just adopt isolated ideas and never ever connect the dots.

  26. Scientismist says

    Thanks, PZ.
    Rory @2:

    I think I’d summarize this as “people don’t understand humanism.”

    In almost 40 years of association with freethought (mostly humanist) organizations, I have always tried to explain my own position much the same way as PZ, but I have often been told that I didn’t understand Humanism. Empathy is a good start, but not enough, in my opinion. I even tried to convince Paul Kurtz that the ethical component of science is a good starting point for a humanistic morality, but he didn’t seem to see it.

  27. thumper1990 says

    Rory #2

    After I had had about half a decade to really think about where a lack of a god put humanity, I very naturally linked non-belief to empathy and a humanistic outlook. It seems a necessary conclusion after non-belief; that everyone should be equal in personhood and choice, because there are no other moral authorities. It’s the Ultimate Golden Rule.

    This. Except I was already acting like a Humanist before I came to the conclusion that there definitely were no gods and that religion is harmful. Coming to that conclusion just allowed me to rationalise opinions I already held.

  28. carlie says

    I’m with badgersdaughter. When religion and belief systems and actions have always been inexorably linked for you, it’s impossible not to see the causal link between them and see that breaking that link breaks the behavior/action. So, for example, God says women are bad. No god, no more women are bad. It seems easy enough that it’s difficult to comprehend that there are people who think women are bad just by having picked up that conclusion without having been exposed to the cause, because for the ex-religious it just doesn’t make any sense why anyone would believe that in absence of the religious rationale.

    When I was a religious believer, I did things in a different way from you.

    Exactly. And the longer I hang out with atheists, the more I realize how different those ways are.

  29. John Small Berries says

    Being an atheist means you can no longer learn your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority*, but have to rely on reason and empathy and greater human goals, and you don’t get to justify actions simply because they “feel” right or good — you have to support them with evidence or recognition that they directly serve a secular purpose.

    In an ideal world, sure. But Justin Vacula demonstrates that atheists don’t have to do anything of the kind.

  30. maudell says

    I’m not sure if you’re referring to atheists who whine that social justice issues cannot be part of the atheist ‘movement’, or to arguments made to theists by people like Matt Dillahunty (I’m not targeting him particularly, but he often makes the argument in response to “atheism=Hitler arguments on TAE). If it’s the latter (it might not be), I don’t think it’s incompatible with your view. It seems to me like a ‘bottom up’ approach, asking what the strict minimum to be an atheist is, and then build from there.

  31. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    I’m tired of all this red vs. blue argument. Can’t we just compromise and admit that the best colour is purple?

  32. Rey Fox says

    If they were really consistent with dictionary atheism, then they’d stop all their efforts to keep creationism out of the classroom, and religious rules out of law. Atheism doesn’t necessarily imply secularism, you know, it’s just lack of belief in gods.

  33. says

    Somehow we’re supposed to believe that atheists just adopt isolated ideas and never ever connect the dots.

    And yet, there are atheists who do just that. The other day, I got into in with a couple atheists who insisted that a. the 21 grams myth was correct, and b. ghosts sometimes attack/abuse/rape people. These atheists were neither trolling, nor were they being sarcastic. This was really what they believed.

    I’ve had a skeptical outlook (thanks, Carl Sagan!), and have been disdainful of authority (thanks, pretty much every authority figure ever!) since I was very small, so the journey from Neo-Pagan to agnostic to atheist happened alongside many other journeys. Dot connecting was natural. It just happened. But not every atheist comes to it from that starting point.

    Some atheists believe really stupid things. They don’t connect the dots; they don’t know how. You can be all, “Just pick up a pencil…” but these people don’t have a pencil. They’ve never picked up a pencil before, and don’t know how to hold one. They saw the one dot and said, “I like this dot. This dot is keen,” and that’s the end of it. Worse, some liked the one dot, but decided the other dots were awful and the people who do connect them are awful, too, and they refuse to accept the pencil you want to lend them.

    It’s weird, but the world is weird.

  34. Roberto Aguirre Maturana says

    Theists believe the crayon they are holding is blue and is the best, because that crayon has a label that says so.

    Strong atheists believe all crayons are grey.

    Only skeptic atheists are aware that everybody in the classroom is color-blind.

  35. carlie says

    I’m tired of all this red vs. blue argument. Can’t we just compromise and admit that the best colour is purple?

    Accommodationist! Where’s my pitchfork and torch?

  36. carlie says

    Theists believe the crayon they are holding is blue and is the best, because that crayon has a label that says so.

    Strong atheists believe all crayons are grey.

    Only skeptic atheists are aware that everybody in the classroom is color-blind.

    Please step carefully away from the analogy. Some things are better left to experts.

  37. Data Jack says

    Although I agree with much of what you say here, I’m not sure we can say “Atheism is these things” without adding a “to me” on the end. I certainly arrived at my atheism through skepticism and reason, and I know for a fact that I support the same liberal social causes as many of my wonderful atheist friends and acquaintances do (including you, PZ :). But does Bill Maher? Does Penn Jillette? Did Stalin? If it can be demonstrated that they don’t, are they not still atheists? I have known some remarkably cruel and stupid atheists in my life, but I don’t have any reason to believe that they weren’t “true atheists”.

  38. consciousness razor says

    Fuck, how much irrelevant screeching will we hear about how no atheist “must” be good or rational, that they’re not being “compelled” to think or care about anything at all, that they really are “atheists” by definition even though they’re ridiculous fucksticks with evidently no ability to think critically or read for comprehension, etc.?

    It’s like they expect the fucking Atheist Inquisition to break down their doors and force them to think about the implications of their totally isolated and useless dogma that “god doesn’t exist.” That’s not what the subject is at all. It’s about what does follow rationally and ethically from non-belief. You want to be forced into compliance, join a fucking cult, or maybe the military or a corporation, whatever suits you best. We have more important things to worry about.

  39. Ermine says

    I.. have to agree with Data Jack @ #40 and evilisgood just above that, and disagree with PZ, much as I hate to do it. Dictionary definitions are specific for good reason – so we can all effectively communicate by using words that have agreed-upon meanings. I can’t begin to count the times when I’ve seen some god-botherer try to make some claim about what atheists do or believe, or claiming that, because we’re atheists, we or PZ MUST categorically deny any possibility of any god existing anywhere, something that we’d need omniscience to honestly claim, only to be shot down immediately with “Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, nothing more!”

    I dunno, I totally agree that we -should- be able to use the same thought processes that brought us to atheism to change how we think about other matters as well, but I wouldn’t say it was atheism that motivated me to think that way. If I were talking about how I no longer blindly trusted leaders, I’d call that my skepticism and critical thinking. If I were referring to the desire to see religion removed from it’s place of power in society, I’d consider that my secularism, or at least a desire for secularism that was motivating me, again, not my atheism. It was the skepticism that led to my atheism, not the other way around.

    Meh. It’s not really a point I want to -argue- though. I totally agree with every just about real cause you folks have stood up for for years, but I can’t agree with this line of argument because to me, the world just doesn’t work that way. We can see just from the slymepit and elevatorgate and all the other insanity over the past year or two that ‘atheists’ are just as likely to be horrible, ignorant, bigoted people as theists are. Oh, maybe not the same percentage as likely, but there’s nothing stopping any individual atheist from being just as backwards and close-minded and selfish as any random theist. Nothing encompassed in any of the standard definitions of ‘atheist’, anyway. I like the idea of the Atheist+ movement, but that + is making it implicit that all the desire for social justice and equality and all is in addition to the atheism itself.

    Well, it just goes to show that we’re not all sheep and unthinking PZ-acolytes, right? Some time we just flat out don’t agree with him, sometimes we disagree with the whole gang. (although I should think that would be a really good time to check your biases and background facts, if you discover the entire blog against you..) If this is the worst thing I disagree with PZ over, I think we’ll prooobably manage to avoid going for each others’ throats the next time we see one another. Heh!

  40. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m not sure we can say “Atheism is these things” without adding a “to me” on the end.

    Another person where the point “Whoosh” sails overhead. Quit pretending everybody must take the next step the same way. PZ acknowledges that. But there are consequences to the decision that there is no gods that need to be addressed. A lot of people ignore those consequences, and complain when those of us who see them take action.

  41. says

    Errm, where do you get the idea that I said they aren’t “true atheists”? They are.

    I’m saying, though, that if you get rid of the religious baggage, you are now obligated to think about the actual foundations of your goals. You’re no longer able to just say that your religious authority figure says this is your purpose in life.

    Sometimes atheists come up with bad excuses and stupid rationalizations and rotten goals. No one is claiming that atheism confers infallibility on you.

  42. says

    It tells you nothing of what else they positively do believe.

    doesn’t have to. rejecting religion-based ideas together with the god they depend on would be quite sufficient. But apparently, some atheists somehow manage to reject god(s), but not the things that are only accepted as true because the theists claim that their god(s) said they were. They seem to have forgotten how that null hypothesis thing is supposed to work, I guess.

  43. consciousness razor says

    Meh. It’s not really a point I want to -argue- though. I totally agree with every just about real cause you folks have stood up for for years, but I can’t agree with this line of argument because to me, the world just doesn’t work that way.

    You’re simply mistaken. The world just doesn’t work the way that involves a bunch of isolated beliefs floating impotently in each person’s head so that they have no implications whatsoever for anything else.

  44. R Johnston says

    @45 PZ

    I’m saying, though, that if you get rid of the religious baggage, you are now obligated to think about the actual foundations of your goals.

    Sadly, no.

    No one is obligated to think, or at the very least there is no mechanism for enforcing such an obligation. Vacula and his ilk don’t even really bother with rerationalizing their misogyny in light of their rejection of theism and the theistic basis for patriarchy. Their belief in patriarchy is, absent theism, a freestanding axiom, utterly devoid of thought.

  45. consciousness razor says

    They seem to have forgotten how that null hypothesis thing is supposed to work, I guess.

    It’s apparently that whoever makes the first claim has the “burden of proof.” Never mind the logical structure of the argument, how the evidence is collected, what else we know about reality which has any bearing on the question. No, forget all that, it’s just the order in which people say things. You make a claim about anything, then it’s all on you. Which means I get to assume my position of being a privileged, delusional shitmonger is the default. *eyeroll*

  46. fmitchell says

    Defying all expectations, English seems to have run out of words … at least when it comes to unbelief.

    Type I Atheists say “there is no god, now leave me alone”. Any notion that atheism requires more than a profession of lack of faith is met with derision, hostility, or repeated insistence on dictionary definitions. I suspect that asking anything of this group, even if it’s in their enlightened self interest, will only annoy them.

    Type II Atheists say, “there is no god, but (insert other irrational belief here)”. Like “skeptics” of the Moon landing they use a weird and arguably perverse definition of the term “atheist”. Examples include S. E. Cupp who seems sorrowful and ashamed about being an atheist and self-proclaimed “atheists” cited upthread who believe in ghosts/crystals/spirit guides/ancient astronauts who aren’t TECHNICALLY divine but are only a hair’s breadth away. It also includes atheists with attitudes like sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious bigotry; without religion to justify them said dictionary atheists can only fall back on bogus science, “everybody knows”, “just because”, or no justification whatsoever.

    Type III Atheists say, “if there is no god, let’s examine all the other crap people believe”. One consequence is “Atheism+” which combines a lack of gods with humanism and concern for others’ rights. Because it incorporates a word that the other two groups consider their trademark it caused Deep Rifts.

    There’s undoubtedly more types and subtypes. My aim isn’t a Linnean taxonomy, just a refinement of the Crayon Hypothesis: different people profess atheism for various reasons and some of those reasons are irrational and/or amoral (a-ethical?).

    It would be nice if we had different words for different types of nonbelievers, and not just one word with non-alphanumeric suffixes. It would avoid a lot of confusion.

  47. Abdul Alhazred says

    Category error (or at least confusion):

    atheism — The philosophical position that there is no God (or gods).

    “The Atheism Movement” — A fandom of people who take that position.

    If atheism is gaining, it is due to the reasonbleness of that position, not the antics of the fandom.

  48. Ermine says

    @#48, Consciousness Razor

    You’re simply mistaken. The world just doesn’t work the way that involves a bunch of isolated beliefs floating impotently in each person’s head so that they have no implications whatsoever for anything else.

    And where, precisely, did I say that it did? If you really must argue with me about this, you could at least argue about what I actually said, rather than trying to stuff words into my mouth so you can argue both sides. I didn’t say anything at all about “isolated beliefs that have no implications whatsoever for anything else”.

    I very carefully and explicitly said “The world doesn’t work that way to me“, and tried to explain my point of view. Now you’re going to tell me that I’m mistaken? Do tell me then, how does the world work, as I see it?

    I totally agree with a lot of what PZ says in his original post, but most of what he says appears to me to be ‘shoulds’, as in, ‘what atheism should do to your morality, your activism, your way of thinking and acting in the world around you’, but I can see very well it doesn’t, that many atheists aren’t affected like that, and that the only thing that makes them an atheist is their lack of belief in gods – that dictionary definition again.

    I agree that when people arrive at their atheism through skepticism, critical thinking, and education, if they continue along the same lines of thought, the absence of god should have meaning in their lives, absolutely. However, I personally wouldn’t try to lump all that change back into “atheism”. They’ve found atheism, but they’ve also found their way to secularism in their desire to be free of religion in their lives, and Humanism in their desire for equality and freedom for all. (Notice, nowhere do I say that any of these concepts have “no implications whatsoever for anything else”)

    I’m not saying “You’re doing it wrong!”, I’ve got no intention of trying to stop people from describing their atheism as whatever they want, I just don’t personally agree that we should be trying to stretch the definition of atheism to include anything but the basic dictionary definition. If you try to add more and still call it “Atheism”, you’re likely to confuse a lot of people, and give plenty of fresh ammunition to the “Atheism is a religion!” crowd as well. As PZ himself says, the atheism is all tangled up with scientific thinking and naturalism and whatnot. I agree there, so I myself prefer to keep the definitions as separate as I can. :this: is my Atheism, :this: is my morality, and :this: is my intellect/skepticism/critical thinking.

    I certainly don’t claim to have the correct view on this, but it’s my view at the moment. Maybe PZ and I would agree completely if I just grokked some concept that I’m not yet getting, but for now at least I just can’t see the sense in sniping at “dictionary atheism” Dictionary atheist exist! There are really people out there who I would disagree with on every ideological issue, but because they -also- don’t believe in any gods, they’re as 100% fully atheist as I am, because that dictionary definition means something. Me, I’d probably try to come up with a new name, like, say, “Atheist+”, and let it be known that -that- definition included all the +open-mindedness, +equality, +skepticism, +scientific-method, etc. I think that’s a bloody fantastic idea so far, in fact!

    ..stopping now because my 2-line reply has become half a dozen paragraphs already..

  49. says

    Chiming in as an agonistic.

    I have a personal belief that there is a creator, who is formless, infinite and has no use for time. I believe that this Creator set of the creation of everything..and that we as a species are too immature to understand. We’ve created so many childish rules regarding the Creator…when there are no rules. The Creator simply wishes us to be the best us we can…doesn’t judge and doesn’t interfere one way or another.

    I believe this because I want to. Call me a “purple crayon”

    I don’t believe anyone else should believe this… although like anyone with an opinion or idea I think it would be nice to meet others who did. I believe this because I can’t see the universe in an atheists terms..that there is noone out there..simply because my body of experiences, with things that are supposedly supernatural tells me ..there is something out there. It’s no Pascal’s wager. My experiences tell me.. there’s more beyond what we see. Being transgender and an agnostic…I am the ultimate purple crayon… unwilling to hop into anyone’s box.

  50. unclefrogy says

    by a long journey I came to the conclusion that because I did not believe in god I must be an atheist. It was all the other dots that I did think were more true that led me to that realization. The demonstration of the truth of scientific explanations of the nature of reality, nature was not just the birds and the bees and the forests but atoms and the four forces. That the ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence were true. That social and political equality and justice were true. The teachings of the bible did not make sense and did not match with the history they purported to be. The idea that there was some “great cosmic being” out their just was too irrational. All the religions and most of the believers were more interested in telling me what to do and why to ever ask any question about anything without resorting to some dogmatic answer memorized for the occasion . All led me when I began to connect the “dots” to admit religion and god were made up out of a fragmented view of reality and unnecessary.
    While I may have some compassion for those who while they admit there is probably no god are still afraid to ask the next question of what does that mean or have only answered in the most selfish self centered way I can do anything I want because it has no meaning and I want to, I am not persuaded nor influenced by what they still cling to.

    uncle frogy

  51. says

    I think some people are reading PZ’s “ought” as a moral “ought” as opposed to a logical “ought”. The simple fact is, if you take away (or never adopt) a belief in gods, you must logically abandon a belief in a god-directed teleology. If there’s nobody to do the designing, then what sense can one make of the concept of Intelligent Design? You can’t say “there is no creator” and keep the notion of an act of creation intact. Sure, there are some people who never evaluate the implications of a godless universe and still profess to be atheists*, but those people ought to be dismissed as fools and retrogrades.

    *On the other hand, there are lots of people who were either not raised with religion or for whom whatever indoctrination they got didn’t stick, who don’t care about philosophical or metaphysical or political issues at all and don’t profess to be anything. I don’t really care about them one way or another for the most part, except as lost resources.

  52. says

    “Agonistic”? Typo, or you really are pugilistic?

    You aren’t an agnostic, that’s for sure. What you just described is a deist. And sorry, deism is BS, too: you have no reason to believe any of that nonsense.

  53. David Marjanović says

    I believe this because I want to.

    *taken aback*

    …That’s something I’m not even capable of. Wishing reality to be a certain way convinces you that it really is that way?

    what is this I don’t even

    I believe this because I can’t see the universe in an atheists terms..that there is noone out there..

    Argument from personal incredulity?

    simply because my body of experiences, with things that are supposedly supernatural tells me ..there is something out there. It’s no Pascal’s wager. My experiences tell me.. there’s more beyond what we see.

    Oh, so it’s not that you just want to believe – you actually think you have evidence instead. Great! Let’s hear it! :-) What experiences have you had that made you a Deist?

  54. consciousness razor says

    I’m not saying “You’re doing it wrong!”, I’ve got no intention of trying to stop people from describing their atheism as whatever they want, I just don’t personally agree that we should be trying to stretch the definition of atheism to include anything but the basic dictionary definition.

    Nobody’s trying to stretch the definition. Nobody. So if you want to argue against that, fine, go for it. But who cares and how is it relevant at all?

  55. Blattafrax says

    But that day is not now.

    I think this might be it. It is that day for me. As far as I can see, in my society, the only side-effect of being atheist is that I pay less tax. Sure – I could look harder and might find something, but really? There’s more to worry about. For me.

    I do agree that if you’re going to have an atheist movement, then you have to do something else than agree with each other that there is no god. Meetings would get rather dull.

    #45

    I’m saying, though, that if you get rid of the religious baggage […]

    What if I never had the religious baggage to get rid of in the first place? Why do I have to reference cults that demand inequality and contempt for fellow humans so that I can decide to be in favour of equality and respect?

    Here’s a new angle. (Maybe.)
    Romans 13

    Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power. People who oppose the authorities are opposing what God has done, and they will be punished.

    If I were to have once agreed with this as a good Christian and then become an atheist (in e.g. Britain) would I then have to become a republican also? There’s no shortage of atheist royalists in Britain and no shortage of republicans either, so possibly not. In fact, I would argue that what the bible says on the matter is completely irrelevant to an atheist – I can decide on the merits of the arguments without reference to religion or gods. Excellent. One less thing to do on becoming an atheist; remove that item from the “list of things I ought to do on becoming an atheist”. Maybe some of the more vociferous commenters on this board would disagree, thinking about this is an essential part of the transition to god-free thought. Let’s assume not.

    This is not completely trivial and (IMO) quite important to British society. Not up there with racism and gender inequality, but important nonetheless.

    So I’ve removed an item from the “list of things I ought to do on becoming an atheist”. Is there anything else that can go? Not eating shellfish? Does it actually matter what the bible says? No, the allergy and concern about mercury poisoning trump demands of a cult that I’m not a member of about 7×10^34 times. Don’t have to worry about making a special “transition to atheism” decision on that then. Remove that from the list too.

    You see where this is going. Even when we get to the important questions like respect for the rest of humankind you have already made your choice, what the cults say makes no difference, tick them off too. There’s nothing left on the “list of things I ought to do on becoming an atheist”. There is no “what next?” you damn well should have already done it.

    If not, then you’re not going to start now.

  56. sumdum says

    For me at least, I see atheism as a consequence of reason, as well as the various social positions I hold. I don’t see them as a consequence of atheism. If anything, my social positions preceded my atheism. One large reason I could no longer follow a god, even if I did believe one existed, is because I think the ones known to humanity are moral monsters.

  57. scourge99 says

    Person A: No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
    Person B: I am Scottish and I put sugar on my porridge.
    Person A: Then you are not a true Scotsman.

    PZ Meyers: No true atheist™ isn’t a naturalist or isn’t scientific minded.
    Person B: I am an atheist and I’m not a naturalist nor am I scientific minded.
    PZ Meyers: Then you are not a true atheist™ .

  58. consciousness razor says

    I’m saying, though, that if you get rid of the religious baggage […]

    What if I never had the religious baggage to get rid of in the first place?

    Well, in that case, “you are now obligated to think about the actual foundations of your goals.” Just like it says in the remainder of the sentence which you omitted.

  59. Roberto Aguirre Maturana says

    @thumper1990 #46

    Are Strong Atheists not Skeptic Atheists?

    “Strong” atheism: The belief in the nonexistence of god (“I know there’s no god”)

    “Weak”/Agnostic/Skeptic atheism: Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of god (“I don’t know if there’s a god, yet I presume there’s no god until proven wrong”).

  60. says

    What, are you grading on a curve, chigau? That was generous.
     
    scourge99, please explain your comments, considering that PZM has REPEATEDLY said that dictionary atheists are atheists. For fuck’s sake, he has said as much IN THIS THREAD.
     
    In conclusion, Mexico is a land of contrasts and your post was stupid.

  61. Owlmirror says

    Who is this PZ Meyers who has made absolute statements about “true atheism™”?

  62. chigau (違う) says

    Roberto Aguirre Maturana #69

    scourge99 #64
    +1

    You’re being sarcastic, right?

  63. says

    “Strong” atheism: The belief in the nonexistence of god (“I know there’s no god”)

    “Weak”/Agnostic/Skeptic atheism: Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of god (“I don’t know if there’s a god, yet I presume there’s no god until proven wrong”).

    A distinction that is meaningless unless you’re involved in some stoned philosophical wankery.

  64. ChasCPeterson says

    A distinction that is meaningless unless you’re involved in some stoned philosophical wankery.

    ah, no wonder I wasn’t getting it.
    need more stoned wanking.

    (wait, how would that help? oh: stoned philosophical wanking. That’s, like, what, auto-eroticism as a thought experiment?))

  65. sumdum says

    I don’t think that’s a meaningless definition. If you claim to know there’s no god, that would put the burden of proof on you. Seems like an important distinction if you ask me.

  66. Blattafrax says

    #76
    You’re absolutely right, welcome to the world of stoned philosophical wanking.

    (More politely – read The God Delusion, then come back.)

  67. says

    If you claim to know there’s no god, that would put the burden of proof on you. Seems like an important distinction if you ask me.

    Not really.

    There are no gods.

    You disagree? Why?

    Oh, what’s that? You have no evidence to point to?

    There you go then.

  68. scourge99 says

    I am a skeptic first. My atheism is the result of my skepticism and other philosophical ideas. But that doesn’t mean atheists must be skeptics, or naturalists, or scientific minded. Though i certainly think that reason and evidence dictate that they should be.

    Matt Dillahunty seems to agree : “Not every atheist is a skeptic or a good skeptic. Not every skeptic is a good skeptic or an atheist. As skeptics, the goal is to believe things for good reasons and to reject those claims that do not withstand critical examination. As skeptics, we should be challenging every claim – including and especially religion.”

  69. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    Late to the party, but picking up on a twofer from badgersdaughter:

    I have always been a bit puzzled by people claiming that atheism is “just the absence of belief in gods”.

    This is me flailing my arms around in the air. *flail*

    But but but … that’s exactly what it means. *flail*

    I suppose to those who were never religious believers the distinction is just not obvious.

    *ding ding ding*

    I was raised atheist. I never had to reject religious authority: it was only ever a weird thing that some people chose to believe. (A social phenomenon which had evolved over time, if you’ll allow that?)

    PZ:

    Atheists are human beings who have rejected those supernatural conclusions, and…what? That next step is the interesting one. How does this idea change your life?

    It doesn’t change anything! Religious experience is just one of those “well that’s weird, why do people think that” topics. Somewhere between behavioural psychology and anthropology, maybe …

    Dr Marcus Hill:

    Can’t we just compromise and admit that the best colour is purple?

    That’s not a compromise. Purple just is the best colour. Mmmm. Purple. /homersimpson

  70. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    Oh, and please dot smileys all through #80. ;-)

  71. says

    I’m stoned right now, and I still don’t see the point of agonizing over the difference between “X does not exist” and “There is no evidence for the existence of X, therefore I do not believe that X exists, provided the absence of evidence for the existence of X continues.”

  72. Data Jack says

    While I agree with you in principle, it actually is a meaningless distinction. It is logically valid not to accept the existence of a proposed entity as true provided there is no evidence to support that entities existence.
    From a different take, a purely evidence-free philosophically logical one – all of the attributes that are claimed to be possessed by gods are completely ridiculous when examined. Omnipotent (make something too heavy to lift?), omniscient (how, in universe constrained by c?), all loving (how, with all the horrible things that happen every day? And the promises of eternal torture) Beyond time and space (what does that even mean? And if it were so, by what mechanism does it interact with us?)
    A powerful dude constrained by the laws that govern the universe would have been observed. One who is not constrained by the laws of the universe is just by definition one giant case of special pleading.

  73. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    Oh, and, badgersdaughter, please don’t read #80 as an attack. I’m just riffing off your very salient observations.

  74. erik333 says

    75 ChasCPeterson

    Auto-eroticism as a thought experiment, because one solipsist can’t be wrong.

  75. says

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that atheism implies or leads to anything. Lack of belief doesn’t lead to anything. This is the same logic Christians use to say that atheism leads to communism. Lack of belief leads nowhere but to the null position of “I don’t know.” From there, it is logic and evidence that leads us to those other beliefs. One could make the argument that a-fairy-ism leads to environmentalism, because without fairies taking care of nature, the responsibility falls on us. My atheism has as little affect on my worldview as my a-fairy-ism.

    The crayon analogy is obviously about freedom, not atheism. If it were about atheism, we would be talking about invisible, intangible crayons. Why do you have to keep redefining atheism to include whatever issue happens to be on your mind? There is a reason we have dictionaries; it’s to avoid this kind of confusion. You may call me a dictionary atheist; I’ll take it as a compliment if that’s how we refer to people who lack belief in gods “plus” have a basic understanding of what words mean. That doesn’t make me a hollow person. I actually agree with Myers on almost everything else. I am a feminist. I am an environmentalist. “Atheist” is just one of many, many words that describe me, and all it really does is point to the empty space where the word “theist” is absent from the long list of things that I believe in.

  76. consciousness razor says

    Lack of belief doesn’t lead to anything.

    Lack of belief in gods does.

    As far as a stripped-down “lack of belief” without any content, I don’t think that’s a meaningful concept. But maybe we should ask Chas, our resident solipsist. What do I think about it, Chas?

    This is the same logic Christians use to say that atheism leads to communism

    Uh, no, it isn’t. But that’s because I figure that simply having implications, which applies to every goddamn thing you can think of, isn’t quite enough to say that it’s “the same logic.”

    I think you mean to say something like “I don’t like where this is going, because I don’t feel like dealing with some bogus argument about communism again…”

  77. badgersdaughter says

    #84 of the variable appellation, I did not dream you were attacking me. I in fact saw you as supporting me! :) (There’s your smiley, by the way.) I can see that you have never had religious belief, and that when you try to relate to someone who does or did, you can only do it by imagining religious belief superimposed on your nonbelieving self. For me it was different. I never even had a legitimate nonbelieving self until my adult deconversion.

    See, I actually take issue with the idea that I was born an atheist, as the popular quip has it. If I was an atheist at birth, I was one in the same sense that a hamburger is an atheist, or a cockroach is an atheist, or the square root of two is an atheist. I was a tiny baby. I was cognitively unfit to think much of anything, and what I did think didn’t even approach the question of the existence of God. I don’t think you can talk about a baby lacking a God belief any more than you can talk about an asteroid lacking Kosher certification. The whole thing is irrelevant.

    I am sure that my first “deities” were people, once I had the capacity to recognize them as volitional entities apart from myself. When they taught me there was a super-person called God, I had no capacity to question. God became axiomatic and beyond the possibility of question, existing just like someone who had just left the room. I could imagine touching a hot stove, or running into traffic, or mispronouncing a word, but not disbelieving in God. I “knew” God was real just like I knew Daddy had family in a far-away country, and Mommy was once a small girl like me.

    As I grew older, every bit of my cognitive development was influenced by that God concept and its corollaries. Have you ever made one of those candles where you fill a paper milk carton with ice cubes, then pour hot paraffin in the carton around the ice? The ice melts and leaves holes in the candle when you tear off the paper. That’s what it was like when I deconverted. The ice of belief melted and ran off and left holes in my thinking. Even now I can identify a certain tendency for those holes to begin to collect water again. I can only avoid this by filling those holes with the rational and real things that the beliefs were intended to explain. Yes, I consider my former belief to have caused damage and weaknesses that linger. No, the repair job is not done yet, and may never be.

    So maybe the question of how godlessness affects thinking and behavior is only relevant in the context of deconversion. Maybe if you had no religious influence to overcome, then your thoughts and behaviors are just your thoughts and behaviors, not specifically identifiable godless thoughts or behaviors.

  78. Ichthyic says

    Chiming in as an agonistic.

    I have a personal belief that there is a creator

    uh…

    that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  79. Ichthyic says

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that atheism implies or leads to anything

    atheism is a conclusion. as such, how can it not?

  80. Ichthyic says

    Person A: No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
    Person B: I am Scottish and I put sugar on my porridge.
    Person A: Then you are not a true Scotsman.

    PZ Meyers: No true atheist™ isn’t a naturalist or isn’t scientific minded.
    Person B: I am an atheist and I’m not a naturalist nor am I scientific minded.
    PZ Meyers: Then you are not a true atheist™ .

    a parade of strawmen wearing kilts.

  81. says

    #91 Agnostic-atheism is more like a lack of a conclusion. If you lack belief in an invisible flying squirrel who smites people who turn left, is that why you sometimes turn left? Is your a-magic-squirrel-ism the only reason you ever turn left, or could there possibly be some other explanation for your behavior? Do you think about your lack of belief in anti-left-turning squirrels every time you turn left, or does that even factor into your decision making process? Probably not. I swear, my lack of belief in mythical beings with restrictive rules does not in any way inform my decisions. The opposite is true, that people who do believe in invisible rule-makers do base their decisions on that.

    #88 Pol Pot murdered millions of people because he believed in communism and anti-intellectualism, not because he lacked belief in gods, unicorns, or fairies. I try to act like a decent human being because I believe in equalism and environmentalism, not because I lack belief in gods, unicorns, or fairies. We don’t behave according to our non-beliefs; we behave according to our beliefs.

  82. Ichthyic says

    Agnostic-atheism is more like a lack of a conclusion.

    indeed it is.

    and that’s a good criticism of it.

  83. Ichthyic says

    I swear, my lack of belief in mythical beings with restrictive rules does not in any way inform my decisions. The opposite is true, that people who do believe in invisible rule-makers do base their decisions on that.

    then you have made the conclusion that those who base their decisions on rocky the flying squirrel are wrong.

    IOW, you HAVE made a conclusion.

    this is why agnosticism doesn’t work as a philosophical position.

  84. unclefrogy says

    to argue about what led to ones atheism or whether it is dictionary atheism or A+ is to take the form used by the religious. Who always are taking the word of authority to believe a given set of beliefs as “the truth”.
    PZ is not trying to do that but asking the question. Does the conclusion that there are no gods imply other things. Or is it just another variation on what some trusted authority says all of the other truths as practiced by society are still true and not questioned.
    the professor is asking us to think to question. Stop thinking in these arbitrary boxes as defined by who knows who.
    uncle frogy

  85. consciousness razor says

    indeed it is.

    and that’s a good criticism of it.

    Heh.

    Yeah, so fractalheretic, sorry or whatever, but I actually think gods are just plain bullshit. That’s not a lack of a thought. It’s an actual fucking thought.

  86. fmitchell says

    @unclefrogy

    It’s just plain weird to me to say “there’s probably no god” and then carry on with business as usual. Then again, I was a) raised Catholic, b) taught by Jesuits whose insistence that Catholic dogma was logical set me on my path to atheism, and c) have discovered that stuff people taught me in my early years was at best only partially true. I think I’m also a bit obsessed with attributing everything I ever learned to a source, rather than simply repeating it as if I discovered it for myself. So once I discover that I’m wrong about something, I start re-examining other “facts” from the same source, and weed out other unfounded beliefs as I go.

    As I’ve found out, not everyone thinks the same way. There are Sunday churchgoers who never think about what they profess to believe the other six days of the week. Some people, including the religion teacher who unwittingly put the first crack in my belief system, find paradigm shifts and uncertainty in science so unsettling they’d rather cleave to a single unprovable Truth than a shifting set of provisional truths. I’m continually shocked by how many people believe what they want to be true rather than which premise has sufficient facts and logical arguments to be demonstrably true. To them, arguments are either unpleasant challenges to their identity or another arena in which to prove their superiority; I naively view them as ways to sort facts from fictions.

    It’s not surprising to see that sort of thinking among atheists and theists alike. Everybody likes to think they’re right, and everybody edits their memories to maintain their illusion of infallibility. I’m more aware of the process; I can’t remember a time I haven’t known how unreliable my memories are. Which is what makes me actually right.

  87. John Morales says

    fractalheretic:

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that atheism implies or leads to anything.

    Of course it does; for example, since it means one doesn’t believe claims which are justified by appealing to God, how would an atheist possibly be in a position to regret that they must vote against gay marriage on the basis that God’s law forbids it?

    Agnostic-atheism is more like a lack of a conclusion.

    If you refer to the purely ultimately epistemic sense of agnosticism, sure, but if you refer to holding gods more likely to exist than (say) ghosts or vampires, then it’s intellectual cowardice to not reach a provisional conclusion.

  88. John Morales says

    fractalheretic:

    I swear, my lack of belief in mythical beings with restrictive rules does not in any way inform my decisions. The opposite is true, that people who do believe in invisible rule-makers do base their decisions on that.

    I put it to you that you yourself have refuted your claim that I don’t think it’s accurate to say that atheism implies or leads to anything on the basis that you have just adduced something to which your atheism leads.

  89. thumper1990 says

    @fractalheretic

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that atheism implies or leads to anything.

    Really? I’m curious, if you do not believe in God, do you see any reason to avoid work on a Sunday? Does your lack of belief in Jehova or Allah not allow you to eat pork? Does your lack of belief in the veracity of any of those Holy books not allow you to throw out all of those verses which tell you that women are subservient to men, gays are an abomination, and children are the property of their parents and instead evaluate those claims based on their real-world implications? And does the fact you have evaluated those claims based on their real-world implications not mean that you have subsequently thrown them out with the metaphorical rubbish and thus made yourself a better person?

    I think you’ll find Atheism leads to rather a lot. The implications of there being no gods are wide-ranging and profound, and I don’t know anyone who has thrown out the gods but kept all of the dogma.

  90. thumper1990 says

    @sumdum #76

    I don’t think that’s a meaningless definition. If you claim to know there’s no god, that would put the burden of proof on you. Seems like an important distinction if you ask me.

    Go and read this, then come back and tell me why you’re wrong.

  91. thumper1990 says

    @Roberto #67

    Ah, I see :) Thanks. I’ve only heard that stance referred to as Agnostic Atheism before.

  92. Anri says

    jasonvalentine:

    Chiming in as an agonistic.

    I have a personal belief that there is a creator, who is formless, infinite and has no use for time. I believe that this Creator set of the creation of everything..and that we as a species are too immature to understand. We’ve created so many childish rules regarding the Creator…when there are no rules. The Creator simply wishes us to be the best us we can…doesn’t judge and doesn’t interfere one way or another.

    I believe this because I want to. Call me a “purple crayon”

    I don’t believe anyone else should believe this

    So… you believe you have the One True Answer to how literally everything came to be, and you just don’t much care if other people know it, or believe it?

    Think for just a sec about what that says about you as a person.

    Also, watch this:

    I believe that this Creator set of the creation of everything..and that we as a species are too immature to understand.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if the very next statements indicated the speaker believes they have some understanding of the this ‘Creator’, such as its desires for humanity?
    Roll ‘em…

    We’ve created so many childish rules regarding the Creator…when there are no rules. The Creator simply wishes us to be the best us we can…doesn’t judge and doesn’t interfere one way or another.

    I’m having a sale on recently-shot barreled fish, if anyone’s interested.

  93. carbonbasedlifeform says

    Just as an aside on the red/blue crayon thing, Peter Ustinov wrote that when he was in school, he was asked “Who is the greatest composer?” He replied “Mozart.” The teacher told him his answer was wrong, the greatest composer is Beethoven.

  94. says

    The Creator simply wishes…

    *singing*
    God, they know what God thinks!
    God thinks you’re an idiot, oh, oh…

    When I was wee and kind of an asshat, I used to identify as a “fundamentalist agnostic,” because I was unimpressed with what I’d seen of the atheist movement. Every time someone expressed a religious opinion, I tried to look shocked and baffled and was like, “You think you know things about God? I’m just a puny mortal; I could never be so arrogant as to claim I knew shit about God, up to and including whether or not he exists.”

    Then I realized that other agnostics tended to fail this test too, so they weren’t really any better than atheists.

    Technically, I am still an apathetic agnostic atheist: there may be some sort of useless unidentifiable something somewhere out there that we don’t know about because it has no discernible impact on us whatsoever and which we could name God if we felt like it because why not, but if so… who the fuck cares? Nobody’s trying to pass shitty laws in the name of a maybe something somewhere we don’t know anything about. People try to pass shitty laws in the name of specific Gods whose opinions they have the breathtaking arrogance to claim they know.

  95. says

    PZ, instead of saying that atheism is this, or atheism is that — as you are surely to have people disagree, and rightly so — why not refer to atheists, as people? I disagree that atheism is more than an absence of belief in any deities… however, I do agree that atheists, we the people, are more than just atheism. That’s where I think a lot of the confusion lies.

  96. thumper1990 says

    @TerranRich.

    I agree with PZ that Atheists should care about social justiice etc., but disagree that Atheism in and of itself actually means any more than the dictionary says. I think that you are an Atheist implies certain political beliefs, and for good reason. I think your distinction is an important one.

  97. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I disagree that atheism is more than an absence of belief in any deities…

    Then you are saying that atheism per se has no consequences beyond making the decision that deities don’t exist. But then, how much credence should atheism put in someone trying to invoke biblical authority? A consequence of atheism should be a raspberry in the direction of biblical authority…That’s PZ’s point.

  98. consciousness razor says

    I think that you are an Atheist implies certain political beliefs

    Atheism (the set of ideas, not the people) can imply that as well other kinds of beliefs. And that itself doesn’t imply atheism is the one and only possible source of them. There may be lots of different reasons for believing any one thing.

    It’s as if people think “implication” is a psychological term describing the physical causes of specific thoughts in a person’s head, or describing their deconversion or otherwise some aspect of their personal history as someone who was never religious…. Sorry, no, that sort of thing is simply not what it has ever meant.

  99. says

    Do you think that God has a special purpose for your life?
    Do you think that God has a plan for humanity that has manifested itself in our history?
    Do you think that God has ordained the authorities above you?
    Do you think that God is protecting the planet so it doesn’t matter what anyone does to it, everything will be okay?
    Do you think that God wants you to abstain from certain foods or sexual practices?
    Do you think that God wants everyone to abstain from certain foods or sexual practices?
    Do you think that God is going to destroy the world in your lifetime?
    Do you think God is going to punish you because your country doesn’t allow government-sponsored prayer in public schools?

    Did you answer “no” because you don’t believe that God exists? Then atheism does mean more than not believing gods exist. If God doesn’t exist to demand things, command things, dictate things, then only humans are doing the demanding, commanding, and dictating. Why is this so difficult to grasp?

  100. says

    I understand why Atheism must be tied to naturalism (even though there are atheists who while dismissing God believe in Spirits, so, I’m not sure). But i don’t understad why science must be tied to Atheism. If someone says there’s a supernatural God, can´t science tackle that?

    And about morality, atheism is tied with a believe that There´s no God to tell us what is good and what is Bad, but this doesn’t mean that there are no moral truths out there. Who Knows? For example. It’s wrong to Kill someone just because you fell like you wan’t to? But why is it wrong? Because we have a moral organ that evolved to tell us it’s wrong? This is true in a Way. But can’t be the whole truth because some people have no problem killing without remorse. So, feelling that something is wrong is not enough, because that can change if something happens to your brain.

  101. Blattafrax says

    #111 I also reject the idea that god has no particular purpose for me, the one that insists I eat pork and demands I masturbate. As well as every other hypothetical god and god-given rule in between.
    I determine my life without reference to religion. Religion has no relevance and an infinite variety of contradictory rules. I ignore them all.

    Maybe you are different, but I think that makes you an atheist and ex Christian. It is the latter that directs you then, not the former. Not all atheists are like that.

  102. Snoof says

    But i don’t understad why science must be tied to Atheism. If someone says there’s a supernatural God, can´t science tackle that?

    A lot of theists specifically define “supernatural” to mean “not investigable by science”. The general response is to point out that makes “supernatural” more or less equivalent to “nonexistent”, but for some reason they don’t seem to agree, which is part of where the entire modern theistic rejection of science and the scientific method comes from. It’s also worth noting that so far, any time anyone has actually proposed a scientifically testable deity, it’s been determined that they either don’t exist, or are indistinguishable from things that don’t exist. As Tim Minchin put it:

    “Because throughout history
    Every mystery
    Ever solved has turned out to be
    Not magic.”

    I generally assume this rejection of science is an attempt to rationalise their beliefs in the face of a complete lack of evidence and the repeated failure of the theistic paradigm as an explanatory method.

  103. Snoof says

    Ack. In that first paragraph, the phrase “indistinguishable from things that don’t exist” should be “indistinguishable from entirely natural phenomena”.

  104. Snoof says

    And because I completely missed my point:

    Science is tied to atheism, because atheism is (for at least some people, myself included) a conclusion drawn from science. Atheism is a consequence of using the scientific method when investigating claims about deities, in the same way that not believing in unicorns is a consequence of using the scientific method when investigating claims about unicorns.

  105. Data Jack says

    Agree totally. Furthermore, many of the “supernatural” attributes assigned to gods today didn’t even exist as concepts in the days that their respective religions were forming. Hell, there are numerous references in the bible that clearly indicate their god was not all-powerful, nowhere near all-knowing, and far from kind and loving. He also lived in the sky, which the ancients mistook for a place that one could get to by building a sufficiently high tower.
    There days you see all of this non-biblical nonsense being used to justify the even crazier nonsense in the bible: “Heaven is in another dimension”, “Pre-Fall animals were all vegetarian and never died”, “It never rained before the flood”, “the Pre-Flood air accounted for the longevity of biblical figures”, “there were baby dinos on the Ark”, or even “slavery was different back then”. It really is a bunch of ever-changing make-believe, used to describe a bokk that purportedly never changes, nor needs to :)

  106. says

    @blattafrax

    #111 I also reject the idea that god has no particular purpose for me, the one that insists I eat pork and demands I masturbate. As well as every other hypothetical god and god-given rule in between.
    I determine my life without reference to religion. Religion has no relevance and an infinite variety of contradictory rules. I ignore them all.

    Exactly. Atheism necessarily includes a life determined without reference to religion. The fact that you ignore religions rules (all* of them) flows directly and inexorably from your atheism. Not only that, but you must also acknowledge that no one else’s rules actually come from gods (because gods don’t exist), so their religious justifications for their rules must also be ignored.

    Maybe you are different, but I think that makes you an atheist and ex Christian.

    Nope. I was never Christian. I wasn’t raised religious.

    It is the latter that directs you then, not the former. Not all atheists are like that.

    Like what?

    *The trick is, you might not be aware of what rules are religious and which are not, because our culture is thick with religious ideologies, even if you were never indoctrinated. So, if you’re going to determine your life completely, rather than haphazardly, without reference to religion, you have to do some self-examination and self-consciousness raising.

  107. says

    Until religious believers stop attempting to insert their wrong, religiously inspired beliefs into our society, whether via politics or social mores or anything else, atheism will continue to be more than just a conclusion about a specific set of claims.

  108. changerofbits says

    I supposed one could just ride the wave of circumstance that they happen to find themselves upon, but I refuse to abnegate this incredibly lucky to have chance to make the world a better place.

  109. cubist says

    sez Tartaruga Genial @112:

    I understand why Atheism must be tied to naturalism (even though there are atheists who while dismissing God believe in Spirits, so, I’m not sure). But i don’t understad why science must be tied to Atheism. If someone says there’s a supernatural God, can´t science tackle that?

    Science isn’t good at “tackling” ill-defined, incoherent bafflegab. What, exactly, is this “supernatural God” thingie which you’re suggesting science should be able to “tackle”? Various Believers have variously declared god to be “the ground of being”, or “Love”, among other… many, many, many other… candidate definitions, and every last one of these definitions is so vague as to be functionally useless to anyone who actually wants to seriously investigate this “supernatural God” thingie.
    So.
    You want science to “tackle” god(s)? Groovy. Define “god”, preferably to a sufficient degree of detail and/or specificity that it would be possible to tell the difference between god’s existence and god’s nonexistence. If you can’t do this thing, that is why science can’t “tackle” god.

  110. consciousness razor says

    Various Believers have variously declared god to be “the ground of being”, or “Love”, among other… many, many, many other… candidate definitions, and every last one of these definitions is so vague as to be functionally useless to anyone who actually wants to seriously investigate this “supernatural God” thingie.

    Indeed. And of course, those are mostly the result of believers’ confusion, indifference, or intentionally wanting to evade the issue. But even with all the variety, there’s still a common core here that we don’t need to confuse ourselves about….

    Define “god”, preferably to a sufficient degree of detail and/or specificity that it would be possible to tell the difference between god’s existence and god’s nonexistence. If you can’t do this thing, that is why science can’t “tackle” god.

    Gods and other supernatural beings/powers/etc. are “mental things [which] cannot be reduced to nonmental things.” We never see that when we observe things in the real world which have a “mind” of some sort, like people or other animals.

    (Or if there are any, even extraterrestrials, which we even haven’t observed yet, are very likely to be just like every other organism in this respect, so we can be confident that they won’t have supernatural powers either. So there’s a prediction for you. We could also add any AI we might make in the future, since if it has a “mind” of some sort, it’ll still be made of fundamentally non-mental parts. I mean, unless somebody has plans to make magical robots, we can pretty much leave that possibility aside. And never speak of it again, especially to anyone writing a Hollywood movie.)

    Anyway, there’s very good reason to believe no supernatural stuff exists, in the form of gods, souls, spirits, psychic or magic powers, etc. If there were some evidence of the supernatural, then we almost certainly would’ve found it by this point; and it would certainly be possible to tell the difference between that kind of universe and this one. That means science can and already has tackled it. But that’s not to say we’ve “proven” definitively that gods don’t exist; we simply know better now that minds just don’t work that way, so we have very strong evidence against it.

  111. dmgregory says

    I’ll confess I have used the “dictionary atheism” argument in the past. Never as a means of silencing other atheists who want to talk about bigger issues, mind you.

    I’ve mainly deployed it defensively, when theists try to tar atheism with some (generally imagined) correlate.

    As an example, a theist recently told me that atheism is “about” irresponsibility/unaccountability – that it’s all about shirking duties handed down from on high. That’s the kind of situation where I say, “no, atheism is *just* about not believing in gods. Most atheists are concerned with whether or not the god hypothesis is factually true, not which scenario minimizes their personal responsibility”

    I wonder, does talking about atheism this way to theists bolster the claims of people who use this definition as a silencing tactic? Should I cut it out? And is there a better way to correct misinformation about the motivations/aims of atheism in general, without resorting to such a deliberately narrow definition?

  112. David Marjanović says

    PZ Meyers is an apparatus for hunting lions in the Scottish highlands, Owlmirror.

    So full of win!

    one solipsist can’t be wrong

    *lightbulb moment*

    So… you believe you have the One True Answer to how literally everything came to be, and you just don’t much care if other people know it, or believe it?

    Think for just a sec about what that says about you as a person.

    Oh, that depends: if the One True Answer turns out to be irrelevant to the daily life of everybody except a few cosmologists or philosophers, there’s not much of a point in investing time and energy into teaching everybody about it. There are more urgent things to do.

    However, the sentence “The Creator simply wishes us to be the best us we can…” implies there are in fact implications for everybody’s daily life.

    Which is it, jasonvalentine? Are you a drive-by troll?

  113. David Marjanović says

    Should I cut it out?

    Simply do it all differently: explain reasons why people deconvert – because of “no evidence, no belief”. The conclusion that there aren’t any gods isn’t something people pretend to themselves is true because they want it to be true (and expect the pretension to convince them somehow); first they find out it’s true, then they think about the implications.

  114. David Jones says

    Being an atheist means you can no longer learn your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority

    This seems extraordinarily confused if you don’t mind my saying so. Plato in the Euthyphro, almost two and a half millennia ago, pointed out that a belief in God didn’t absolve you of the responsibility to determine what was good; and many, many atheists certainly do use a by-rote-and-tradition-and-authority approach to their ethics.

  115. John Morales says

    [meta]

    David Jones, leaving aside that the context of that OP indicates that “learn[ing] your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority” refers to adopting religiously-based morality, when you quote a sentence with a footnote attached it’s good form to also quote the footnote.

  116. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    many atheists certainly do use a by-rote-and-tradition-and-authority approach to their ethics.

    And what “authority” would that be? If one is an atheist, there is no biblical authority.

  117. David Jones says

    when you quote a sentence with a footnote attached it’s good form to also quote the footnote.

    I didn’t quote a sentence, I quoted a part of a sentence. It’s ‘good form’ in whose gentleman’s club? Where I’m from it’s good manner not to pointlessly correct people.

    Back to the actual substance: Of course PZ means to suggest that once you’re an atheist things change. My point was that they largely don’t. I thought my point was pretty clear. Evidently not for some/.

  118. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    My point was that they largely don’t.

    Sorry, you meant your OPINION they don’t, with evidence to back up that OPINION.

  119. David Jones says

    And what “authority” would that be? If one is an atheist, there is no biblical authority

    I’m a bit gobsmacked. Do you seriously mean to suggest that the only authority in ethics is strict biblical authority? Or religious authority?

    You don’t ever, for example, consider the ethical philosophies of various philosophers? Or of ethics committees? Every question you come to, you come to fresh and work out from first principles?

    Really?

  120. David Jones says

    Sorry, you meant your OPINION they don’t, with evidence to back up that OPINION

    Nope, I didn’t mean that at all. Do you have a general comprehension problem?

  121. John Morales says

    David Jones:

    I didn’t quote a sentence, I quoted a part of a sentence. It’s ‘good form’ in whose gentleman’s club? Where I’m from it’s good manner not to pointlessly correct people.

    Fine, you quoted the first clause of one sentence and interpreted it absent context and without including the footnote attached to it, so that you imagined the writer was confused.

    Back to the actual substance: Of course PZ means to suggest that once you’re an atheist things change. My point was that they largely don’t. I thought my point was pretty clear. Evidently not for some/.

    Leaving aside that PZ was not suggesting (he was asserting), your point is weak because it relies on misinterpreting to what PZ was referring.

  122. says

    I’m a bit gobsmacked. Do you seriously mean to suggest that the only authority in ethics is strict biblical authority? Or religious authority?

    You don’t ever, for example, consider the ethical philosophies of various philosophers? Or of ethics committees? Every question you come to, you come to fresh and work out from first principles?

    There’s a difference between an authority and an expert. Philosophers, ethics committees, whatever: they offer useful information and guidance. However, if they set down rules, there’s nothing obligating me to obey those rules. I’ll obey them if I’m convinced that they’re ethical (assuming I want to act ethically).

    Even if unimpeachable evidence of the existence of Yahweh was provided, I would still not regard him as an ethical authority, because his behavior in the Bible is so frequently and obviously unethical.

    I accept the ethical authority of the law inasmuch I accept that I’ll face consequences if I break it and do not contest the necessity of having law enforcement mechanisms in society, even if I disagree about portions of the criminal/civil justice code.

    I find it fascinating that the idea of no authorities leaves you “gobsmacked.” What is it like inside your head? I can’t imagine.

  123. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Sorry, you meant your OPINION they don’t, with evidence to back up that OPINION

    Nope, I didn’t mean that at all. Do you have a general comprehension problem?

    Sorry, my error. I meant no EVIDENCE to back up your OPINION. Now, where is your comprehension of what is the discussion really is? I don’t see any evidence of that.

  124. consciousness razor says

    David, don’t mind Nerd. He has authority.

    I guess most of the issue is that of course you can “learn your moral code by rote and tradition and obedience to authority,” but that you shouldn’t because then there’s no justification. (Of course, one thing as an atheist that you literally can’t do would be to bite the bullet with some sort of divine command theory, for example, and simply ignore Euthyphro or dodge it somehow.) But the implication does seem to be that that sort of thing would be a valid move if there were a god, but that simply doesn’t make any sense to me.

    So, yeah, I agree with your points in #126. I blame it on mixed modalities (aka “confusion” if you prefer), which is sad but pretty much typical.

  125. David Marjanović says

    I didn’t quote a sentence, I quoted a part of a sentence. It’s ‘good form’ in whose gentleman’s club?

    Cutting the footnote off without so much as saying that you’ve done so? That’s actively misleading. This isn’t about form, it’s about not lying by sloppy omission.

    Do you have a general comprehension problem?

    Yes. The Nerd hardly ever reads for context – he reads for words and short phrases that trigger his small repertoire of automatic reactions. You’ll hardly ever see anyone call him out on this; that’s because we’re so used to it.

    I find it fascinating that the idea of no authorities leaves you “gobsmacked.”

    Seconded.

  126. Ulysses says

    Philosophers are overrated as moral authorities. Martin Heidegger argued that philosophy, Western Civilization’s chief way of questioning, has lost sight of any goals it seeks because of the process of philosophizing. So the ends become obscured by the means. Of course Heidegger himself is not a good moral authority since he was a Nazi.

    I might accept John Stuart Mill as a moral authority but he’s one of the few philosophers who gave a damn about people rather than an abstract concept of people. But most philosophers are authorities on morals rather than moral authorities. There is a difference.

  127. David Jones says

    Philosophers may be overrated; all the same wouldn’t then have gone on to quote a Nazi in support.

    I’m a huge admirer of Mill on Liberalism but not on Utilitarianism if that’s what you mean.

    But most philosophers are authorities on morals rather than moral authorities.

    Er…doesn’t that directly contradict what you’ve just said?

  128. David Jones says

    I’m bemused that some people here seem to think they don’t actually follow authority.

    @sallystrange :

    if they set down rules, there’s nothing obligating me to obey those rules. I’ll obey them if I’m convinced that they’re ethical

    well they don’t ‘set down rules’ do they? That’s simply not what philosophers do, is it. So, bit of a red herring there.

    As for ‘obeying’ them if you’re convinced they’re ethical – well that’s exactly the dilemma Christians are in. That was the point of my mentioning the Euthyphro. You don’t get to renounce moral reasoning just because you’re religious.

    And as a matter of fact most people rely on a set of largely unexamined social norms that allow them to muddle through most of the time.

    What is it like inside your head? I can’t imagine.

    It’s really rather fun. Clearly more fun than the dim interior of yours, which I’m picturing as a hardly-lit underground lake with a small walnut-like brain floating in the middle of the blackness.

  129. Ichthyic says

    Of course Heidegger himself is not a good moral authority since he was a Nazi.

    …and a boozy beggar, but he could drink you under the table…

  130. says

    I’m bemused that some people here seem to think they don’t actually follow authority.

    Did anybody say that? I distinctly recall saying that I follow authority when I view that authority as legitimate. Are you feeling the need to oversimplify your interlocutors’ positions so you can pretend to defeat their argument?

    well they don’t ‘set down rules’ do they? That’s simply not what philosophers do, is it. So, bit of a red herring there.

    I suppose. That’s why I put the “if” in there. Guidelines, suggestions, whatever. Everyone has ideas about how we should act if we want to act morally.

    As for ‘obeying’ them if you’re convinced they’re ethical – well that’s exactly the dilemma Christians are in. That was the point of my mentioning the Euthyphro. You don’t get to renounce moral reasoning just because you’re religious.

    Clearly some do. One of the first Christians I ever got in a debate with – it was about LGBT equality – told me directly: “God makes the rules. I just agree.” When I questioned him about why he agrees with god, he refused to answer. He’s not the only one either. If you’re not an authoritarian follower, then congrats, but let’s not pretend that a lot of your co-religionists (if you are Christian) aren’t.

    And as a matter of fact most people rely on a set of largely unexamined social norms that allow them to muddle through most of the time.

    You’d be surprised how easy it is to examine social norms when those norms are turned against you to exact social costs for something you can’t see is hurting anybody. And once you start examining those norms, it’s hard to stop. At this point, so much of what we do looks so arbitrary to me that I sometimes feel like an alien anthropologist. But that’s just me.

    As far as other people go, it’s true that most don’t look critically at the norms of their culture. Then again, there’s pretty solid research showing that people will routinely flout social norms against stealing and cheating, for example, if they think they can get away with it. On the other hand, they can be prompted by figures of perceived authority to either obey or flout rules. It’s more complicated than “do people obey moral authorities, yes or no?” But then, you’re shifting the goalpost, because as far as I can tell, the question was not about people in general but about us in particular,

    What is it like inside your head? I can’t imagine.

    It’s really rather fun. Clearly more fun than the dim interior of yours, which I’m picturing as a hardly-lit underground lake with a small walnut-like brain floating in the middle of the blackness.

    How picturesque! I’ll take it as a compliment. But I’m still curious, and I’m sure David is too, what it is that left you feeling “gobsmacked,” as you put it, at the idea of people consciously rejecting the idea of moral authority.

  131. Ichthyic says

    And as a matter of fact most people rely on a set of largely unexamined social norms that allow them to muddle through most of the time.

    the unexamined life is not worth living.

    I’ve examined my own set of social norms, and have adjusted them based on observation, analysis and feedback. This is something moral absolutists that rely on a book for their moral code won’t allow themselves to do.

    I’m free.

    are you?

  132. Ichthyic says

    they don’t ‘set down rules’ do they? That’s simply not what philosophers do, is it.

    wait… what?

    philosophers don’t use rules??

    Man, all those philosophy courses I took in college must have lied to me.

  133. Ichthyic says

    I’m a huge admirer of Mill

    pah!

    Mill’s a lightweight; on just half a pint of shandy he got particularly ill.

  134. David Jones says

    @Ichthyic I didn’t say they didn’t use rules I said they don’t set rules,. Which as a matter of fact is largely true. They’re not usually in that sort of business. OTOH can I upvote you for the Python reference.?

  135. John Morales says

    [meta]

    David Jones @Ichthyic :

    OTOH can I upvote you for the Python reference.?

    <snicker>

    If that’s what you got out of it, sure.

    (Hey, I’m not eavesdropping, am I? ;) )

  136. Ulysses says

    David Jones,

    But most philosophers are authorities on morals rather than moral authorities.

    Er…doesn’t that directly contradict what you’ve just said?

    You obviously don’t understand the difference between a moral authority and an authority on morals. It’s like the difference between an engineer and a scientist. Based on scientific principles engineers design and build widgets. Scientists determine the scientific principles. In a similar way, moral authorities declare, often ex cathedra, what morals the great unwashed should follow, using the principles authorities on morals determine are TRUE! (as any philosopher will tell you, philosophers are never wrong and their pronouncements are TRUE!, including the exclamation point).

    As for my paraphrase of Heidegger, I was showing that an eminent philosopher was pointing out one problem with philosophy and this problem had nothing to do with morals. So while I can reject Heidegger as a moral authority, I can accept his ideas on another subject.

  137. John Morales says

    [OT + meta]

    David Jones, perhaps Ulysses finds you an itch to be scratched.

    (why yes, I like answering rhetorical questions!)

  138. David Jones says

    @SallyStrange let’s not take up this blog with not-very-relevant meta-stuff that would include your comments elsewhere on teh Internets. Suffice – for me – to say I have no confidence in your sincerity and you’re free of course to make any assumptions about me too.

  139. says

    @SallyStrange let’s not take up this blog with not-very-relevant meta-stuff that would include your comments elsewhere on teh Internets.

    That’s very considerate of you towards the blog owner. Fortunately there’s a dedicated space on Pharyngula for off-topic discussions: the Thunderdome thread. I invite you to take it there, IF it’s true that your main objection to continuing to converse with me is that it’s too far off-topic. Gee, I feel kinda internet famous now. The only persistent meme about my alleged dishonesty I can think of has to do with a dirty lie that started when Slymepitters accused me of sockpuppeting myself on Thunderf00t’s blog in order to fake a rape threat against myself. Would it be too much trouble to indicate that that’s the evidence of my dishonesty you’re referring to, or is there another meme I should know about?

    Suffice – for me – to say I have no confidence in your sincerity and you’re free of course to make any assumptions about me too.

    We’ll see how you respond to this post.

  140. David Marjanović says

    At this point, so much of what we do looks so arbitrary to me that I sometimes feel like an alien anthropologist. But that’s just me.

    LOL. That’s not just you. I can’t even remember not finding it all arbitrary.

  141. says

    LOL. That’s not just you. I can’t even remember not finding it all arbitrary.

    Ha, true. Well, I can remember a time when I didn’t think about it much. You know, before age 13 or thereabouts.

  142. David Marjanović says

    You know

    …Not obvious to me at all. Clearly you’re not on the autism spectrum. :-|