OffTopic: Monitors »« A philosopher agrees with me

Please, please people: stop using the naive dictionary meaning of words in place of context

I know I’m notorious for complaining about those goofy definitions of atheism (“it just means “not believing in god”, nothing more!”, the superficial mob will say) because the word has acquired much deeper resonances that we ignore at our peril, and has implications far greater than simple rejection of one assertion. But the other word that people love to abuse is “freethought”. The same superficial twits all think it means simply that you’re allowed to think whatever you want (which, it turns out, you can do even in a theocracy) and that it’s a kind of hedonism of the mind in which all things are permissible.

It’s not. It’s a word with a long history, a real meaning, and a greater substance than the poseurs know of. Alex Gabriel does a marvelous job scouring the ignoramuses on the meaning of freethought.

Objections to Freethought‘s place in our masthead are among the laziest, glibbest soundbites our critics have, but more than that display a failure to grasp even the term’s most basic history. Freethought is not ‘free thought’ or uninhibited inquiry – to think so boasts the same green literalism as thinking a Friends’ Meeting House is a shared beach hut or that Scotch pancakes contain Scotch  – though even if it were, it’s silly and inane to assume one’s critics are automatons or say loose collective viewpoints mean dictatorship. Freethought is a specified tradition, European in the main, whose constituents have by and large been countercultural, radical and leftist, everything Condell and cohorts viscerally despise.

I am so fed up with people who say that they understand the meaning of the word “free” and the meaning of the word “thought”, and therefore they understand everything they need to know about “freethought”. And these are often the same people who claim that their tradition is one of knowledge and learning and skepticism, yet they want to replace the complex world of knowledge with a kind of naive literalism.

Comments

  1. badgersdaughter says

    yet they want to replace the complex world of knowledge with a kind of naive literalism

    Partly from the perception that our interlocutors are both naive and overliteral themselves. But point well taken.

  2. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    That’s a thought process which plagues skepticism. If you dare consider the context and/or implications of what someone says, you’re twisting their words and lying about what they said. There is no connotation, only denotation.

  3. quidam says

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    “the word (atheist)has acquired much deeper resonances that we ignore at our peril, and has implications far greater than simple rejection of one assertion”

    The problem is that when you choose to extend a word’s meaning, you choose to ignore those deeper resonances which create dissonance with you while accepting those that resonate. To you ‘atheist’ means intelligent, empathetic, politically left leaning, rational, etc. to others it means amoral, hedonistic, strident, antitheist etc.

    You, me, Richard Dawkins, Ayn Rand, Pat Condell, Tim Minchin, Hitchens, are all ‘dictionary’ atheists (i.e. actual atheists) and it’s a useful term. To try and make it include some and not others would surely require coining a new word, rather than redefining an existing one

  4. sbuh says

    Sorry, I agree with Freethought but I fully ascribe to AronRa’s “dictionary atheism.” The difference I think is that Freethought is a more abstract label which you can choose to ascribe to some extent. An atheist is an atheist whether they like that word or not. But my biggest reason for ascribing to the literalistic form of atheism is that I just don’t think the associated baggage fits, and we can’t even agree on what that baggage is.

  5. says

    WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. You ALL have deeper understandings of its meaning. None of the people you list are dictionary atheists — no one is.

    You can’t possibly pretend that Ayn Rand and I are similar kinds of atheists…but if you just strip it down to its literal meaning, that’s what you’re left with…an utterly useless, empty word that throws all those diverse thinkers into the same arbitrary bin.

    And even on the parts of atheism we agree on, you have to recognize that it implies a hell of a lot more than a simple declarative statement. It says we have to find a basis for morality other than the pronouncements of authorities who falsely claim direct information from a supreme being, to name one example.

    The dictionary atheists are people who want to pretend to a simplicity and authority of their views that they do not have.

  6. sbuh says

    It says we have to find a basis for morality other than the pronouncements of authorities who falsely claim direct information from a supreme being, to name one example.

    That holds true for certain types of theists as well, namely Deism, which has no sacred doctrine to follow. They may think that a supreme being instilled their morals, but they don’t have any convenient list of what those morals actually are, so they have to reason them out as any Humanist would.

    Is theist too broad a term? It includes an equally diverse assemblage of thinkers, arguably much more so because it spans a far greater chunk of history.

  7. quidam says

    I’m not claiming that you (or I) am a similar person to Ayn Rand, but we are all atheists. It isn’t a “an utterly useless, empty word” – it accurately describes one aspect of our philosophy.

    Almost any single word you could use to describe me (or you) falls into the same category: “male”, “graduate”, “biologist”, “engineer”, “intellectual”. It’s a bit unreasonable to expect one word to able to describe the similarities and differences between the Ayn Rands and Rebecca Watsons of the world. It would need a fairly elaborate Venn diagram to do that.

    As for ‘freethought’ very few compound words mean the same thing as the separate ones. A crow is a black bird, it’s not a blackbird.

  8. cswella says

    I always figured freethought meant: ‘Considering problems and issues without superficial/meaningless restraint’. More of a way of thinking rather than an excuse to say whatever you like. We already have a phrase that means ‘you can say what you want’, it’s Free Speech.

  9. Sven says

    You can’t possibly pretend that Ayn Rand and I are similar kinds of atheists

    NOBODY is saying you’re “similar kinds of atheists”. Quidam is (accurately, factually) saying you’re both atheists. Was Ayn Rand NOT an atheist? Is that what you’re arguing?

    but if you just strip it down to its literal meaning, that’s what you’re left with…an utterly useless, empty word that throws all those diverse thinkers into the same arbitrary bin.

    Yes it’s a big bin, but that doesn’t make it arbitrary. There are a lot of diverse schools of thought in any religious / non-religious grouping. That doesn’t make the groupings irrelevant.

  10. Brian says

    I know what the word tea means, and I know what a party is (woohoo!), so therefore I know all I need to know about the Tea Party.

  11. sbuh says

    And one other thing to consider: With people like Aron and others who spend a lot of time arguing with creationists who just love their squishy, ill-defined terminology (misuse of “theory,” “kinds,” misuse of “transitional”), there’s a very strong desire to define things accurately, narrowly, and unambiguously. Because if you can’t decide on what words mean then every argument is destined to mire itself in confusion over language. When I argue with theists I am told so many different definitions of what they think “atheism” means that I just get sick of it and reject all the baggage for the precise reason that no definition they give accurately describes more than a tiny subset of atheists (if it’s not some perverse caricature that doesn’t describe anyone at all).

  12. OptimalCynic says

    I have a suggestion for what to call this – the catalog meaning. You know what cat means, you know what log means, you know that “a” is used as a linking thing (cock-a-hoop, that kind of thing). So catalog obviously means a feline sitting on a fallen tree trunk.

    So the catalog meaning would be when just looking at the word itself is not just naive but actively misleading.

  13. doublereed says

    You can’t possibly pretend that Ayn Rand and I are similar kinds of atheists…but if you just strip it down to its literal meaning, that’s what you’re left with…an utterly useless, empty word that throws all those diverse thinkers into the same arbitrary bin.

    ??? Isn’t this self-contradictory? By talking about ‘different kinds of something’, aren’t you directly implying that Ayn Rand and you are both atheists (and therefore in the same bin)? Maybe I don’t understand what the term Dictionary Atheist is supposed to mean?

    And I’m further confused, because obviously there are Christians and Jews and such that all have diverse thinkers and they are all similarly thrown into the same bin. I don’t know where you got ‘arbitrary’ from?

  14. joeschoeler says

    If someone says that they are an atheist, it doesn’t tell you much about what else they are. You could go by probability and guess that they are also likely skeptics and liberal, but that’s not certain. Why not just say that you are an atheist who is also X?

  15. mothra says

    Digression inspired by quidam @7. A crow is a black bird but is not a blackbird. A blackbid in the New World is a collective term for the Icterinae. Icterinae contains Red-winged black birds, Brewers blackbird and (among many others), a few species of Meadowlarks which are not Larks because Larks are an Old World group with only one native New World representative- the Horned lark, which is called the Shore lark in the Old World. A Blackbird in the Old World is a thrush, closely related to the America robin which is also a thrush, not very closel related to the European robin, but is congeneric with the Old World Redwing (also a thrush, but not a blackbird). I’ll stop (orioles, warblers, chats, redstarts).

  16. BeyondUnderstanding says

    I think there is a place for the dictionary definition of atheist. If you do not believe in any god/gods, then you are an atheist. Plain and simple.

    However, when we’re talking about the Atheist Movement, and someone busts out the dictionary saying that the movement shouldn’t focus on anything except for the disbelief in gods… well, that’s when its application becomes downright idiotic.

  17. Nathair says

    To you ‘atheist’ means intelligent, empathetic, politically left leaning, rational, etc.

    Is that correct? Is that what the very woo-y “deeper resonances” is shorthand for?

    If not, then what, in plain English, are these “deeper meanings” and “deeper resonances”?

  18. says

    This is the same damn dumb argument I’ve had with so many simple-minded atheist idiots, and I’m tired of it.

    I am NOT saying that atheism = left wing idealism (freethought does imply that, though). I’m saying it has diverse implications that all intelligent atheists recognize — and that if you are not willing to consider the importance of what atheism means, if you are just going to say it’s your favorite soundbite definition and nothing more, then fuck off and go masturbate elsewhere. I have no use for you. You are uninteresting and have nothing to contribute at all.

    That does not mean that my understanding of atheism is the one true meaning (and I’ve also said this a thousand times). I recognize multiple atheist strands of thought. It means if you think it’s a one-line answer to be played in a game of Trivial Pursuit, you’re a numpty.

  19. Nathair says

    Dictionary atheism is such a pointless, useless phrase that only means “doesn’t believe in gods.”

    It says absolutely nothing else about the person.

    Why exactly should it? Does “tall” or “bald” or “left-handed” tell you anything else about the person? Does that mean they are all “pointless” adjectives?

    Exactly what else does your “non-dictionary” definition of atheist contain?

  20. Nathair says

    I’m saying it has diverse implications that all intelligent atheists recognize

    Yeah? Like what?

  21. doublereed says

    I am NOT saying that atheism = left wing idealism (freethought does imply that, though). I’m saying it has diverse implications that all intelligent atheists recognize — and that if you are not willing to consider the importance of what atheism means, if you are just going to say it’s your favorite soundbite definition and nothing more, then fuck off and go masturbate elsewhere. I have no use for you. You are uninteresting and have nothing to contribute at all.

    Oh so it’s more of all the other various implications and such that atheism entails. Okay. That makes sense. Certainly when there is a movement involved, that’s the only way the term could make sense.

    I actually thought Freethought meant critical thinking. I didn’t know the term had history.

  22. BeyondUnderstanding says

    Now, as far as freethought is concerned, I completely agree. There’s definitely some absurd literalism going around certain skeptic/atheist circles. Not only with Condell decrying about “the ludicrously named Freethought Blogs”, but then his defenders insisting that he’s not racist. You know, because racism = hating a race, and race = skin color. So if Condell never mentions skin color, he’s totally not a racist. *headdesk

  23. quidam says

    I’m saying it has diverse implications that all intelligent atheists recognize

    Yeah? Like what?

    If you don’t recognize them, you’re clearly not an intelligent atheist

  24. joeschoeler says

    PZ, are you drawing a distinction between the philosophical idea of atheism and the various atheist organizations and movements? I suppose you could separate freethought and the freethought movement in the same way.

  25. sbuh says

    C’mon PZ. Now it actually looks like you’re trying to shout dissenters down. Telling people you think the argument is not worth having because you already know you’re right and we’re boring and stupid because we disagree is bad conduct.

  26. Doug Hudson says

    I can’t remember where I saw it, but someone proposed a new Internet law, ala Poe or Godwin: Anyone who resorts to dictionary definitions in an argument automatically loses the argument.

    I’m pretty sure that’s what the Prof. Myers is getting at. For simply describing someone, the dictionary definition works fine. But when discussing the meaning and implications of atheism, and what atheism and atheists should be, the dictionary definition fails completely.

    For example: PZ: An atheist should adopt a humanist philosophy because x, y, z. Other person: Nuh-uh, “atheist” just means “someone who doesn’t believe in gods.” PZ: so why shouldn’t atheists adopt humanist philosophy?
    Other person: because the dictionary says…blah blah blah… PZ: but why… Other person: dictionary!

    In other words, the dictionary definition is being used to shut down discussion of what it means to be an atheist.

  27. says

    Jesus. Like I said, I’m so tired of arguing with ignoring atheist idiots.

    No gods. That means no higher authorities that dictate the right way to live. There is no afterlife, so no system of reward/punishment based on claims of post-death rewards works. That means we have to figure out our own strategies for relating to our fellow human beings. The traditional religious/cultural mechanisms of assigning responsibilities are undermined.

    You can try to come up with new methods: Ayn Rand can dream up objectivism and glorify selfishness, Kropotkin can advocate the importance of community and cooperation. I think Rand is dead wrong, but at least she was conscious of the need for a rationale and a philosophy to replace outmoded ways of thinking, for christ’s sake. You idiot atheists just pretend you can ignore the consequences of “there is no god” and abide by moral and social systems that were formulated under the bogus criteria of “there is a god, and priests can communicate with him.”

    Stupid atheists think that the fundamental conclusion of their philosophy has no meaning. Go away, please.

  28. says

    I suppose, when I first started identifying as an atheist, I had thought that other atheists would agree with me not only about the non-existence of god/s, but also about the value of equality for all, preserving the environment for future generations, etc. The past few years have shown my earlier assumptions to be terribly mistaken. Just as the word “Christian” tells me nothing about whether the person is a bleeding heart liberal who spends their days volunteering at a soup kitchen and voting for single-payer health care or an authoritarian theocrat who wants to outlaw birth control, the word “atheist” tells me nothing apart from an individual’s lack of belief in gods.

    “Freethought” is another kettle of fish, because of the history Alex Gabriel explained so well.

    “The Atheist Movement” is also another kettle of fish, but not because of the word “atheist.” It’s because of the word “movement.” A movement is a thing that gathers and organizes people so they can take collective action to make the world a better place. I do think it’s a reasonable assumption to think that people joining an “Atheist MOVEMENT” want to make the world a better place – and that this entails opposing discrimination against minorities and marginalized groups. Unfortunately, some of the more regressive atheist types seem to think that the Atheist Movement should be about making the world a nicer place for them and them alone, and screw everybody else. Such characters are destructive forces no matter what setting they’re in, and they do exist in every setting. Every movement has to take steps to deal with anti-social people who join and attempt to exploit the organization to their own ends. And that is where we are right now with regards to how dictionary atheism relates to the atheist movement.

  29. says

    I don’t object so much to atheists who derive different meanings (although I think they’re wrong!) — what I find infuriating are atheists who refuse to derive any meaning from atheism. It’s a null and void philosophy, then. So why are they arguing about it?

  30. says

    It’s a null and void philosophy, then. So why are they arguing about it?

    Exactly, anyone who gets involved in an actual argument about it is clearly drawing conclusions besides “there are no gods”. They forfeit the right to participate in the discussion, which is good because as Doug Hudson noted, it’s usually just a way to shut down the discussion, not further it.

  31. atheist says

    @PZ Myers – 26 September 2013 at 1:53 pm (UTC -5)

    WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. You ALL have deeper understandings of its meaning. None of the people you list are dictionary atheists — no one is.

    I think that this, even more than conservatism, is my biggest frustration when dealing with atheists and skeptics. So many of us seem to have this thought process that doesn’t take context and connotation into account. That sees things in a purely “rational”, completely theoretical way. It’s not stupidity, but it’s almost as bad. I don’t get why some folks have an allergy to context.

  32. sbuh says

    as Doug Hudson noted, it’s usually just a way to shut down the discussion, not further it.

    Would “reaching a conclusion” count as “shutting it down”?

    Are the best arguments the one that just “further” themselves endlessly with no resolution?

    Semantic arguments never reach a conclusion not because people are bringing fresh, invigorating ideas to the table, but because the people arguing cannot agree on what words mean and thus they’re not even arguing about the same thing.

  33. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    C’mon PZ. Now it actually looks like you’re trying to shout dissenters down. Telling people you think the argument is not worth having because you already know you’re right and we’re boring and stupid because we disagree is bad conduct.

    “Not THIS shit again!” is a perfectly cogent response. What makes you so special you should be exempt from it?

  34. Doug Hudson says

    The only people trying to make this about semantics are the ones who keep blathering about the dictionary definition.

    The whole point is that the meaning of being an “atheist” is NOT, in reality, just a matter of semantics, but a very important discussion that needs to happen.

  35. sbuh says

    “Not THIS shit again!” is a perfectly cogent response. What makes you so special you should be exempt from it?

    Maybe the fact that I didn’t bring up said shit? That this entire blog post is ABOUT said shit? And people discussing said shit are doing exactly what the poster expected they would do?

  36. BeyondUnderstanding says

    it’s usually just a way to shut down the discussion, not further it.

    Exactly. The only time someone is going to object and state “no, atheism only means x” is when they personally reject a topic with overlap (ie feminism). If atheism only meant “no gods” and that’s it, then what the hell would be the point in reading atheist literature or going to atheist cons or rallies?

  37. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Would “reaching a conclusion” count as “shutting it down”?

    That’s pretty much what you implied in your preceding comment..

  38. sbuh says

    That’s pretty much what you implied in your preceding comment..

    Because there’s a big difference between resolving a conflict and walking away or telling the other party to walk away.

  39. says

    Go away, sbuh. Atheism is only the disbelief in gods, we’re all atheists here, and so obviously there is nothing to argue about here, and you’ve got no basis on which to disagree with any of us.

  40. says

    If you’ve grown up in a culture steeped in the idea that X is true because… god, yet you don’t believe in gods, then any opinion you hold on X has to be at least partly caused by the fact that you didn’t consider because… god when arriving at that position.

    Dictionary atheism may be possible—provided you live in a cave.

  41. Nathair says

    No gods. That means no higher authorities that dictate the right way to live. There is no afterlife, so no system of reward/punishment based on claims of post-death rewards works. That means we have to figure out our own strategies for relating to our fellow human beings. The traditional religious/cultural mechanisms of assigning responsibilities are undermined.

    It’s not that simple. My mother, for example, was an atheist. Did not believe in a god or gods. That did not stop her from believing in all manner of ridiculous things regarding karma and reincarnation (you know, rewards/punishments an external objective morality and post death existence) along with crystals and vibrations and all manner of such nonsense. She also accepted a number of “enlightened” sources as absolute authorities on the right way to live, including some traditionally religious ones. (Christian Atheism is really a thing, you know?)

    So, no thanks, you can keep yelling at me to get off your lawn but I’ll keep the word as it is.

  42. Doug Hudson says

    The whole thing makes me suspicious. PZ’s point–that the dictionary definition is a starting point, not an end point–seems completely obvious and uncontroversial.

    So why are people arguing against it? What are the agendas?

  43. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    For me, my difficulty with the statement, “PZ Myers and Ayn Rand are both atheists” is that (while the statement is factually true in the “neither person believed in any god” sense), it says about as much about the two of them as “PZ Myers and Ayn Rand are both members of the species H. sapiens.”

    The statement is:
    (1) Factually true and inarguable (unless you’re going to engage in silly hair-splitting)
    (2) Effectively worthless if you’re trying to nail down what PZ Myers and Ayn Rand think, believe in, stand for, etc.

    I don’t see the point of the dictionary atheism argument. And when I see that most dictionary atheists I run into are not just saying, “All atheism means is disbelief in gods,” they’re extending that statement (!) to “All atheism should mean is disbelief in gods.”

    Insisting on the dictionary definition strikes me as an attempt to prevent people from drawing conclusions, from critical thinking, from application of theory to practice.

  44. Doug Hudson says

    Nathair @46.

    I’m afraid you’re missing the point. PZ isn’t saying that your mother wasn’t really an atheist because she believed in all that other stuff.

    It’s the “other stuff” that he wants to discuss! Okay, so someone doesn’t believe in gods–great! Now what? What else do they believe? How does their atheism tie into their other beliefs?

    Your post is the very sort of discussion that PZ is getting at!

  45. says

    So your mother was a weird-ass atheist who believed in all of this other baggage, and you want to argue that atheism is a baggage-free word? You’re not thinking.

    I consider it rather important that an atheist clarify their philosophy beyond just saying “i don’t believe in god,” and your little anecdote makes my point for me.

  46. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    “Atheist” has deep implications other than “doesn’t believe in gods”, as “doesn’t believe in gods” has deep implications. Even if we don’t know exactly what the specific results of these implications are across individual atheists. Even if those individual atheists never bother to think about them. WTF is so hard about this?

  47. quidam says

    it’s usually just a way to shut down the discussion, not further it.

    It’s not quite as effective as ” fuck off and go masturbate elsewhere”

    Seeking clarity in language is not the same as “ignore the consequences of “there is no god””. It is saying that it’s a mistake to extrapolate from that noun so as to expect members of the class ‘atheist’ to share a common set of ethics.

    What unites me with many Christians against Ayn Rand is her lack of empathy and understanding of the importance of social structures, not her lack of belief in gods. What makes her philosophy so attractive to right wing Tea Partiers is not her atheism but her support for greed and selfishness. Her atheism is irrelevant. She gets no credit from me for it and certainly the Tea Party gives her none. But she is the personification of what many religious people expect atheists to be like – amoral, selfish, greedy and hedonistic; for what to her were rational reasons – a logical consequence of “there is no god”. Because atheist just means a lack of belief in god, nothing more. So there are asshole atheists, selfish atheists, anti-feminist atheists, murdering atheists – as well as the good guys. It’s a word. It means what it means. Why demand it should mean more?

  48. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    It means what it means. Why demand it should mean more?

    Because, what are the consequences of the statement “there is no gods”? That is the starting point for rejecting all “god given” morality, and starting a new philosophy of morality, like humanism. You refuse to look at the consequences.

  49. says

    It means what it means. Why demand it should mean more?

    You don’t believe in gods:

    On what do you base your moral and ethical codes?
    How do you (if you do) attempt to discover how the universe came into being?
    Ditto life.

    Your conclusions may differ from mine, but we both have to start with the fact that we’re not being handed the answers on a plate, from on high.

  50. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Quidam @52:

    It means what it means. Why demand it should mean more?

    But what do we do about the fact that we don’t believe in gods? Have a marathon of Breaking Bad? Carve scrimshaw? March on Washington? BBQ? Blog?

    Is your argument is that the answer to what we do is “nothing”?

  51. spitz says

    ““Not THIS shit again!” is a perfectly cogent response. What makes you so special you should be exempt from it?”

    Because PZ brought the shit up, made his arguments, provided criticisms of other people, and weirdly expects the topic to disappear after he’s had his say. It’s like the people who say “I don’t want to start a debate but …(criticism of someone else’s views, personal claim and supporting arguments go here.” There’s also its cousin: “I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinions, but… (explanation for why those opinions are wrong, suggestions for what is right go here)”. Also see: “don’t mean to offend… (offensive comment.)” “Don’t want to start a fight…(lands first punch)”

    It’s incredibly daft.

    But by all means, continue to bring shit to the table so that you can announce “not this shit again!” I’m sure it and the all powerful:

    “Jesus. Like I said, I’m so tired of arguing with ignoring atheist idiots.”

    “Go away, please.”

    argument from personal irritation will work wonders in defending your position.

    Also:

    “Exactly. The only time someone is going to object and state “no, atheism only means x” is when they personally reject a topic with overlap (ie feminism)”

    Not really. It’s a rejection of indirect association in general. You should be more familiar with this as it’s a staple of religious arguments(as efforts typically are not made to support religious claims directly.) You’re familiar with “they will know them by their works” right? The idea that how Christians behave is an argument for Christianity itself?

    It isn’t though; good behavior won’t spawn gods into existence. That’s not the only one, of course. Religion is associated with love, hope, morality,science, art, music and literally anything else people can come up with.

    A painter made an awesome painting somehow becomes “something good that was done by religion.”

    A scientist made a scientific discovery becomes “a religious contribution to society.”

    Are we actually looking at religion, the great force for good, dumping works of art and advancing science upon us? No, in those two cases, we’re looking at the contributions of artists and scientists. If you want to make the same kind of contributions they did, you can study art or the appropriate field of science.

    Religions depend on poor judgments based on erroneous associations. But if you strip the associations away, assign value to what actually deserves it, and just look at the religious elements in themselves, you have nothing: no identifiable religious phenomena playing active roles in anything; just the superstitious belief that they are. In other words, on a fundamental level, none of those arguments support religion in any way. Religion is covered with as many things as possible with the hopes that it will be ignored entirely(so that people don’t criticize it) or misunderstood(so that people will develop dependencies on the superstitions).

    You should also be familiar with the same arguments used to criticize atheism: “some atheists can be just as bad as religious people.” “Where are the atheist charities?” “Atheists were more murderous than religious people ever were.” “Atheists are depressed”, or they’re arrogant, have no purpose, meaning or morals, etc.

    Strip that down in the same way as you would the religious arguments so that you’re just looking at atheism itself. Are any fundamental criticisms being made? Is there any argument in there that shows that any theistic claims are actually valid? No. The hope is that atheism can be covered in enough crap that people will either ignore it(and never question theism), or misunderstand it(and actually believe atheists fit whatever stereotype they compiled from the previous paragraph.)

    The only thing a “dictionary definition” provides here is clarity. But the arguments apply to people who attempt to build up atheism as well. Is it a complex socially progressive philosophy? No, it’s just not theism. However, this debate SHOULDN’T carry as much weight, so you can just point out that it’s an equivocation. You can use atheism to refer to whatever you want; if someone else is using a different definition, then you’re simply discussing completely different topics. If you think there’s a war over true meaning, you’re simply mistaken, and that can be clarified really simply by replacing each instance of “atheism” with its definition so that people can actually see the differences directly rather than conflate them.

    You don’t have to give anything up with a simpler definition. A religious person might believe they’re giving up the ability to be loving, artistic, scientific, moral or anything else if they abandon theism(which they associate with all of those things). But in reality they’ll just learn that theism wasn’t as relevant as they thought. And instead of referring to those traits as aspects of their faith, they can just refer to them as what they are: art, science and morality.

    Likewise, a “dictionary atheist” doesn’t lose anything by not conflating atheism with feminism, or even with their broader views on religion. They can just refer to feminist opinions as “feminist”, and they can identify “atheism” as part of their skepticism, or a fundamental element of certain parts of their critiques of religion. Why do they go to atheist conventions? Check the guest/event list and see. Perhaps in same way people go to comic conventions in order to see panels about movies, TV shows or buy toys, having a term in your title does not equal an obligation to make everything to fit that label perfectly?

    This may be confusing to some people, but they’re free to be confused. The simple fact is that in the same way a religious person asking “why are you so concerned about morality? There’s no god right, so there are no morals and you can do whatever you want” is only admitting their poor understanding of atheism and morality. And atheist asking “so what’s the point of arguing about anything if ‘atheism’ is just a lack of belief in gods?” is merely outing their own poor understanding of people who use atheism to just refer to not being theists. They’ve confused projecting their poor judgments onto other people as making a strong argument.

    To avoid doing that, instead of telling people how they’re supposed to act or complaining about how they don’t fit the stereotypes your criticisms are based on, try something new: don’t make your argument until you find someone espousing the view you’re critical of. See how long it takes.

    If it takes too long, feel free to go back to bringing shit up, complaining about it, and telling anyone else who joins the conversation to go away.

  52. says

    Meh, I hate arguing over definitions. I want, as Wittgenstein(?) put it, to talk about the world, not words — the latter are just handles allowing us to get conceptual and discursive grasp on the former. So I don’t really care whether we expand the definition or stick with the dictionary one, and use “humanism” or some other label for the additional stuff.

    But what I very much agree with is that the dictionary definition has no use except in the taxonomy of religious opinions. And when I first recognized I was an atheist, I thought: OK, that’s one not very interesting fact about me — now let’s get on with something that *is* important. And if we’re going to have a movement, and organizations, and meetups and whatnot, then we’re doing, and being, more than dictionary atheist.

    So to the dictionaryists I say: Call it what the fuck you want, but admit that you have added something to that pure, unsullied definition.

  53. quidam says

    It already means more. Why demand that it don’t, against all reason and reality?

    Because the “more” is neither defined nor consistent. Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins, Ayn Rand, you and I don’t necessarily know or agree on what this encompasses.

  54. says

    I’ll never understand people who insist on the dictionary version of atheism, then proceed to argue about it. If you truly believe it’s only the dictionary thing, there’s nothing to argue. If you are arguing, you believe atheist stands for more than the dictionary definition.

    One way to have it driven home, that atheism encompasses more than a mere definition is to have lots of discussions with theists. People need to have something beyond dictionary definitions in their life. Offering up a dictionary definition with a shrug of the shoulders is utterly meaningless.

  55. says

    Monitor Note: If you are replying to a specific comment, use the comment number and poster’s name.

    Use the HTML tags, especially the ones to quote someone.

    To quote someone, use <blockquote>Place Text Here</blockquote>:

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  56. says

    But the “more” is what matters! So you’re an atheist. Now what? Apparently, you and sbuh and spitz want to argue that being an atheist means nothing much of anything. So why bother being an atheist and in particular, why are you here arguing about it?

  57. Sven says

    No gods. That means no higher authorities that dictate the right way to live. There is no afterlife, so no system of reward/punishment based on claims of post-death rewards works. That means we have to figure out our own strategies for relating to our fellow human beings. The traditional religious/cultural mechanisms of assigning responsibilities are undermined.

    See, you say this and I think we’re totally on the same page. Yes: as a natural consequence of my atheism, I too have drawn these logical conclusions. But then you say something like this:

    if you are just going to say it’s your favorite soundbite definition and nothing more, then fuck off and go masturbate elsewhere. I have no use for you. You are uninteresting and have nothing to contribute at all.

    …and you’ve lost me. You and I have drawn the logical conclusions of secular philosophy, but not every atheist has. So we are left with two options: we can define atheism in a narrow way that excludes these many people who unambiguously do not believe in god(s) but also don’t bother to think about it very hard, or we can define atheism broadly in a way that actually includes those people.

    (You’re going to hate this comparison, but I know you can handle it)
    My step-grandfather is a boorish evangelical Christian young-Earth-creationist. To hear him tell it, you can’t be a Christian if you do not literally believe the Bible, and you can’t literally believe the Bible while also accepting evolution. Therefore: “evolutionists” aren’t true Christians.

    To him and to you I say: Eppur si muove! They’re still there! You cant just deny these people exist! Lots of Christians (including most of my family and friends) accept modern science. Similarly, lots of atheists don’t think very hard about secularism and philosophy. Does that make them idiots? Maybe. Does that mean they’re not atheists? Not even close. I call atheism what it is, not what I want it to be. If it’s too broad, then add more labels, adjectives, and descriptors. I’m a secularist. I’m a humanist. I’m a liberal.

  58. Harry Tuttle says

    Because, what are the consequences of the statement “there is no gods”? That is the starting point for rejecting all “god given” morality, and starting a new philosophy of morality, like humanism.

    I can’t but imagine the Deists’ surprise.

    Seriously, how is this any different than the consequences of saying “the gods don’t matter”?

    “The world is not governed, nor should it be” – Zhuangzi

  59. says

    Sven @63

    You and I have drawn the logical conclusions of secular philosophy, but not every atheist has.

    And already I call bullshit. Everyone has some sort of philosophy. Just because another person’s atheistically-derived philosophy is different from mine does not mean that we haven’t both drawn conclusions based an an atheistic view of the world.

  60. atheist says

    Political issues are seldom about their purported subject. They’re usually about something else, and the explicit issue is just a stalking horse. Arguments about abortion are really about whether women’s sexuality needs to be controlled. Questions about atheism seem to be about trust or obedience. When theists ask how complex life could have come into being with a God they are asking why some people won’t trust their beautifully illustrated story of creation. Fear of an atheist world is usually fear of a disobedient populace. While the simple denotation of atheist is important what gives discussions of atheism their interest and meaning is mostly the many connotations of an existence without a God.

  61. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Seriously, how is this any different than the consequences of saying “the gods don’t matter”?

    First of all, saying “gods don’t matter” is acknowledging their existence. That isn’t the equivalent of saying “there are no gods”, which denies their existence. Once you deny the gods, a logical consequence is that you also deny the morality based on their existence, namely what is spelled in the holy book written by barely literate priests trying to maintain their power. So, what do you replace that with, or do you just accept the imposition of “god given morality” on your life? I don’t.

    Consequences are there. Accept those consequences.

  62. says

    Sven, #63:

    You and I have drawn the logical conclusions of secular philosophy, but not every atheist has. So we are left with two options: we can define atheism in a narrow way that excludes these many people who unambiguously do not believe in god(s) but also don’t bother to think about it very hard, or we can define atheism broadly in a way that actually includes those people.

    Then why are those unthinking atheists atheists? It’s not just the conclusions, it’s the reasons. Are you seriously going to tell me that there are atheists who never ever thought about it, and it just popped into their head that these gods everyone else is talking about don’t exist, and there’s absolutely nothing in the way that they view the world that predisposes them to disbelieve? Those people don’t exist, so I’m free to exclude them from atheism.

    For example, I know atheists who reject religion because they are personally angry at what the Catholic church did to them as children (cause); they believe that the church must be called to justice and propose sanctions against it (consequence).

    I know atheists who do not believe in gods because they were brought up to understand science and natural mechanisms (cause); they argue that political and educational policy ought to be entirely secular (consequence).

    These are different kinds of atheists, with different goals and different backgrounds. They are both atheists because they disbelieve in gods. But none of them, nobody I can even imagine, becomes an atheist in a vacuum and adopts this perspective without it having any meaning in how they live their lives.

  63. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Talking about what atheism “means” is useless. English, as it turns out, is a humpy-dumpty language. The interesting discussion is really about what atheism implies. Posts like these seem to be intended to bait definition arguments rather than foster implication discussions. If you are sick of having the definition argument, why instigate one?

  64. says

    If you are sick of having the definition argument, why instigate one?

    Because it quickly smokes out the superficial atheists?

    Also, this post was primarily about another word, “freethought”. Or are we now going to argue that it actually does mean we get to babble freely about anything in our heads?

  65. jodyp says

    Because it quickly smokes out the superficial atheists?”

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

    There are a lot of atheists out there who are in it for personal aggrandizement. They find themselves too smart and just too all-around awesome to fall for religion, and are happy to brag about it. These are your Thunderf00ts, your Amazing Atheists, and your Reap Padens.

    Then there are those of us who came to atheism as part of a larger personal morality founded in reason. These are the people advocating for a better and more rational world, free of religion and prejudice. PZ, Rebecca Watson, and Ophelia Benson all fall into this group.

    But yeah. The first group will argue til doomsday for the dictionary definition of atheism, because anything more would require them to evaluate their own moral failings, and their egos will not permit that.

    Does that make sense? I’m not a writer.

  66. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Again. I’m like kryptonite to discussion.

    Things often slow down around dinner time for the Eastern half of the US. I don’t think it’s you.

    A lot of folks seem to think freethought means the equivalent of extreme skepticism. Instead it is a particular type of skepticism, applied to established religion and established culture/morality based on that religion. So, one is a freethinker if one rejects the biblical derived patriarchal underpinnings of culture. One is not a free thinker if they reject feminism without evidence. And they must show said evidence if they wish to be taken seriously arguing against feminism. But most using “freethinker” claims try to make themselves the authority. I don’t accept your authority. Show me the money [evidence].

  67. says

    jodyp @ 78:

    Does that make sense?

    It makes sense to me, and I agree with you.

    atheist @ 80:

    I like it, freezethought. Describes a certain mentality pretty well!

    It does. The tea must be working! :D

  68. atheist says

    @jodyp – 26 September 2013 at 5:30 pm (UTC -5)

    Does that make sense? I’m not a writer.

    It certainly does make sense, and I agree. And I think you are a writer, though maybe not a professional writer (neither am I).

  69. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Shouldn’t that be freezethought? All these terms!

    Frozen thought? Sounds about right for the site-that-must-not-be-named.

  70. says

    jodyp:

    The first group will argue til doomsday for the dictionary definition of atheism, because anything more would require them to evaluate their own moral failings, and their egos will not permit that.

    It also allows them to rationalize appalling behaviour, like indulging in rape threats, jokes about acid throwing, and blithely lying about anything and everything.

  71. atheist says

    @Caine, Fleur du mal – 26 September 2013 at 5:38 pm (UTC -5)

    It also allows them to rationalize appalling behaviour, like indulging in rape threats, jokes about acid throwing, and blithely lying about anything and everything.

    It’s a truly horrid irony that certain atheists act just like Taliban.

  72. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    I reiterate my earlier question:

    If all atheism means is disbelief in gods, and there are no conclusions (philosophical, how-to-live-your-life, moral, political, etc etc etc) to draw from that, what’s the damn point?

  73. Lofty says

    I used to be an atheist, now I am a person who doesn’t believe in gods, and other stuff too. Damn slippery things, definitions.

  74. skephtic says

    “Doug Hudson

    The whole point is that the meaning of being an “atheist” is NOT, in reality, just a matter of semantics, but a very important discussion that needs to happen.’

    That is *your opinion* of atheism. If bald is not a hair color then declaring yourself bald doesn’t entail a “very important discussion that needs to happen” about the morality of hair color. You have a right to your own view of atheism and what it entails for you, but it seems like you and PZ are trying to impose it on other people.

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

    The point, to me, would be that since atheism means [simply] a disbelief in gods that if you want to have beliefs you have to justify them otherwise. *shrug*

    I return to Dictionary Corner. ;-)

  76. says

    skephtic:

    it seems like you and PZ are trying to impose it on other people.

    Pardon me for pointing this out, but you came here. No one invaded your freezethought dictionary eden and insisted you actually think or anything.

  77. skephtic says


    Caine, Fleur du mal
    Pardon me for pointing this out, but you came here. No one invaded your freezethought dictionary eden and insisted you actually think or anything.”

    I don’t mean that in a universal sense but rather in the context of this thread, where PZ insists that atheism must have a broader social meaning and that atheists who don’t agree with him have no basis to say or argue anything about atheism etc. You don’t seem to have any response to my note that being bald and saying so does not entail a need for any moral position or discussion about hair color.

    If atheism entailed anything other than lack of belief in any god or gods, then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

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

    [Not particularly serious]

    PZ @#30:

    You can try to come up with new methods: Ayn Rand can dream up objectivism and glorify selfishness, Kropotkin can advocate the importance of community and cooperation. I think Rand is dead wrong, but [...]

    Surely Kropotkin deserves an “and I think Kroptkin …”? :-)

  79. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You don’t seem to have any response to my note that being bald and saying so does not entail a need for any moral position or discussion about hair color.

    That’s because is it a non-sequitur, like all the arguments by the dictionary definition crowd. And I speak as a long time bald-headed man. You have nothing.

  80. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

    Prove with citations, or shut the fuck up.

  81. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    It’s funny how no small number of the well-known opponents to diversity and inclusivity in the community were quite happy to have their definition of atheism include very non-dictionary things, like vocal opposition to religion and promotion of science and the criticism of misogyny if – and only if – it could be used against religion; however, once there were enough people to say that it should also include social justice, they were suddenly braying loudly that to do so would be redefining what atheism means.

    Special pleading and goalpost shifting aren’t tactics known only to the religious.

  82. skephtic says

    ” PZ Myers

    But the “more” is what matters! So you’re an atheist. Now what? Apparently, you and sbuh and spitz want to argue that being an atheist means nothing much of anything. So why bother being an atheist and in particular, why are you here arguing about it?”

    As hesitant as I am to wake the dragon, this argument reminds me of the one from theists:

    “Atheists don’t believe in anything so they have nothing to argue about when it comes to religion”.

    I’m not really seeing a functional difference between their claim and yours as both are based in the idea that a side has to have a larger belief in order to have a valid reason to have input in the discussion. I disagree. I don’t have to have a “reason” for being an atheist, and if I do, there is no reason why it has to align with yours in any way. There is no entailed “we” in our shared atheism other than lack of belief in any god or gods. Yet I do think we have more in common than that, but it isn’t entailed.

  83. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I disagree. I don’t have to have a “reason” for being an atheist, and if I do, there is no reason why it has to align with yours in any way.

    Two things, there is a reason why you are an atheist. And nobody, least of all PZ, expects you to align with his policies. Just acknowledge there is more to atheism than a disbelief in gods.

  84. says

    then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

    PZ did not start or invent A+. One thing that is rather notable about dictionary types is their inability to comprehend the written word.

  85. skephtic says

    ” Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    26 September 2013 at 6:21 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

    Prove with citations, or shut the fuck up.”

    Really? You are just going to dodge my post with a more inflammatory version of “needs citation”? If you disagree with it, please do so and say why.

    However, in spite of your un-helpful response, I did check up on details A+, and it is promoted on FtB, but not invented by PZ. Apologies for the presumption. Now your turn to engage in substantive discussion.

  86. says

    Wowbagger:

    It’s funny how no small number of the well-known opponents to diversity and inclusivity in the community were quite happy to have their definition of atheism include very non-dictionary things, like vocal opposition to religion and promotion of science and the criticism of misogyny if – and only if – it could be used against religion; however, once there were enough people to say that it should also include social justice, they were suddenly braying loudly that to do so would be redefining what atheism means.

    Special pleading and goalpost shifting aren’t tactics known only to the religious.

    QFTBOT.*
     
    *Quoted For The Bloody Obvious Truth.

  87. skephtic says

    “Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls
    Just acknowledge there is more to atheism than a disbelief in gods.”

    Nobody I’ve read in this thread claims that the term atheism is limited to a disbelief in gods, that the word isn’t used in more than one sense, but rather that nothing more is **entailed** by atheism. A disbelief in gods is the only thing all atheists have in common, as it is the only common denominator.

  88. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you disagree with it, please do so and say why.

    You are full of troll shit is why. Citation says you need to check the facts, not your OPINION of the facts. And your OPINION is dismissed without evidence.

  89. says

    The Dictionary Atheist Movement.
    Meeting №5,408

    “I don’t believe in gods.”
    “Nor me.”
    “Nor me.”
    “Any further business?”
    ………
    “No? Then I move we close and go to the pub.”
    “Seconded.”
    “Meeting adjourned.”

    If that’s the only discussion you’ve ever had regarding atheism, congratulations. You are a Dictionary Atheist.

  90. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    I keep coming back to this: I think many – not all, but many – of the dictionary atheists who get very angry at the thought that atheism should lead to humanism and anti-racism and feminism and other social-justice things are angry because they like being atheists because it gives them a pedestal they can stand on, whereby they’re smarter/better than them. And now we’re asking these people welcome them into the treehouse and make common cause!

    Vizzini: Inconceivable!

  91. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    but rather that nothing more is **entailed** by atheism.

    Hyperskepticism, not rational thinking. Nothing other than that is expected from you, who can’t face the truth that they are WRONG.

  92. consciousness razor says

    You have a right to your own view of atheism and what it entails for you, but it seems like you and PZ are trying to impose it on other people.

    Pbfff. The lack of gods entails all sorts of things — not what’s “entailed for me” or for you or for some other person (because that’s not what entailment means). It entails a whole bunch of plain old fucking facts (not only “moral” or “social” conclusions), just like every other substantive claim has to do if it’s a claim about the real world. Think about that. Is it a substantive claim about the real world, or is it not?

    What sorts of things is it saying about the real world? Perhaps we disagree about what that is, perhaps not everyone is rational or ethical (or we have different sets of views which may be equally valid in some cases) so that atheists come to different conclusions about what is or isn’t entailed. But the fact remains that it’s more than an isolated claim about ourselves which has nothing to do with anything else.

  93. skephtic says

    “Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls
    You are full of troll shit is why. Citation says you need to check the facts, not your OPINION of the facts. And your OPINION is dismissed without evidence.”

    Ooh, bad words. Very impressive discourse. Color me impressed by how you’ve elevated the conversation.

    You are displaying your double standards. You expect your own words and opinions to be accepted without evidence or citations.

  94. sbuh says

    I took a few hours to step away but coming back what I’m seeing are these repeated false accusations about what I believe with regard to social justice issues because I am a “dictionary atheist.” And false claims about my reason for choosing that label.

    No, I am not trying to justify misogyny or be able to make rape jokes.

    No, I don’t think that discussions about moral imperatives absent a deity aren’t worth having. They very much are.

    I am a feminist. I am a proponent of gay rights, affirmative action, income equality, and many other things. I am a New Keyensian. I am a progressive liberal. Etc.

    And you know what? I was all of these things BEFORE I became an atheist. And I was most of these things before I became a Deist.

    None of these things sprang from my atheism when I accepted it, and atheism has had no significant impact on my moral philosophy (as I said before a Deistic non-interventionist God with no books or commandments is a functionally identical starting point for moral reasoning). What it has done is allow me to interact with others who TEND to agree with me on many of these points. I like the atheist community because it’s broadly in line with what I think, but it’s also diverse.

    No, I don’t view “dictionary atheism” as stopping the discussion about “What do we do now?” It is a beginning point, not an end.

    But straw-mannining dictionary atheists and saying they don’t want to discuss moral imperatives because they’re happy JUST being non-theists and nothing else is WRONG.

  95. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Esteleth wrote:

    I keep coming back to this: I think many – not all, but many – of the dictionary atheists who get very angry at the thought that atheism should lead to humanism and anti-racism and feminism and other social-justice things are angry because they like being atheists because it gives them a pedestal they can stand on, whereby they’re smarter/better than them.

    Oh, definitely, Hence why there’s so much rage at PZ in particular – he used to write a lot more about the awful/stupid things religious people did, and many atheists loved that because it made them feel superior. But then, when he and the other atheist bloggers starting casting a similarly critical eye over the atheist community and pointing out where it could improve, they got angry because it not only didn’t make them feel superior, it implied there were things they needed to change about themselves.

  96. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You are displaying your double standards. You expect your own words and opinions to be accepted without evidence or citations.

    Gee, show me a citation where PZ is a founder of A+ or acknowledge you are nothing but trolling liar and bullshitter…. We both know you have nothing but your OPINION, which is dismissed without evidence. Per Christopher Hitchens, amongst others. (Oops, providing evidence, gasp!)

  97. Ingdigo Jump says

    If you’re a dictionary atheist and you talk about it and think atheism is something worth promoting congratulations you’re an evangelist .

    The rest of us kind of would prefer there to be a point

  98. says

    sbuh

    You are commenting on an atheist blog site. This means, I assume, that for whatever reasons, you chose to look for places to engage with others who do not believe in gods.

    Whatever those reasons are, they are a consequence of your disbelief in gods. Trivial? Maybe. But the very fact that you are here means that your atheism doesn’t exist in a limbo, disconnected from the rest of your life.

    Jesus H Christ on a three-wheeled yankee clipper, this is not difficult.

  99. Ingdigo Jump says

    But straw-mannining dictionary atheists and saying they don’t want to discuss moral imperatives because they’re happy JUST being non-theists and nothing else is WRONG.

    Dude it can’t be fucking wrong because these same assholes won’t stop shrieking at me on Twitter

  100. skephtic says

    “Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001

    I keep coming back to this: I think many – not all, but many – of the dictionary atheists who get very angry at the thought that atheism should lead to humanism and anti-racism and feminism and other social-justice things are angry because they like being atheists because it gives them a pedestal they can stand on, whereby they’re smarter/better than them. And now we’re asking these people welcome them into the treehouse and make common cause!”

    PZ argued about “context” in the OP. I’m not a “dictionary atheist”. I have no idea what it means to “be” a dictionary atheist but I do argue on factual that the only common ground that *all* atheists have is a lack of belief in gods. That doesn’t take away anything from people who want to bring fellow atheists into humanism and take stances on various social issues. I’m really not seeing anything you can legitimately argue with other than you want it to mean more than it does.

    One can be an atheist an a good person or a selfish ass, as we see today, and throughout history. Atheism doesn’t entail any “ought” from the “is” of atheism, other than that morality does not come from gods. Atheists are free to try to come up with moral principles and argue for them, to live good lives now and be good to others because we feel that is the right thing to do and to argue that others should do as we do, but that’s all that is, a choice, a position to argue for and implement, not an entailment of atheism.

  101. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I have no idea what it means to “be” a dictionary atheist but I do argue on factual that the only common ground that *all* atheists have is a lack of belief in gods.

    Stupidly argue you mean. There is more to being an atheist these days. Feeling left out? Join a group of your choice, and live with the consequences….

  102. says

    skephtic:

    You are displaying your double standards. You expect your own words and opinions to be accepted without evidence or citations.

    There’s no double standard, just your iwaka takuni slolye sni.* PZ has repeatedly stated he had nothing to do with A+, including the forum. He agrees with the philosophy and supports it. The origins of A+ are well known, and it’s up to you, being a great genius skeptic and all to have your facts straight before you start making crap up out of whole cloth. As for FTB, it is Ed Brayton’s network, not PZ’s. This is also well known.

    All you’ve done is demonstrate that you’re willing to be dishonest. That’s hardly news to us, we have seen this all the time. If you wish to argue in good faith (which I highly doubt), it is incumbent on you to make sure your argument is valid and your facts are correct.
     
    *something like stupid babble.

  103. moarscienceplz says

    In 2003, Michael Moore remarked, “So, here’s my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be? I think it’s because we’re still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all”.

    I think most (or all) of these “No gods – full stop” atheists are Algerists, but they don’t realize it. They don’t have to explicitly embrace selfishness like Objectivists do, but they also don’t have to spend any effort on social justice or income inequality, because anybody can be successful if they just try hard enough. It’s a very comfortable place to reside in.

  104. Ingdigo Jump says

    Keep arguing that that’s all what Atheist is. Because I talk to theists and non interested people and you know what atheist means to them now? Asshole racist, sexist Dawkins Fanboi bros who prowl the net like sharks ready to harass people. But no go ahead and cede the reputation to them. Go on and explain to everyone else who Atheism isn’t anything more than that, despite that there are people doing jackassery things in the name of atheism.

  105. Ingdigo Jump says

    Saying atheism just means no god belief is like saying white means just a skin tone.

    That clarify things for the terminally dense here?

  106. skephtic says

    ” Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Gee, show me a citation where PZ is a founder of A+ or acknowledge you are nothing but trolling liar and bullshitter…. We both know you have nothing but your OPINION, which is dismissed without evidence. Per Christopher Hitchens, amongst others. (Oops, providing evidence, gasp!)”

    I’ve met Christopher Hitchens and you are no Christopher Hitchens.

    If you were here to make sincere arguments rather than just show off and swear then you’d, I don’t know, read the thread. In post 101 I noted ” in spite of your un-helpful response, I did check up on details A+, and it is promoted on FtB, but not invented by PZ. Apologies for the presumption. Now your turn to engage in substantive discussion.” In fact, you even responded to that post with your post 104. Yet here you are trying to excoriate me for something I’ve already corrected.

    Now, as to standards of evidence. You have yet to give a reason why your posts without citations or evidence should be considered and those of other people have not. All you are arguing for with your obfuscatory personal attacks with all the swearing is for a double standard, with special pleading for yourself.

    (Post numbers subject to change if the mods delete any of the antecedent posts)

  107. spiralling says

    @ skephtic

    You may be missing the meaning of PZ’s use of ‘entails’. It’s not so much as a strict list of additions (as in it logically follows that atheism results in X beliefs), but that the ‘belief in no gods’ means more than those 4 words as a world view. That different people won’t arrive at different conclusions isn’t what PZ is arguing, it’s that conclusions are being made from that initial step.

  108. skephtic says

    ” Ingdigo Jump

    26 September 2013 at 6:58 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    Saying atheism just means no god belief is like saying white means just a skin tone.

    That clarify things for the terminally dense here?”

    Atheism is a word with a lot of connotations, but just like “Christian,” it doesn’t entail any specific morality. You might say that Christian means belief that Jesus is god, but it doesn’t, the divinity of Christ is not agreed upon by all Christians; nor is the belief in the Trinity entailed, Unitarians, for instance don’t believe in it; nor do Christians all think they must follow the model of Christ’s life. About the only thing all Christians all agree upon is that there is a god. And the *only* think *all* atheists agree upon is that there isn’t. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other meanings, other connotations associated with the word atheism, but none of those are universal or entailed.

  109. says

    skephtic

    Oh dear oh dear.

    I’ve met Christopher Hitchens and you are no Christopher Hitchens.

    Well aren’t you the little name-dropper. The point you seem, glaringly, to have missed in your eagerness to inform us of your Important Connections™:

    That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence—Christopher Hitchens

  110. Ingdigo Jump says

    @Skephtic

    I’m curious why the fuck you bothered quoting me as you clearly didn’t respond to the quote.

  111. Ingdigo Jump says

    And the *only* think *all* atheists agree upon is that there isn’t. ,

    The only thing all white people have in common is skin tone. Let we seem quite capable of talking about that.

  112. sbuh says

    Daz

    You are commenting on an atheist blog site. This means, I assume, that for whatever reasons, you chose to look for places to engage with others who do not believe in gods.

    Whatever those reasons are, they are a consequence of your disbelief in gods.

    Actually, I came here for the science and the feminism. And because I was turned onto the blog by Dawkins, whom I started reading in my Deistic period.

    your atheism doesn’t exist in a limbo, disconnected from the rest of your life.

    Of course it doesn’t. Why do you think I disagree about this?

    What I think is that most people seem to see atheism as a BIG shift in their thinking. If you live with a theistic morality and then become an atheist then yes, there’s a big moral question that pops up. You used to get your morals from god, but what now?

    But in my case, I already had that dilemma when I transitioned from a Christian upbringing into Deism. Atheism was simply my abandoning the last tiny shred of theism I had left, but I’d already dealt with the moral imperatives.

    I do want the Atheist Movement to mean more than just “We don’t believe in god.” Never said I didn’t. This is all a confusion over language. Being a “dictionary atheist” just means I think the word has a short denotation that applies to a lot of diverse people, not that this one thing is the limit of what all such people should agree upon. We should be atheists, and feminists, and social progressives, and economic progressives. None of these groups is big enough to fully encompass all the others. But the Atheist Movement can encompass them all if we want it to.

  113. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Atheism was simply my abandoning the last tiny shred of theism I had left, but I’d already dealt with the moral imperatives.

    In which case you already had the something more, but won’t admit it, because then you would be wrong….

  114. says

    sbuh

    I have a problem squaring this:

    Being a “dictionary atheist” just means I think the word has a short denotation that applies to a lot of diverse people, not that this one thing is the limit of what all such people should agree upon.

    With this:

    But my biggest reason for ascribing to the literalistic form of atheism is that I just don’t think the associated baggage fits, and we can’t even agree on what that baggage is.

    Unless I’m reading you wrongly, they appear to be mutually contradictory.

    Could you clarify, please?

  115. sbuh says

    Nerd of Redhead

    In which case you already had the something more, but won’t admit it, because then you would be wrong….

    Do you want me to be wrong more than you want to understand my position?

    Okay, I’ll be wrong then. And it won’t affect you at all, because despite claims to the contrary, I’ve never attempted to the stifle the movement or resisted inclusivity of moral causes. Why would I? I’m FOR pretty much every moral cause that has been taken up by modern atheists.

    So my being wrong about this one thing, how I define a single term, ultimately means nothing.

    Although I would ask how if my “something more” didn’t come from atheism, it could be defined AS atheism.

    Daz

    Unless I’m reading you wrongly, they appear to be mutually contradictory.

    Could you clarify, please?

    I was referring to the baggage applied by theists. That atheists have no morals. That atheists are selfish hedonists. That we don’t believe in ANYTHING.

    What disturbs me is that these are the same accusations I’m seeing floated around this thread.

    The reason the short definition matters to me is because to a person who knows nothing about me it is the only thing that term tells them that is accurate. To others trying to infer what I must think, be they theists or fellow atheists, they may be right or wrong, but the best way to find out is to ask, not assume.

  116. Ingdigo Jump says

    I’ll note I think these dictionary atheists are still the same ones who pimp studies showing atheists to have higher IQ or education right?

    FFS ANYONE HOME!?

  117. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Also, this post was primarily about another word, “freethought”. Or are we now going to argue that it actually does mean we get to babble freely about anything in our heads?

    Jesus H. If they are claiming that FTB is being hypocritical, the only definition that matters is the one it’s creators intended. Otherwise, no hypocrisy.

  118. says

    I was referring to the baggage applied by theists. That atheists have no morals. That atheists are selfish hedonists. That we don’t believe in ANYTHING.

    So Atheists, as a group, do have morals (even though they might differ from individual to individual). Which they presumably manage to square with their disbelief in a god who created a moral code. which means they do, in fact, share at least one trait, across the board, which derives from their atheism.

    Unless you’re using some weird definition of “dictionary atheist,” (which would be, well, kinda meta) we’ve just proved that dictionary atheists cannot exist.

  119. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Although I would ask how if my “something more” didn’t come from atheism, it could be defined AS atheism

    Refute yourself by not providing any EVIDENCE. Typical….

  120. sbuh says

    Daz

    So Atheists, as a group, do have morals (even though they might differ from individual to individual).

    No, because there are atheists who reject the notion of objective morality entirely. So morality cannot be something we all share.

    I find this notion confusing that a strict definition is supposed to be limiting.

    If I define an animal as a multi-cellular organism with an internal digestive tract, that doesn’t mean I think “animals” are nothing but floating sacks of intestines. But it’s just about all that accurately describes every member a diverse group. If I want to give you a less inclusive definition, I need more/different words. A vertebrate. An amniote.

    If I just say “I’m reading a book by an atheist author.” What does that tell you that’s useful?

    I think people want the atheist movement to be about more than just simple disbelief. I agree with that sentiment entirely.

    But that doesn’t mean I can point to all the people who say they don’t believe in god but don’t also ascribe to the various causes inclusive within the modern movement and say they’re not atheists.

    Nerd of Redhead

    Refute yourself by not providing any EVIDENCE. Typical….

    Evidence of my past Deism? What would suffice? I think this is a pretty tall order.

  121. says

    No, because there are atheists who reject the notion of objective morality entirely. So morality cannot be something we all share.

    You misunderstand me. I did not say we share “a” morality. Merely that whatever morality we each subscribe to, we have each, quite obviously, decided that it didn’t require a god to create that morality.

    Therefore, in some small way, we have each of us moved on from “I don’t believe in gods” (the dictionary position) to “how do I view this world, if not through a theistic lens?”

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

    “how do I view this world, if not through a theistic lens?”

    But, as I’ve said on previous threads, this is incomprehsible to those of us who were raised atheist, in majority-atheist countries. *flail*

  123. sbuh says

    And I meant the same. We don’t even all share the existence of any morality. I misspoke by saying objective, but what I mean is some atheists (incorrectly in my view, but they do) argue that there is no morality whatsover. They subscribe to none.

    But moreover, morality that doesn’t derive from a god might be inclusive of most atheists, but it’s not inclusive only OF atheists. Deists fit the bill as well. A god without commandments means morality must come from something else. This is why I developed my current morality before coming to atheism.

    Similarly, atheism does not encompass feminism. I am a feminist and an atheist. I think other people should be both of these things. But I didn’t derive one from the other.

    It seems like a lot of people are using the term atheism and the atheist movement interchangeably. I don’t think that’s right. The movement can encompass a great many things besides just atheism, but the term atheist (not the movement, just the term) to me means the only thing that I see that all self-described atheists have in common: non-theism.

  124. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I think the problem with the dictionary definition only folks is that they think they must toe the line with A+, Slymepit, or some other established philosophy. Keep your own. Nobody says you have to pick sides, although you probably will once you think the morality of the decision that “there are no gods” through. What you pick, is your choice.

  125. says

    cm, I was also raised atheist. Which means that whatever system of morality I’ve decided on is, automatically, one which squares with disbelief in a moral-giving god. Whether consciously or not, I’ve still arrived at a position derived from an atheistic world-view—so I cannot be a dictionary atheist.

  126. consciousness razor says

    No, because there are atheists who reject the notion of objective morality entirely. So morality cannot be something we all share.

    Laughable. If there’s an objective morality, it makes no fucking difference whether anyone “rejects” it. If they do, they’re wrong. Likewise, if an atheist reject some piece of science, either they or the science is wrong. Because reality is what makes the truth what it is, not people’s views about reality. Come back when you’re less confused or more honest.

  127. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Similarly, atheism does not encompass feminism.

    Actually it follows if you see women as full humans, with full human rights. DUH.

  128. says

    Jesus fuck.

    If atheism entailed anything other than lack of belief in any god or gods, then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

    Bye.

    New rule: anyone so idiotic as to echo standard slymepit stupidity like that is going to be outta here.

  129. kittehserf says

    Ingdigo Jump @120:

    Keep arguing that that’s all what Atheist is. Because I talk to theists and non interested people and you know what atheist means to them now? Asshole racist, sexist Dawkins Fanboi bros who prowl the net like sharks ready to harass people. But no go ahead and cede the reputation to them. Go on and explain to everyone else who Atheism isn’t anything more than that, despite that there are people doing jackassery things in the name of atheism.

    I don’t suppose it’s any comfort, but to this non-atheist (not theist, either) and my friends – of whatever beliefs – that’s the distinct subset of Asshole Atheists (TM). They’d probably be assholes whether or not they were atheist. I don’t associate atheism with being a dipshit like Dawkins et al, though that might be because I live in a much less overtly, publicly religious country than the US.

  130. Sven says

    Are you seriously going to tell me that there are atheists who never ever thought about it, and it just popped into their head that these gods everyone else is talking about don’t exist, and there’s absolutely nothing in the way that they view the world that predisposes them to disbelieve?

    That’s not what I said at all, PZ.

    I’m talking about the steps we’re taking AFTER the disbelief in gods, not the prerequisites/predispositions/reasons why we disbelieve in gods. For example: I am a secularist BECAUSE I am an atheist. The atheism came first, the secularism came after, as a natural, logical consequence. Not the other way around. But not every atheist makes that second step to opposing teacher-led school prayer, or opposing blatant faith-based legislation, or drawing philosophical conclusions about the nature of secular morality itself. Lots of people (most people?) don’t linger on the philosophical ramifications of why they believe what they believe (or disbelieve), they just do what they think is right. I’m not one of them, but there’s plenty out there. Being an atheist does NOT spontaneously make people give a damn about philosophy.

  131. yubal says

    Sometimes I am really glad to define myself as a Humanist (instead of Atheist, which says nothing about someone) and rather as an inquisitive person than a Freethinker.

  132. consciousness razor says

    But not every atheist makes that second step to opposing teacher-led school prayer, or opposing blatant faith-based legislation, or drawing philosophical conclusions about the nature of secular morality itself. Lots of people (most people?) don’t linger on the philosophical ramifications of why they believe what they believe (or disbelieve), they just do what they think is right. I’m not one of them, but there’s plenty out there. Being an atheist does NOT spontaneously make people give a damn about philosophy.

    So? Who’s claiming it does? People can say and do all sorts of shit. No one’s stopping them from being totally oblivious and irrational and immoral and whatever else. The nonexistence of gods still means all sorts of shit about the world, whether they realize it or not, because it can’t be completely isolated and utterly irrelevant to everything else, unless it were a completely vacuous claim. And it isn’t completely vacuous: there in fact aren’t magic people (in the sky, outside space and time, in heaven, in your basement, or anywhere else) who created everything or gave everything a purpose or control what happens or grant you wishes if you follow their rules. That says a lot about the way the world is, and that matters, even if absolutely nobody knows it.

  133. says

    Being an atheist does NOT spontaneously make people give a damn about philosophy.

    Didn’t say it did. Look back to my examples: someone could be atheist because they’re angry, and what they give a damn about is ending the destructive influence of the church. Someone could care about church-state separation. Someone could care about patriarchal misogyny. Someone could care about nonsensical religious arguments about abortion.

    Those are all legitimate atheist causes. I’m not saying that you have to become a philosopher to be an atheist — I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do. If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

  134. says

    Sven:

    Being an atheist does NOT spontaneously make people give a damn about philosophy.

    Of course not. You’re being silly here. This isn’t about some great conversion into being a philosopher, or a philosophy student. It is about what atheism stands for in one’s life. For me, it factors into my ethics, and my involvement in social justice issues, as well as a humanist stance. This really isn’t difficult to understand, why it’s as easy to understand as a definition of a word in a dictionary.

  135. says

    It baffles me, people who insist on arguing that atheist is meaningless. Perhaps you need to look up meaningless, because if it truly signifies nothing more to you than a lack of belief in gods, then you shouldn’t be here arguing about it. Obviously, there’s a sense of some sort of merit in the argument.

    From my point of view, of course being atheist is more than a descriptor, just the same as being religious is more than a descriptor. After all, being an atheist colours how one views things: politics, arts, finance, entertainment, and so forth. I think it’s dishonest to claim that being an atheist doesn’t affect or colour one’s viewpoint at all.

  136. says

    Okay, one more comment, then I swear I’ll shut up. I’m baffled by the insistence on definition as well. Being an atheist is one of the things that defines me, as a person. If you want to see it a certain way, we are all bundles of various definitions which define us a a person, which then further defines our outlook on things.

  137. yubal says

    I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do.

    Why? Aren’t we all happy about the millions of Catholics who explicitly do not do that?

    If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

    You can be an Atheist in idle mode. e.g. just because you were never trained to believe in gods and that’s it.

    I was wondering why you are so fired up about this topic?

    Atheism doesn’t propose conclusions, it offers more options to chose from because you are not restricted by religion. And you can be wrong about your choices, as always. Why and what you chose is not governed by atheism but by personal interest and other sources. Atheism is not a good basis to find conclusions. It is the default position on the god question and little else. Atheism is trivial. It has meaning only in the context of societies governed by religion, an religion is a made up concept. So why make a big deal about atheism? A moral or intellectual basis should be founded on humanism or something alike it.

  138. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    As a general rule, resorting to the dictionary argument is the act of someone seeking to protect the status quo – as we’ve seen with things like rape, harassment, bullying and misogyny. The more they can get us to waste time on debating abstract concepts, the less likely it is they’ll have to change their attitudes/behaviours.

    It’s dishonest bullshit, and it needs to be called out as such.

  139. says

    Those are all legitimate atheist causes. I’m not saying that you have to become a philosopher to be an atheist

    Agree with you, but there is one exeption, and that’s the atheists who through no effort or work of their own just never acquired a religious affliction in the first place. They don’t need to identify with any cause, and I suspect that many of the defenders of dictionary atheism(and the regressive and slyme atheists) are of that variety.

    For them, atheism is merely a handy means to stroke their egos and feel superior to 5 or 6 billion people, and we may rightly call that brand of atheism useless.

  140. billforsternz says

    It always rankles me when the religious mock atheists on the basis that not believing in a god somehow makes life meaningless and condemns the non-believer as amoral and therefore contemptible. I detect a disturbing and ironic echo of that wrongheaded attitude in much of the commentary here.

    I am an atheist because it makes so much sense. It’s surprising and disturbing to me that such a huge proportion of population seem to more-or-less unthinkingly accept the mysticism and magic implied by the alternative. I think atheism is the natural default way to be. Let non-atheists differentiate themselves by how they live and what they do.

    I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do. If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

    For me you may as well ask why do I bother believing 2+2 = 4.

    For me morality and religious belief or the lack of it are uncoupled. Humans naturally tend to work out that treating others as you would like to be treated is a good idea. I learned my moral code from observing the behaviour of admirable people. Be kind, considerate, generous, respectful and calm. Look out in particular for those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Show empathy. It’s not rocket science is it.

  141. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    rorschach wrote:

    For them, atheism is merely a handy means to stroke their egos and feel superior to 5 or 6 billion people, and we may rightly call that brand of atheism useless.

    It’s the downside to having used the ‘atheism is the more intellectually credible option’ arguments against religion; a bunch of clueless, reflexive assholes got it in their heads that they’re geniuses and are now convinced everything that comes into their minds is somehow the product of critical thought when it most certainly isn’t.

  142. geroche says

    From what I can tell, everyone agrees that if someone is described as an atheist, all we can take away from that without further information about the person is the dictionary meaning. Similarly “evolutionist” probably has an objective (dictionary) meaning or two, but it might have (/give?) personal meanings to a great many people, such as “it’s why I don’t believe in god”, “it’s why I have no sympathy for the weak (not my opinion, nor implied to be a logical opinion)” etc.

    Is this what you’re saying? As if we were given the essay topic “What does atheism mean to YOU?”?

    If so, I agree with pretty much everyone. In communication, the only meaning I (or anyone? I’m genuinely curious if people disagree) can safely take from the use of the word ‘atheist’ is that the person being describes as such doesn’t believe in any deities. I don’t think I can derive any other meaning from the word. From there, what it “means” (ie. how it shapes a person) is something more personal and therefore subjective.

    When people discuss atheism, they may want to communicate that greater meaning to me, but they will have to qualify the greater meaning with other words. Similarly, I could say I’m an atheist, then go on to say I’m also an animal rights activist.

    PZ

    Jesus fuck.

    If atheism entailed anything other than lack of belief in any god or gods, then FtB/PZ would not have needed to invent A+.

    Bye.

    New rule: anyone so idiotic as to echo standard slymepit stupidity like that is going to be outta here.

    For what it’s worth, that didn’t seem necessary. He/she retracted the PZ claim. If that wasn’t the “slymepit” stupidity, I don’t quite follow. I don’t recall seeing other objections to his/her point. I think, like what I was saying above, he/she was focusing on the fact that A+ implies to people that it’s the basic definition ‘plus’ what isn’t communicable by the word alone. The PZ claim was retracted very quickly, and doesn’t seem the most unlikely of misconceptions for a person to have.

  143. says

    Geroche:

    For what it’s worth, that didn’t seem necessary. He/she retracted the PZ claim. If that wasn’t the “slymepit” stupidity, I don’t quite follow. I don’t recall seeing other objections to his/her point. I think, like what I was saying above, he/she was focusing on the fact that A+ implies to people that it’s the basic definition ‘plus’ what isn’t communicable by the word alone. The PZ claim was retracted very quickly, and doesn’t seem the most unlikely of misconceptions for a person to have.

    Well, you certainly seem to have missed my objection to the fact that what skephtic was saying wasn’t true, and neither was attempting to tell me that I was using a double standard. That said, while it may not seem necessary to you, there’s a reason PZ reacted in the way he did. You see, it’s a standard declaration by people who tend to be dishonest, that PZ invented A+ and that FTB is his network. Neither one of those things is true, and they are a known talking point by those who inhabit the slymepit. There’s a considerable amount of history involved here, so yes, such a reaction can seem unnecessary to someone unaware of that history, however, it’s something which has been brought up so often that it’s hardly worth debunking yet again, and it’s a talking point used by people shown to be dishonest, time and time again.

  144. jste says

    You can be an Atheist in idle mode. e.g. just because you were never trained to believe in gods and that’s it.

    For the record, since there seem to be a number of people arguing that dictionary atheists simply do not exist, Yubal’s description here was me until a few years ago. Religion didn’t exist in our house. The only time we ever did the church thing was for christenings and weddings. We never discussed god or morality or ethics. High school religious ed classes? That book was obviously ridiculous, but it was a nice jumping off point into ancient history and wanting to know the “why” of things. I knew the word atheism, and I quite gladly applied that label to myself, but beyond a label, it had no meaning for me. My atheism didn’t influence my morals and ethics, my parents’ actions did, and my parents’ punishment when I did something they disagreed with did.

    It wasn’t until I discovered (read: had a close friend start sending me links to pharyngula posts) more activist-minded atheists (glances around at the variety of different people in this thread) and my worldview and my understanding of what atheism means has grown exponentially – So from a data point of one, I am quite sure that dictionary atheists really can exist – but those dictionary atheists are almost definitely not going to be here, reading this blog, and bothering to comment, one way or the other.

  145. geroche says

    Caine

    Well, you certainly seem to have missed my objection to the fact that what skephtic was saying wasn’t true, and neither was attempting to tell me that I was using a double standard. That said, while it may not seem necessary to you, there’s a reason PZ reacted in the way he did. You see, it’s a standard declaration by people who tend to be dishonest, that PZ invented A+ and that FTB is his network. Neither one of those things is true, and they are a known talking point by those who inhabit the slymepit. There’s a considerable amount of history involved here, so yes, such a reaction can seem unnecessary to someone unaware of that history, however, it’s something which has been brought up so often that it’s hardly worth debunking yet again, and it’s a talking point used by people shown to be dishonest, time and time again.

    To which objection do you refer? I did see you objection to the PZ claim, but whether or not skephtic saw the objection (released under a minute earlier than his retraction) was unclear to me. Even if they had seen it, the retraction was immediate. If you’re referring to my recollection of not seeing objections to his/her point, that was for objections against the idea of the + being necessary in the name of an atheist organisation with humanitarian (and possibly other) sensibilities.

  146. says

    jste:

    So from a data point of one, I am quite sure that dictionary atheists really can exist – but those dictionary atheists are almost definitely not going to be here, reading this blog, and bothering to comment, one way or the other.

    That’s an excellent summary, and an excellent point. Thank you.

  147. geroche says

    Ahh, it occurs to me that when I said “other objections” it may have sounded like I was saying “objections from people other than PZ”. I actually meant it to be understood as “objections other than those pertaining to the claim that PZ created A+”. I don’t think Caine would have responded, had I phrased it less ambiguously.

    Hope that’s clear now. Sorry for the double post.

  148. says

    geroche:

    Even if they had seen it, the retraction was immediate.

    The point being, they shouldn’t have gone with the declaration in the first place, as not only was it untrue, it had no place in a valid argument, and had all the earmarks of pointless discussion and a reiteration of stock slymepit chat.

    If you’re referring to my recollection of not seeing objections to his/her point, that was for objections against the idea of the + being necessary in the name of an atheist organisation with humanitarian (and possibly other) sensibilities.

    It would be much easier to follow you if you use the singular they/their when referring to a person. As for any of or all of skephtic’s points, they were being argued against by a variety of people. Anyway, there’s little point to this discussion, as skephtic was banned, and going on about it is getting off topic. If you would like to continue discussing the banning, perhaps you would move the discussion to Thunderdome, which is an open thread, so there would be no worries about derailing the discussion here.

  149. vaiyt says

    atheism does not encompass feminism.

    Yet, it necessarily does away with god-given justifications for misogyny.

  150. Jacob Schmidt says

    I’ll catch up when I’ve had my sleep. I just want to note this:

    So you’re an atheist. Now what? Apparently, you and sbuh and spitz want to argue that being an atheist means nothing much of anything. So why bother being an atheist and in particular, why are you here arguing about it?

    The motives of the arguer are irrelevant to the validity of the argument; it’s grating to see such a response repeatedly in this thread. Come the fuck on, I’ve had arguments about the love lives of cartoon characters. This is the fucking internet. Plus, calling people ignorant idiots is a good way to make people want to defend themselves; starting a fight and then criticizing people for fighting back is just asinine.

  151. L Boden says

    I don’t think it’s mob mentality to take a word for what it is defined to mean. Unless you want to go really extreme and say The Man isn’t going to tell you what ANY word means, but I think that would mak communication rather difficult.

    Yes, a lot of atheists are skeptical (for example), but those words still mean what they mean, they don’t absorb each others meaning just because they go together so often. Clarity of language is a boon to any rational person, so muddying words with other definitions just makes everything less clear. And using the term “dictionary atheist” seems totally ridiculous. Right now I am petting a dictionary cat, and I am wearing a dictionary shirt while sitting on my dictionary bed. What?

    Yes, an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in god. If that person has other traits too, you’re welcome to say them as well. Use your words! I really don’t understand the problem with that. Though I also don’t understand the point in posting this reply when PZ has continually insisted atheist means übermensch, and there’s already a 170+ comment thread going on so undoubtedly if anyone was going to be convinced, they would already be! This all just seems so simple I don’t understand how this is even an issue of debate.

  152. Richard Glover says

    I think this comes down more to a disconnect in reasoning than anything else. For those who side with the dictionary camp no one is suggesting the meaning changes, only the context and implications (at least as I understand it).

    Today we live in a world which is still heavily influenced by religion, it’s all over the place. You cannot remain an atheist by default, totally ignorant of religion. So that means you can either be an atheist through logic, or an atheist through an illogical process (such as simply hating an aspect of religion, or personally hating god for some reason). Given that the latter is I would guess far rarer than the former, if you say you are an atheist today, odds are you came to a rational and logical decision which has implications as to how you think and therefore what you will think.

    It won’t be a flawless matchup, the whole feminism thing which has blown up recently is a good example of falsely assumed morals but generally if someone asks you what religion you are and you say I don’t believe in god, it will say more about you than the literal words.

  153. Tony! The Immorally Inferior Queer Shoop! says

    For me, becoming an atheist led to my support for social justice because I asked myself ” If there is no god, then…”:

    What is wrong with homosexuality?
    Why should any woman be subservient to anyone?
    Should I support or oppose the death penalty?
    How do I feel about abortion?
    Why shouldn’t you have a glass of wine?
    Why shouldn’t I learn to dance?
    …and more.
    Believing in a god or gods carries a variety of baggage. Why would nonbelief not be the same? Atheism doesn’t lead to a specific conclusion, but nonbelief should cause one to reassess their other beliefs (Applied Atheism if you will).

  154. says

    “It’s a bit unreasonable to expect one word to able to describe the similarities and differences between the Ayn Rands and Rebecca Watsons of the world.”

    It’s a bit like getting annoyed that calling both of them ‘women’ doesn’t tell us much about all the differences between them. That doesn’t mean we get annoyed with the word ‘woman’ or ‘women’ – “What, you think ONE word can describe three or four billion people?!” – it just means we accept there are additional words we can use to describe the differences between them.

    Sure, there are big differences between one atheist and another atheist, but equally there are big differences between one theist and another theist.

  155. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    177
    andrewryan

    It’s a bit like getting annoyed that calling both of them ‘women’ doesn’t tell us much about all the differences between them.

    But no one is stupid enough to insist being a woman doesn’t effect your woldview or life in any way. Unlike ‘Atheist’.

    it just means we accept there are additional words we can use to describe the differences between them.

    Tell that to the fuckers that complain about ‘corrupting’ atheism because we’re feminists and social justice advocates. They insist the only focus for atheists or the movement is other people’s religion.

  156. Anri says

    PZ said:

    Those are all legitimate atheist causes. I’m not saying that you have to become a philosopher to be an atheist — I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do. If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

    And I think the supporters of dictionary atheism (DA) might say that since there is no consistency in what these conclusions from atheism end up actually being (PZ, Stalin and Rand all presumably being atheists), the word isn’t of any use except to denote a lack of belief in god(s).

    An anti-DA says, quite correctly, “Atheism has ramifications for the way you live your life!”.
    A pro-DA asks “What ramifications are those? What conclusions must an atheist come to?”
    “Well, it’s different from person to person – it’s not fair to make the same assumptions about all atheists.”
    “Ok, since we can’t say anything concrete about these additional things, what’s the point in mentioning them?”

    To put it another way, I think the argument is that as both PZ and Stalin are atheists, what philosophical or moral conclusions deriving from that atheism do they share?
    If newborns are atheists, what aspects of their lives does that inform?

    Personally, I suspect DA advocates are technically – and trivially – correct, and I just use modifiers for the term ‘atheist’ to make what I mean clear (humanist, freethinker, etc). A good example would be PZ using the modifier ‘intelligent’ when discussing atheists here. If ‘atheist’ was sufficient, ‘intelligent’ as a modifier wouldn’t be needed.

  157. Reeve Armstrong says

    I don’t like the word freethought, especially if it doesn’t mean exactly what it says on the tin because then it’s like a term from minispeak. My understanding was that being a freethinker implied that one does not let traditional societal conventions influence what ideas one considers to be acceptable. In other words: A freethinker is someone who is prepared to be a heretic. (And as Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote, “Heresy is the only bitter remedy against the entropy of human thought.”)

    Regarding the word atheism: We do need to have words that have simple definitions in addition to words with more complex connotations, simply for the sake of clarity. For example, many Buddhists do not believe in a personal god although they do believe in re-incarnation. Now, it would clearly be ignorant to claim that atheism means someone who does not believe in a god, an afterlife, a soul etc. since there are these Buddhists who believe both in an after-life while also disbelieving in a personal god.

    Atheism is defined more by what it isn’t than what it is – rather like the Buddhist doctrine of the Void :P

  158. says

    For what it’s worth, that didn’t seem necessary. He/she retracted the PZ claim. If that wasn’t the “slymepit” stupidity, I don’t quite follow.

    It was necessary. It was just too, too stupid, and was a marker that we were dealing with an ignorant ass who didn’t give a damn about the facts. He clearly had not read anything from Atheism+, where he might note my absence, and instead an acknowledgement of Jen and Greta’s roles in inspiring it; he might also have noted a great many different people commenting there that don’t include me. He might have noticed that FtB doesn’t claim any authority over Atheism+; we acknowledge their existence, some of our bloggers like them to varying degrees, some do not, but we also link to and recognize, for instance, Skepchick, and that does not mean in any way that we “own” them.

    Skephtic put up a great big sign that said he was an asshole and waved it vigorously. Gone.

  159. Doug Hudson says

    Going back to freethought for a moment, it’s interesting to compare the debate over that word with the debate over “atheist”.

    Everyone agrees on the meaning of the word “atheist”–a person who does not believe in gods. The argument is over where one goes from there. Some people don’t like PZ’s proposals about where atheism should lead, and so they try to undermine his arguments by quoting the dictionary.

    With “freethought”, though, it is quite clear that a lot of people DON’T know what the word means (it doesn’t mean “free thought”.) PZ provides the dictionary definition. Some people don’t like the dictionary definition, so they try to undermine his arguments by arguing against the dictionary.

    Amusingly enough, it’s generally the same group of people arguing against PZ in both cases.

    Because they don’t want to engage his actual arguments, which have to do with social justice.

  160. says

    I don’t like the word freethought, especially if it doesn’t mean exactly what it says on the tin

    Please, go join the literalist asshats at Answers in Genesis, who likewise detest the idea that language is complex and rich.

    There isn’t one single word in the entirety of the English language that means “exactly what it says on the tin.”

  161. Reeve Armstrong says

    You quote-mined my comment Myers or you didn’t read it all. It’s apparent that I do not detest complex and rich language.

    I thought you were a published academic? Anyway, the word “No” means exactly what it says on the tin. Especially with issues regarding consent. Wouldn’t you agree? ;)

  162. Doug Hudson says

    Reeve Armstrong @184, In certain circumstances (consent) “no” is unambiguous. In other circumstances, it is not (sarcastic “oh no!”).

    Nice of you to prove PZ’s point for hm.

  163. says

    I agree with you if you’re saying that people who use the definition of atheism as the nonbelief in god(s) to mean that a person can’t come to any other conclusions based on that are wrong. I would still say that this definition is the minimum standard for being referred to as an atheist. I mean, I’m a skeptic atheist, but I know people who I would call atheist and even refer to themselves as atheist who nonetheless believe in ghosts and psychic powers and that there is some “higher dimension” our consciousnesses continue to live in after death. It’s all very pseudo-scientific, but also completely absent anything that could be termed a god. I’m assuming you’re not saying that these nonskeptical atheists aren’t actually atheists, but that you’re merely protesting the assertion that one cannot apply other labels on top of atheism (such as skepticism, feminism, etc.). It’s not 100% clear to me from your post and subsequent comments, though.

  164. Reeve Armstrong says

    @185 My last two sentences were a bit of rhetorical fun; not conviction. Besides, my original point is not that language ought to be simple – as Myers has tried to make it look – it’s that we should still have simple meanings alongside more nuanced ones, and that atheism clearly has to be one of the simple ones.

  165. Doug Hudson says

    Reeve Armstrong @187,

    PZ’s point is that the simple definition of “atheism” is just the start of the conversation. Fine, atheists don’t believe gods. Where do we go from there? What are the implications of not believing in gods? What moral system should atheists adopt, since we don’t get it from religion?

    Every atheist needs to answer these questions for themselves, of course. But it is a fantastic discussion to have. Or it would be, if people wouldn’t keep blathering about how atheism just means not believing in gods.

  166. Reeve Armstrong says

    I don’t think that disbelief in gods has any further implications, itself. The reasons why one disbelieves are where implications of other things can start to be inferred.

  167. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Okay, fine. I’ll grant that there are in fact dictionary atheists out there, for whom their atheism doesn’t inform their actions, who don’t draw any conclusions (moral, ethical, philosophical, political…) from their atheism.

    Fine. I’ll grant that.

    Here’s what I really don’t get: why are so many dictionary atheists so furious that some people want to say, “because I am an atheist, I ____”? Why is that so offensive to them?

    Seriously, I do not get it.

  168. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Reeve Armstrong @189

    Okay, I’ll accept that. But that, really, is a restating of what PZ said before: the person who is an atheist because they’re angry at the church is going to act in ways that the person who is an atheist because of their scientific bent does not.

    In a way, we’re going back to an earlier thread, the taxonomy of atheism. People are atheists for any number of reasons, and their thoughts and actions are affected by their atheism in many different ways.

  169. Rey Fox says

    Here’s what I really don’t get: why are so many dictionary atheists so furious that some people want to say, “because I am an atheist, I ____”?

    I suspect that for many atheists, atheism means that nobody can tell them what to do. This is true on its face, but it usually gets taken further into “Nobody can even suggest what I should do!”

  170. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    I don’t think that disbelief in gods has any further implications, itself.

    Racism is supported by the Christian bible. So is misogyny. So is the idea that children are not actual people. So is being anti-GLBTQ. So is economic inequity. So is magical thinking. So is the idea that the we must destroy our biosphere in order to bring Jesus back again. Equal rights is not supported by the bible. Nor is any government programme to help the poor or sick. Education is actively discouraged by the bible.

    So, Reeve Armstrong @189, you see no further implication stemming from a disbelief in gods? None? So I can call myself an atheist and still support, actively or passively, the current paradigm of Abraham patriarchy?

  171. mirrorfield says

    Nerd of Redhead @144

    Similarly, atheism does not encompass feminism.

    Actually it follows if you see women as full humans, with full human rights. DUH.

    This does not follow. You can be both an atheist and a full-bore misogynist who doesn’t believe women are fully sapient. (Note that the latter is a worldview I personally do not subscribe to.) Neither of these viewpoints exclude or imply other.

    Even if you’re an atheist, you can subscribe to all sorts of reprehensible views. Racism, misogynism, stalinism, juche, khmer rouge ideology, objectivism… You can subscribe to any of these without believing in any god(s). In fact, several of these worldviews have atheism as a prerequisite.

    Only “entailment” to worldview or ideology implied by atheism is lack of divine commandments or divine revelations, especially as it’s basis. And this is an exclusion, not an inclusion. It does have quite deep significance because much of the western culture and philosophy has theistic, namely christian, basis.

  172. reggiedunlap says

    PZ is such an angry man. I hope his anger doesn’t scare away the bats on his free trip to Austin. People go on that cruise to see bats not tantrums.

  173. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Reggiedunlap @195

    PZ is such an angry man. I hope his anger doesn’t scare away the bats on his free trip to Austin. People go on that cruise to see bats not tantrums.

    …you’ve never actually met PZ, have you? I have. He’s more like a teddy bear than a grizzly bear.

  174. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    reggiedunlap @ 195:

    Do you have any evidence for your assertion? (hint: frustration is not anger, being passionate (in this case, passionate about human rights) is not a tantrum)

  175. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This does not follow. You can be both an atheist and a full-bore misogynist who doesn’t believe women are fully sapient. (Note that the latter is a worldview I personally do not subscribe to.) Neither of these viewpoints exclude or imply other.

    If one is enough of a freethinker to challenge the existence of god and become an atheist, it isn’t even a minor stretch to challenge the Xian based patriarchal morality system and see women as full and equal human beings. It derives from the same questioning of the established cultural mores. It is tied into the reason many people become atheists, that is seeing beyond the culture as it is, to what it could be.

    Those who stay misogynists are afraid to intellectually challenge the Xian patriarchal culture. Personally, they are scared of competition.

  176. Doug Hudson says

    Reeve Armstrong @189,

    Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, pure and untarnished (unless you’re one of those silly Platonists).

    Every human culture is based around belief in gods. Even the United States–the First Amendment bit about religion wouldn’t have been necessary if religious belief hadn’t been so strong in colonial American culture.

    By rejection the belief in gods, an atheist is, de facto, rejecting a major part of his or her culture. There are very real, sometimes deadly, consequences to rejecting one’s culture.

    Ask an atheist from Bangladesh whether atheism is just “not believing in gods”. Ask an atheist from Saudi Arabia–oh wait, there aren’t any, because it’s a death sentence.

    Or hell, just read PZ’s posts about the ridiculous carillon in his town’s cemetery.

    Atheists for whom atheism is just “not believing in gods” are either very lucky or very oblivious.

  177. says

    Monitor Note:

    reggiedunlap @ 195:

    PZ is such an angry man. I hope his anger doesn’t scare away the bats on his free trip to Austin. People go on that cruise to see bats not tantrums.

    This is an inappropriate comment to this thread, Reggie. If you wish to make such an aside, there’s a thread where it’s somewhat more appropriate: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/09/25/myers-to-enter-church-then-go-bats/

    If you wish to comment more in this thread, please write about the topic at hand. Thanks.

  178. Matthew Buckley says

    @190

    Here’s what I really don’t get: why are so many dictionary atheists so furious that some people want to say, “because I am an atheist, I ____”? Why is that so offensive to them?

    I usually see the dictionary definition brought out when someone says “because you are an atheist, you ____”. The only thing that you can confidently put in that blank is “don’t believe in gods”, and the dictionary definition is brought out when someone fills the blank with something else that turns out not to be true.

  179. Doug Hudson says

    Matthew Buckley @202,

    The whole point is to discuss what should go in the blank.

    PZ has said many times that he isn’t trying to dictate what goes in the blank, he’s just making suggestions.

    A+ is one possible answer, but there are others.

  180. dogfightwithdogma says

    Nerd of Redhead @112

    Gee, show me a citation where PZ is a founder of A+ or acknowledge you are nothing…

    Caine @118

    The origins of A+ are well known, and it’s up to you, being a great genius skeptic and all to have your facts straight before you start making crap up out of whole cloth.

    In case you missed it, Skephtic acknowledged the error and apologized for it back at post #101

  181. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    In case you missed it, Skephtic acknowledged the error and apologized for it back at post #101

    Keep in mind, that there is often a delay between reading a post, and posting the response to it. You’ve had a day to make a response to what you see is bad technique on our parts. This often happens, and I don’t see any problem. It is also warning the next person that they will be expected to check their facts first.

    Your real point is what????

  182. Matthew Buckley says

    Doug Hudson @203

    I understand that, but in my experience, the dictionary is usually brought out when someone tries to fill in the blank for other people.

    When it comes to filling in the blank for oneself, I think there are some different assumptions conflicting in this argument. For myself, I would have trouble filling in that blank, because to me it was the default. I never considered believing in gods, and I never made any decision along the lines of “if there’s no God, then I can do X” – belief in God had never prevented me from doing X in the first place, so that thought wouldn’t occur.

    But when PZ talks about the different ways one arrives at atheism and the ways they can result in how one fills in the blank, I see a “correlation vs causation” issue. A lot of the way this debate is framed makes me think of causation (my atheism leads to ___), which doesn’t resonate with me personally, but I think PZ is really trying to go for correlation (something within me led to my atheism, and that something can also lead to ___). While I am unsure what would go in the latter blank, I feel more confident that, for me, there is something that would go there than I do for the former.

  183. Doug Hudson says

    Matthew Buckley @206,

    Again, it’s not a discussion of what leads to atheism, it’s about what atheism should lead to.

    PZ is proposing a moral framework based around atheism. If you disagree with the moral framework, that’s fine, but you can’t really dispute his right to suggest an atheist philosophy.

    And if you think PZ is insisting that all atheists should follow his philosophy, you need to re-read his posts.

  184. says

    One incredibly simple way to avoid the conflict with members the superficial mob like myself would be to define your terms as you write your posts. Especially if you want to use a definition which isn’t accepted by a large proportion of people.

    If you want me to define my further moral ideas then i might tell you I’m a humanist, or be more specific. However my atheism is simply my rejection of this idea of a god. I would prefer if i had no need to have a title because i reject supernatural idiocy but i do.

    As for the issue of the word free thought. Either you are twisting its definition, Or someone made a really poor choice in naming a something after 2 things which it apparently has nothing to do with. I believe most compound words (since words by definition mean what they mean) mean the combination of the 2 words (or word and suffix/prefix) they are made up of. For example A|theist means not|theist.

  185. Matthew Buckley says

    I don’t disagree with his moral framework, I don’t dispute his right to suggest it, and I don’t begrudge his reaction to anyone who does.

    But I think he gets pushback from people who basically agree with him, and I think that that pushback is basically based on differing approaches to the concepts involved.

    I have a worldview that, so far as I can see, matches the philosophy that PZ proposes. I don’t think it comes from my atheism except to the extent that I didn’t have any religious dogma that would override it.

    I think my worldview led to my atheism, in that by the time I realized that there were people who took religion seriously, I had no temptation to join them. At that point, all that changed was that I applied the label to myself, rather than just being an atheist by default. I was lucky enough to never be indoctrinated, so I never had to make the big decision to reject it.

    And I think that some people lose their religion because at some point the conflicts between their worldview and their dogma is too much, and for those people it is that worldview that led to atheism rather than the other way round.

    To an extent it is this worldview that is being posited as “what atheism should lead to”, and I think that at least some of the pushback is based on people who may fully or partially agree on the philosophy, but not the causation. It’s a philosophy that comes from who you are and how you were brought up, and perhaps it is easier to adopt if you are unfettered by the arbitrary dogma of a particular religion. But I feel that the absence of restrictions on a philosophy isn’t quite the same as a source of a philosophy

    The idea of using atheism as a source of philosophy doesn’t quite work for me, as it relies on the language of religion in order to even articulate itself. “There is no god to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior” only would occur to you if you start out thinking there might be, and then reject it. But once you do, you may react by saying “so we must build a society that does so to some extent”, or you may say “so I can do as I wish with no fear of consequences”. But which reaction you have is something that comes from you and your underlying philosophy, given the same atheistic input.

  186. Maureen Brian says

    OK, Michael Beswick @ 208, I admit that we over-estimated you.

    When something called Freethought Blogs came along I and a thousand others immediately nodded and thought to ourselves, “yes, that fits a tradition with which I am very familiar” and another thousand or more thought, “I’d better research this unfamiliar concept.”

    Not you, though! You want us to take apart a compound term in use for about 3 centuries and redefine it down to idiot level so that you don’t have to stretch a single brain cell.

    You do, though, illustrate another problem with dictionary atheists. Whether they believe it or not, many of them behave as though they were the first person – evah! – to work out there is no god, demanding all the praise and none of the effort of finding out what all the people who came to that conclusion long ago then thought and did. Looks like either laziness or arrogance to me and I will not give up my claim on an intellectual tradition of which I am proud just to make you comfortable.

    If you haven’t read Alex Gabriel’s excellent piece – linked in the OP – then now might be a great time to do it.

  187. says

    Michael Beswick:

    As for the issue of the word free thought.

    It’s freethought. A word and a philosophical concept which has a very long history attached to it. Freethought. The Freethought that is in pretty blue is a link, please click it and educate yourself. This is not “we get to make words mean anything we like”, a la Humpty Dumpty.*
     
    * If you don’t know that quote, please, don’t tell me. I do not want to know.

  188. says

    @Maureen Brian
    This strikes me as one massive ad-hom, if i was a petty person (which i maybe partially am) i would question if your confidence and willingness to have your mind changed is at all strong if you must dot the list with what amounts to “you are stupid hahahahaha this is what you think “i am stupid” hahahaha”. Ignoring that.

    You have your own definition for freethought and some folks have used it for whatever. However when someone like myself who is not versed in the etymology of this particular word comes along and sees “free-thought”, I don’t think you can complain when they think you mean the definition of free and thought without defining your terms.

    Not sure what to say about the arrogance bit. It’s just another ad-hom.

  189. says

    @Caine, Fleur du mal
    Exactly, we can’t make a word mean whatever we want it to, it’s the reason the dictionaries do not define words as much as describe their common definition. It’s how the word is perceived which matters.

    If you want to call this…whatever it is freethought, then define it. Having a hissy fit when people like myself come along and interpret freethought as free|thought is just childish and not at all productive.

  190. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I don’t think you can complain when they think you mean the definition of free and thought without defining your terms.

    Where and when did the magick hyfen appear, that gave you permission to arbitrarily make up your own definition without doing any research to check and see if you are wrong, and there was already one in place?

  191. says

    Michael Beswick:

    This strikes me as one massive ad-hom

    You seem to have a genuine problem with words and what they mean. An ad hominem is not the same as an insult, nor is it the same as a person’s opinion of how you come across. More pretty blue words for you: Ad hominem. Please click and learn.

    Maureen was responding to what you wrote, Michael. She has formed certain opinions based on that writing. She did not declare “you look funny, so your argument is no good!” Try to keep up, please, and put some effort into presenting a valid argument.

  192. says

    @Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls
    There is multiple definitions, if you insist on using a less common one then you should define your terms. Not only is it good practise in general but it avoids confusion.

  193. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    There is multiple definitions, if you insist on using a less common one then you should define your terms. Not only is it good practise in general but it avoids confusion.

    You are the one using the not well defined term, and that is the case until you evidence yourself otherwise….Where is even one link to a definition in your posts? We’ve linked to freethought; I did it well upthread.

  194. says

    Michael Beswick:

    If you want to call this…whatever it is freethought, then define it. Having a hissy fit when people like myself come along and interpret freethought as free|thought is just childish and not at all productive.

    Holy shit, you’re a lot of work. First, you need to work on what words mean, then we can chat. Did you click the link I provided for you? Because that’s the definition we’re working from, and has been. Also, did you read Alex’s post, the one quoted and linked in PZ’s post? Because if not, you aren’t operating with the requisite knowledge.

    Now, lose things like ‘hissy fit’, please. That’s not only historically gendered, and we don’t do gendered slurs here, it’s non-productive and inaccurate. Just because someone is speaking their mind or being blunt does not mean they are having a fit of any kind. Thanks.

  195. says

    Define “all night”. It’s still daylight here.

    Define “arguing”. Is that what you’re doing?

    Define “suspect”, “good”, “fun”, “folks”.

    Thanks!

  196. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yep, daylight here too. Got to try out the new teapot on orders from the Redhead.

  197. Doug Hudson says

    Matthew Buckley @209, (not to be confused with that Michael Beswick idiot),

    I think perhaps you are over-thinking the whole thing a bit. If you are already a humanist, feminist, or just generally a decent human being, then this whole conversation isn’t really aimed at you. In fact, if you aren’t an atheist activist, this conversation isn’t really aimed at you, mostly because you probably wouldn’t be aware of it.

    But there are a lot of atheist activists who aren’t humanists, feminists, or generally decent human beings. Dawkins, for example, displays rather nasty misogyny. Other atheist activists are notable racists. And the worst are the atheists who are almost identical to theists except for the belief in god. I mean, if you are going to keep all the nastiness that comes with religion, why discard the god part?

    Anyway, some people have been using the “dictionary definition” as a cover for a whole lot of really nasty behavior. I don’t get the sense that you are one of them, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

  198. billforsternz says

    Doug Hudson @224

    But there are a lot of atheist activists who aren’t humanists, feminists, or generally decent human beings. Dawkins, for example, displays rather nasty misogyny.

    I think the trouble with this is that you have a very narrow view of what constitutes a generally decent human being. A lot of the pushback in these discussions boils down to this point I think. Dawkins is not a generally decent human being ? Really ? Sorry being a generally decent human being does not mean having the exactly the same position as you on a whole range of subtle and nuanced issues.

    Doug Hudson @200

    By rejection the belief in gods, an atheist is, de facto, rejecting a major part of his or her culture.

    This is no doubt true in many parts of the world, including the very religious USA. But perhaps you’d feel differently if you grew up in a liberal West European democracy, or Australasia perhaps, where a secular worldview is basically the default and truly devout theists are pretty thin on the ground. I haven’t rejected my culture at all, I’ve embraced the best parts of it. The worst parts of it including racism, sexism and homophobia are increasingly historical curiosities.

  199. Ingdigo Jump says

    I think the trouble with this is that you have a very narrow view of what constitutes a generally decent human being. A lot of the pushback in these discussions boils down to this point I think. Dawkins is not a generally decent human being ? Really ? Sorry being a generally decent human being does not mean having the exactly the same position as you on a whole range of subtle and nuanced issues.

    I like that my and other’s status as equals is a subtle and nuanced point.

  200. says

    billforsternz:

    Dawkins is not a generally decent human being? Really?

    Point of view is rather important here. Dawkins has said some terribly sexist, racist, and incredibly wrong-headed things (like in his view, teaching children about hell is worse than being molested), and yes, I think he’s tossed his decent human being card out the window. Not because he has made missteps, we all do that. Because he has not only refused to examine his positions and words about these matters, but continues on in these veins, notably on twitter, with a sprinkling on his site.

    I’m a woman, so I don’t view his stances on sexism or feminism in anything approaching a positive light. I’m mixed race, so I don’t much care for his racism on a personal level, as well as a social justice level. I was raped as a child and taught about hell. Dawkins has every right to his own feelings on such matters, however, he has no business speaking for anyone else on such matters. He’s doubled down, tripled down, quadrupled down on these things. In doing all these things, Dawkins has encouraged and enabled all those who embrace toxic sexism and racism. He is actively doing damage, and seems to feel it’s okay for him to do so.

  201. Ingdigo Jump says

    But you know that’s how it goes. White Het, Rich is default. Everyone else is some naunced or subtle foot note.

    Decent person indeed.

    Dawkins is an indecent fucker because it’s clear he only gives a shit about sexism or abuses of power because he can use it to score points against the religious.

  202. says

    Ing:

    But you know that’s how it goes. White Het, Rich is default. Everyone else is some naunced or subtle foot note.

    Yeah, I know. If anything, I’m too accustomed to that viewpoint anymore, ’cause it slides right past me all the time. There’s just so much you can take.

  203. Matthew Buckley says

    Doug Hudson @204

    I would agree, except that PZs “stupid atheists” posts seem to describe my viewpoint, at least literally if not in spirit.

    You idiot atheists just pretend you can ignore the consequences of “there is no god” and abide by moral and social systems that were formulated under the bogus criteria of “there is a god, and priests can communicate with him.”

    Stupid atheists think that the fundamental conclusion of their philosophy has no meaning. Go away, please.

    I don’t consider the lack of a god as a fundamental conclusion of my philosophy, any more than is the lack of Russel’s teapot. Someone who was brought up religious, and had to go through the effort of ridding themselves of it probably would. But I think that any philosophy that atheists have is the same philosophy that causes religious people to pick and choose between aspects and interpretations of their religion, or even pick which religion to follow – an inherent human social balancing act between selfishness and cooperation. Many religious people use their internal compass to ignore the bogus moral and social systems their religion may otherwise support, many priests through the ages have used their moral compasses to steer their religions, and an atheist can subsume their moral compass into Objectivism just as deeply as a fundamentalist can do so into religion.

    But since I mostly agree with PZ’s conclusions, and am mostly reacting to some rhetoric he used, I think I may end up seeming like a concern troll. So I’ll leave it at that.

  204. mykroft says

    Having read through this long thread, I think the key human attribute that may at the root of this discussion is compartmentalization. One would think that if one applies critical reasoning to one area in their life and it works, they would naturally apply it to all the other areas of their lives. Yet we have
    – scientists who are adamantly religious
    – Christians who have absolutely no problem reconciling their beliefs with hate speech, a loathing of the poor, etc.
    – Atheists and/or skeptics who believe in woo

    and many other examples of mental oxymoronism.

    Yes, being an atheist has implications. It implies that we should develop a moral code based on real world principles. (Personally, I like to tell devout Christians I don’t have morals, I have ethics. Morality to me is a concept too tightly coupled with religion.) But humans compartmentalize, perhaps because they are too lazy or are too comfortable with other aspects of their lives, and they resist change.

    This may be especially true if introspection might uncover something ugly about themselves. That they have been bigots, misogynists, or perhaps worst of all (in the eyes of some), just plain wrong. So the walls go up, compartments get hardened and reinforced with rationalizations. And they resist like hell anyone who tells them they have to look behind those carefully constructed walls.

    PZ has found that critical analysis is a wondrous tool, and everything about the universe (including ourselves) is fair game. I think there are many in the community here that feel the same way, stripping religion and all other forms of self deception away for unblinking, critical review. For them, of course this leads to obvious, logical implications:
    – We’re all equal, regardless of sex, orientation, social status, etc. There is no God separating the good from the evil based on a poor choice of ancestors or living a different lifestyle
    – As such each of us is equally deserving of respect, unless our actions prove otherwise. Said actions are judged based on the harm (or good) that we do to others in our society.
    – Because we are all equally deserving of respect, we have an obligation to help each other. To build a better society. To point out harmful behaviors, and try to get those who harm others to change. To make the world our children will live in better than the one we got.

    Not everyone wants to look at themselves closely in the mirror. Not everyone wants to recognize the fact that they are not the center of the universe. Not everyone wants to care about people other than themselves.

    I imagine many of the dictionary atheists PZ was railing against fall into these categories.

  205. says

    Mykroft:

    Not everyone wants to look at themselves closely in the mirror. Not everyone wants to recognize the fact that they are not the center of the universe. Not everyone wants to care about people other than themselves.

    Very true. Self-examination isn’t fun, and it’s understandable that people have a resistance to doing so. That was a well thought out post, Mykroft. Thank you.

  206. billforsternz says

    Ing:

    I like that my and other’s status as equals is a subtle and nuanced point.

    Good point.

    No not a good point. Nobody decent and fairminded is disputing your status as equals. Obviously you are equals. It doesn’t follow that the implications of that equality that you perceive are going to be the same implications as every other decent and fairminded person. The subtlety and nuance comes in those implications. It is unfair to accuse someone coming to a different conclusion to you on some controversy or the other that they therefore, ipso facto, dispute your status as equals and only care about rich, white and hetero people (borrowing from another response). It’s an absurd leap, but in essence that is what happens here all the time.

    At the risk of an off topic paragraph; My perception is that this is a community of extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive people, led by a particularly outstanding individual in PZ. The brilliant skewering of creationists and others who are completely detached from reality is second to none. But it’s a mistake to borrow the swagger from victory in such lopsided battles and imagine that the same contemptuous dismissal of opposing points of view is universally appropriate. Call me crazy but I think it is statistically unlikely that PZ is 100% correct on every controversy near to his heart. Maybe, just maybe this topic is one of the 1% or 10% or however many it may be where he has swung and missed. Certainly the harrumphing, the premature resorts to crude insults, the failure to address many fair points presented by critics in this thread adds weight to that possibility.

  207. billforsternz says

    Caine, Fleur du mal @227

    I was raped as a child and taught about hell. Dawkins has every right to his own feelings on such matters, however, he has no business speaking for anyone else on such matters.

    I hesitate to even comment, given such a horrible thing. My sympathy is unbounded. I will just make one point. What do you imagine would happen if you were to sit down with Richard Dawkins one on one, describe your experience and point out that for your reality was profoundly at odds with his generalization ? Obviously I can’t know what would happen, but if his reaction was unsupportive, that (for me) would be good evidence for Richard Dawkins not being a decent human being.

  208. jefrir says

    billforsternz, no. 236

    What do you imagine would happen if you were to sit down with Richard Dawkins one on one, describe your experience and point out that for your reality was profoundly at odds with his generalization ? Obviously I can’t know what would happen, but if his reaction was unsupportive, that (for me) would be good evidence for Richard Dawkins not being a decent human being.

    Well, he has so far failed to grasp the point (and many similar ones) when pointed out via the internet. Why should we expect a different response in meatspace, and why is that a relevant moral distinction?

  209. says

    billforsternz:

    What do you imagine would happen if you were to sit down with Richard Dawkins one on one, describe your experience and point out that for your reality was profoundly at odds with his generalization ? Obviously I can’t know what would happen, but if his reaction was unsupportive, that (for me) would be good evidence for Richard Dawkins not being a decent human being.

    I have a very good idea of what would happen, given that when Prof. Dawkins wrote his Dear Muslima I was right there, in that thread, and he was surprised at the pushback he received, so he asked people to explain it, with no naughty words, mind, and people did. Scores of them. He handwaved every single one of us, in favour of his own viewpoint, which was flat out wrong. I have no illusions about Prof. Dawkins. He writes good books, but outside of that, I dearly wish the man would keep his mouth shut, because he ain’t helping.

    He’s had similar pushback over things he has said, and refuses to consider them, and has been very insulting to people. The whole ‘one on one’ thing is irrelevant. Interactions on the internet are real life, what goes on here is not a figment of the imagination. Besides, Prof. Dawkins hasn’t been the least bit shy about stating objectionable things publicly. Why should they not be addressed publicly?

  210. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Certainly the harrumphing, the premature resorts to crude insults, the failure to address many fair points presented by critics in this thread adds weight to that possibility.

    The points by the critics weren’t fair. They are reflexive and ill thought out, lacking introspection and self-analysis. Which proves PZ’s point time and time again. Essentially, they say, “you can’t force me to think like you”, which isn’t what PZ says. Same as always whenever this topic is brought up.

  211. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    billforsternz:

    What do you imagine would happen if you were to sit down with Richard Dawkins one on one, describe your experience and point out that for your reality was profoundly at odds with his generalization ? Obviously I can’t know what would happen, but if his reaction was unsupportive, that (for me) would be good evidence for Richard Dawkins not being a decent human being.

    I know you asked this of Caine, but I may be qualified to add my own nickel on this one.

    I suspect that Dawkins would, most likely, listen politely, ask some intelligent questions about my experience and how it differs from his, and would not change his point of view about the effect that sexual assault can have on a child or an adult survivor. The reason he might view my statements with more nuance, that he might actually consider altering his views, is because I am white, middle-aged, cis-gendered, straight, middle class male. In other words, I look and sound like him (well, except for my semi-Southern USAnian accent). I suspect he would be supportive of me but would not alter his opinion.

    We’ve been through this recently. Dawkins came out and stated that he, and many other boys, had been sexually assaulted at a boy’s school and that it didn’t affect any of them! He extended his privileged experience, his level of trauma, his long-term reaction (which really is not that different than mine was before I started to remember the actual details of what happened), to the other boys at his school and, by extension, to all survivors of childhood sexual assault. And when this was pointed out, he doubled down.

    I have the utmost respect and love for Caine She has helped me through some tough times. And I see, quite clearly, that she is right: Dawkins would, in all probability, reject her experience and accept mine (probably without altering his views) because of who we are.

    There are some things I really admire about Dawkins. His unexamined privilege ain’t one of them.

  212. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    Sorry about the italicfail. The only words that were supposed to be italicized were “any of them!” All the rest is just collateral damage.

  213. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    Well, hell. That didn’t work.

    Sorry for the italic fail. The only words I meant to be italicized were “any of them!” The rest is just collateral damage. Sorry.

  214. says

    No not a good point. Nobody decent and fairminded is disputing your status as equals.

    Dawkins does, in practice. Do you not consider him ‘decent and fairminded’?

    s. It is unfair to accuse someone coming to a different conclusion to you on some controversy

    Like when Dawkins came to the conclusion that women’s problems aren’t real because muslim women exist, but white atheist problems are real in spite of ex-muslim atheists existing.

  215. says

    At one point, you said that; “Stupid atheists think that the fundamental conclusion of their philosophy has no meaning”

    This is an incorrect assessment, as atheism is not a philosophy. My personal philosophy is, of course, strongly affected by lack of a belief in gods, and as such, atheism is but one element of my philosophy. You yourself, make the argument for “dictionary atheism” by pointing to Objectivists and others with whom you disagree, but who are also atheists. If atheism was, in itself a “philosophy” then all atheists would share similar views – but they don’t, as you pointed out so eloquently.

    this is why many of us limit the word “atheist” to the lack of belief in god(s) – because that is consistent with a myriad of viewpoints. For example, if a person believed in a soul of some kind, and an afterlife that did not include any god, they would STILL be an atheist. I am currently outlining a sci fi/fantasy short story based on just such a premise.

    Face it, if atheism were a philosophy, there would be no need for Atheism +. The “Plus” would be part of the overall philosophy of atheism. Since it is not, one must add other things to make it a philosophy, and give it a different name.

  216. says

    One last question for you. Since it is possible for a non-believer (in gods) to believe in souls, afterlives, objectivism, non-literal Satanism, Buddhism, hedonism, liberalism, conservatism, functionalism, and anything else you can imagine as long as that belief does not also require belief in god, what word would you suggest that we replace “atheist” with? If you co-opt this simple word to mean something more than non-belief, would you kindly direct us to a replacement word for this simple concept?

  217. geroche says

    Ogvorbis

    Dawkins came out and stated that he, and many other boys, had been sexually assaulted at a boy’s school and that it didn’t affect any of them! He extended his privileged experience, his level of trauma, his long-term reaction (which really is not that different than mine was before I started to remember the actual details of what happened), to the other boys at his school and, by extension, to all survivors of childhood sexual assault. And when this was pointed out, he doubled down.

    Just a few nitpicks, unless you have quotes to back those points up. The “many other boys”, later referred to as “the other boys at his school”, should be interpreted as friends (or potentially classmates) with whom he discussed the abuse with. Dawkins statement along the lines that “it didn’t affect any of them!” should be interpreted as the less certain but nonetheless existent view that “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm”.

    It may be the case that he has extended his ‘lack of lasting harm’ onto his friends, but it seems just as likely that this could be based on discussions. Regardless, he has apologized if he was wrong about any of those he spoke of. The idea that he further extends his personal experience, trauma and reaction onto “all survivors of childhood sexual assault” is just demonstrably false. I don’t know what you could base that on to suggest it’s Dawkins’ view that sexual assault does no child any lasting harm, assuming I understand you correctly.

    I’m happy to retract an objection if evidence proves otherwise, but with the limited information I’ve read this post strikes me as mostly speculation.

  218. says

    geroche @ 247, the discussion over Dawkins took place here and elsewhere (all over, really), and all manner of evidence was provided. Please avoid making such assertions when you have not been paying attention or reading. I’ll also thank you to not try and rehash the situation here. It’s been done. If you have a need to argue, there are appropriate threads, and please read all the comments first:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/09/09/i-beseech-you-in-the-bowels-of-christ-please-stop/

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/09/10/consciousness-raising-needed/

    *Please note that the first thread linked has more than one page of comments.

  219. says

    I am curious. How does the sexual abuse of Richard Dawkins, and his attitude toward it show up on a thread about the definition of atheism? Is there nothing on this site that can’t somehow lead to a discussion of sexual abuse, rape, or patriarchy? Can we stay on topic?

  220. consciousness razor says

    patrickdoyle, #245:

    At one point, you said that; “Stupid atheists think that the fundamental conclusion of their philosophy has no meaning”

    This is an incorrect assessment, as atheism is not a philosophy.

    He said it’s a conclusion, not a whole “philosophy” (whatever that would even mean), so yours is an incorrect assessment of that statement. Where does that leave the rest of your argument?

    If atheism was, in itself a “philosophy” then all atheists would share similar views – but they don’t, as you pointed out so eloquently.

    That does not follow. People can be mistaken. Claims nevertheless do have implications. There are these things called “facts,” which you have to take into account, not simply what people’s “views” about them are.

    For example: the Earth goes around the Sun. That’s a fact, which many people throughout the centuries have concluded. Does that imply the center of the universe is the Sun, instead of the Earth? No, in fact it does not. Yet many people were “heliocentrists,” so that even while they came to the correct conclusions about that fact (the Earth does move around the Sun and isn’t the center) they failed to know exactly what the case was: namely, that there is no center at all. So even though they share that one conclusion with us (assuming you’re not a flat-Earther or something), their views are not otherwise “similar” to ours now.

    What does the Earth moving around the Sun imply? All sorts of fucking things, as a matter of fact. If you haven’t noticed by now, the physical world doesn’t do a very good job of isolating every little bit from everything else.

  221. says

    patrickdoyle @249:

    I am curious. How does the sexual abuse of Richard Dawkins, and his attitude toward it show up on a thread about the definition of atheism?

    If you have been reading the comments in the thread, which everyone is supposed to do,* and following along, there would be no mystery.

    Is there nothing on this site that can’t somehow lead to a discussion of sexual abuse, rape, or patriarchy?

    Sure. How about you go read the science posts, or perhaps the one about the bat trip PZ is on? This sort of complaint serves to show how little you actually read here, and does not paint you in a positive light. Also, perhaps when a good portion of atheists, particularly those many see as ‘leaders’, stop dismissing sexual abuse, rape and indulging in apologetics for patriarchy, there will be less need for discussion. These things are all rather intertwined, you see.

    Can we stay on topic?

    Sure. I don’t notice anyone stopping you from carrying on with your discussion. As a matter of fact, CR @ 250 just addressed one of your posts. How about responding?
     
    *http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/rules/

  222. says

    @ Conscious razor

    Please tell me then what conclusions (other than that there is no god, or at least that there is not likely to be) are an inevitable consequence of not believing there is a god? Aside from explicitly theistic notions such as that morals come from god, I cannot think of a single one.

    Also, you never addressed the fact that atheism is not a philosophy, as PZ claimed it is. You merely tried to grab the word “conclusion” and failed to note that he said “the conclusions of your philosophy”. In his comments, he spoke (incorrectly I might add) of conclusions that must follow from atheism. So when he then speaks of “the conclusions of your philosophy”, it is not unreasonable to think that he is treating atheism as a philosophy.

    As for people being “mistaken” – by what method do you conclude that people who don’t believe in god(s) yet disagree with you, are mistaken? Nearly all nihilists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. share some basic ideas, yet this is not true of atheists.

    As I asked in a previous comment: “Since it is possible for a non-believer (in gods) to believe in souls, afterlives, objectivism, non-literal Satanism, Buddhism, hedonism, liberalism, conservatism, functionalism, and anything else you can imagine as long as that belief does not also require belief in god, what word would you suggest that we replace “atheist” with? If you co-opt this simple word to mean something more than non-belief, would you kindly direct us to a replacement word for this simple concept?”

    What do suggest? Or are you willing to accept that anyone who does not believe in god (the “dictionary definition”) is an atheist? If you want to be something more than that (as I think we all do) and you want it to be a movement of some sort, come up with a label that fits, but don’t try to redefine my position.

  223. says

    @Caine, Fleur du mal

    Sorry I brought it up – it is not that important to me. However, this discussion has nothing to do with the blog post by Dr. Myers, so it does seem off topic to me, no matter what came up in the thread. However, I realize that discussions can easily wander. A friend and I were discussing the impending birth of his baby, and wound up in a political discussion about “Obamacare” :-)

  224. geroche says

    Caine

    Sorry for posting again on this.

    I don’t think I said I “have not been paying attention or reading”, at least not intentionally. My assertions are based on the limited information currently available, which to my knowledge include quotes in a news article, two books and a response or two from Dawkins. This appears to be the same “all manner of evidence” upon which you declare he is “extrapolating his experience onto everyone else” in your link. I did find an objection to this claim, but there was no continuation that I could find. If there isn’t further evidence, I think the objections to the way in which Ogvorbis portrayed the information are very reasonable. The first paragraph is to better align Ogvorbis’ post with what was actually said, so someone coming in fresh can judge it properly.

    Several assertions have been made in this thread about Dawkins over perhaps a dozen posts. If Ogvorbis responds in either of the threads you linked, I will read it there. If he’s permitted to respond here, I would like to have a final post to give my thoughts on his response. Like when I voiced criticism of a recent banning, I have no intention of having an extended back and forth discussion. A couple of Dawkins-related posts as others have done will be plenty.

  225. tomh says

    @ #246 patrickdoyle wrote:

    what word would you suggest that we replace “atheist” with? If you co-opt this simple word to mean something more than non-belief, would you kindly direct us to a replacement word for this simple concept?

    I don’t see where PZ is trying to change the dictionary meaning of atheist at all – an impossible task anyway, since definitions are not declared by fiat. A lack of belief in gods will always be the dictionary definition of atheist, as far as I can see, anyway. It’s not about definitions, so no other word is needed. He’s merely saying, as I understand it, that subscribing to this lack of belief will inform and influence one’s decisions on a myriad of other topics. Which sounds likely, since nothing lives in a vacuum, not even ideas.

    Personally, I was raised without religion. Atheism has allowed me to realize just how drenched in religion American society is, affecting everything from civil rights to medicine to just about every facet of society. As far as I’m concerned there is no cure but to eradicate religion.

  226. consciousness razor says

    Please tell me then what conclusions (other than that there is no god, or at least that there is not likely to be) are an inevitable consequence of not believing there is a god? Aside from explicitly theistic notions such as that morals come from god, I cannot think of a single one.

    Likewise, tell me what the implications are of the Earth moving around the Sun. You know, except for all the ones having to do with physics or anything else having to do with reality. Those don’t count.

    </obviously-not-special-pleading>

    Also, you never addressed the fact that atheism is not a philosophy, as PZ claimed it is.

    Read again: he claimed it’s a conclusion of a philosophy, which I think is correct. The non-existence of gods is a (rather fundamental) conclusion in an atheistic philosophy, whatever that may be. In a theistic philosophy of some sort, the existence of a god or gods is a conclusion in it. This is not hard.

    As for people being “mistaken” – by what method do you conclude that people who don’t believe in god(s) yet disagree with you, are mistaken? Nearly all nihilists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. share some basic ideas, yet this is not true of atheists.

    Another non sequitur. Sharing ideas certainly isn’t a method for concluding whether a claim is wrong, even for nihilists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

    I do it the good old-fashioned way, by examining logic and evidence, interpreting the world (and claims about it) as best I can. That’s how you can determine whether claims are true or false (or probably true, possibly true, and so forth). It involves of methods, not one. But unless just fell off the turnip truck, you probably have some idea of what I’m talking about. Can’t really explain why you didn’t think of yourself, though.

    What do suggest? Or are you willing to accept that anyone who does not believe in god (the “dictionary definition”) is an atheist? If you want to be something more than that (as I think we all do) and you want it to be a movement of some sort, come up with a label that fits, but don’t try to redefine my position.

    What the hell is your position supposed to be? It seems to me you’ve been saying it means what it means what it means what it means, and that it doesn’t mean anything. Because if it has no implications whatsoever, it is literally meaningless.

  227. consciousness razor says

    A couple of other words were chopped out too, actually. Here’s a “you” and an “it.” I think I need to be recaffeinated.

  228. says

    @consciousness razor
    No, I am sorry, but what PZ described as conclusions were items such as “there is no afterlife” Clearly a conclusion that could follow from atheism. His point was very clear. In his mind, if you are an atheist, then certain conclusions MUST follow. Sadly, this is incorrect. Only if you view atheism as a philosophy, with other tenets besides simply that you don’t believe in any gods, can you assert any necessary conclusions that follow from that single position.

    “Another non sequitur. Sharing ideas certainly isn’t a method for concluding whether a claim is wrong, even for nihilists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc.”

    Again I ask, what is your method for concluding (to be more specific) that an atheist who might disagree with you on every single issue other than the existence of god is mistaken about being an atheist? The clear meaning of this post, and the subsequent comments by PZ is that there has to be more to being an atheist than simple lack of belief in a god, and that those who try to limit the definition to that simple statement are wrong. How do you reach a conclusion that atheism means something more than this?

    “What the hell is your position supposed to be? It seems to me you’ve been saying it means what it means what it means what it means, and that it doesn’t mean anything. Because if it has no implications whatsoever, it is literally meaningless.”

    THAT is a non-sequitur. If it means what it means (i.e. atheists are any persons who do not believe in god(s)) then that IS what it means. No more is required. I am a “brunette” that means I am a person with brown hair. No further implications are required for the word “brunette to have meaning.

  229. says

    patrickdoyle

    Neither PZ not CR is saying “this set of conclusions” will naturally arise from disbelief in gods, merely that “some set of conclusions” is inevitable as a knock-on effect of disbelief.

  230. says

    @Tomh

    Thanks for the first reasonable reply. However the statement ” (“it just means “not believing in god”, nothing more!”, the superficial mob will say), implies that indeed the word means something more than that. Yet it does not. Sadly, this idea comes from a presumption that ALL atheists will share beliefs on issues other than whether or not a god exists, but this is not true. There are atheist Buddhists. I have a friend who does not believe in god, but is sure that there is an afterlife. I cannot think of any necessary conclusion that stems from atheism – period. That is why I object to the notion that it is foolish to adopt the dictionary definition of atheism.

    I am with you as a former Catholic/Lutheran/Methodist, that I would also like to see religion die off. But there are those who wish to add things to that. They want to claim that if you think that gods are bullshit, you also have to agree with a bunch of other things that are not tied to that. I find it sad that we seem to have a situation in which people like myself, who agree with most of the things that this site promotes, feel demonized or excluded for not accepting that I must believe them because I am an atheist, or that I don’t hold those views as strongly or fundamentally as I should. Sorry, but my views have changed very little from when I was a Christian. Mostly, just the belief in god changed, which, in itself negates any claim that being an atheist has major implications on your views. The only real difference is that I took the time to figure out WHY I held the moral and ethical views I did.

  231. chigau (違う) says

    patrickdoyle
    FYI
    <blockquote>paste words here</blockquote>

    paste words here

    This will make your posts easier to read.

  232. says

    @Mykroft

    First, are you a Heinlein fan? Your screen name suggests that you might be. I applaud about 2/3 of your comment. Yes, atheism comes with a requirement that one use their intellect, empathy, etc. to develop a moral code.

    It is also true that all people are equal.

    It is also true that your opinion of “many dictionary atheists” is the result of projection, and that perhaps it is you who should find a mirror.

  233. consciousness razor says

    Again I ask, what is your method for concluding (to be more specific) that an atheist who might disagree with you on every single issue other than the existence of god is mistaken about being an atheist?

    I don’t claim an atheist is mistaken about being an atheist. That wouldn’t make any sense. I think many atheists are mistaken about those other issues, as I already said.

    THAT is a non-sequitur. If it means what it means (i.e. atheists are any persons who do not believe in god(s)) then that IS what it means. No more is required. I am a “brunette” that means I am a person with brown hair. No further implications are required for the word “brunette to have meaning.

    Yet if you were surrounded by a bunch of blonde-haired Nazis, it might have additional meaning: they would think you’re an inferior human being. Thus, you might be treated as if you’re inferior. Having brown hair has other implications, in other sorts of situations. It says something about your genetics, for example, which may imply things like your predisposition to have certain kinds of health problems. (Just using that as possibility, since I don’t know about the genetics of hair color — notice how it depends on those facts, not my own views.) So having brown hair isn’t just brownness or hairiness. The dictionary only contains a bunch of words, and it doesn’t tell you much about what the world is like: in other words, how being a brunette fits into the bigger scheme of things. Even an encyclopedia doesn’t do that, since it is not an exhaustive and infallible source. The world itself, however, can help us determine what we consider meaningful. You have to peel your eyes from the fucking dictionary and look around, to figure that part out. Or if you really do want to thump on a book to shake all of the “meaning” you can out of it, I probably have spare Bible lying around if you need it.

  234. tomh says

    @ 261 patrickdoyle wrote:

    a presumption that ALL atheists will share beliefs on issues other than whether or not a god exists

    You are the only one who is presuming that. Others have said that atheism will inform beliefs, not that ALL atheists will share those beliefs.

  235. says

    tomh

    Exactly.

    It’s the difference between predicting that a tree will fall down, and predicting which way it will fall.

  236. says

    @Daz

    “On what do you base your moral and ethical codes. Your conclusions may differ from mine, but we both have to start with the fact that we’re not being handed the answers on a plate, from on high.”

    I agree. The only thing all atheists have in common is the lack of a belief in god(s). From there, we can determine that what feels good IS good, that what our mother taught us is good, that we need a rational basis for morals, or that there is no good or evil.

    All of these positions are open to the atheist, and likely more that I didn’t think of. How does that affect the argument that atheism is only the lack of belief in god(s)?

  237. says

    What a coincidence. I just had this problem on the topic of Marxism. I’ve decided that in the future, using dictionary definitions as a resource on technical issues will be a conversation stopper. If you’re using the dictionary as a basis for your understanding of complex concepts, it tells me that you are not competent to speak on the subject. No doubt someone thinks this is elitist, but I disagree. Would you:

    1) Treat someone as competent in microbiology or medicine because they can define a cell as “a usually microscopic structure containing nuclear and cytoplasmic material enclosed by a semipermeable membrane?”

    2) Treat someone as competent to intelligently discuss engineering because they can look up the definition of statics and repeat it as “the branch of mechanics that deals with bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium?”

    Of course you wouldn’t. These definitions are vague and tell you nothing useful about the concepts. Knowing that a cell is microscopic and has this other shit inside its semipermeable membrane does not make you a cellular biologist and you should refrain from getting into debates on cellular biology. Knowing that statics is a field within mechanics does not qualify you to speculate on bridge design.

    Most people know this. So why, when it comes to social science and philosophy, do these same people think they can engage complex, inter-related concepts with a Websters? There’s a broad space for genuine, informed disagreement. There’s no space for Webster’s Warriors who think a sentence or two about the concept they’re discussing is sufficient to give them an informed opinion.

  238. says

    @Daz

    “Neither PZ not CR is saying “this set of conclusions” will naturally arise from disbelief in gods, merely that “some set of conclusions” is inevitable as a knock-on effect of disbelief.”

    So what? The point is that those conclusions can be as varied as Nazisim and the Humanism. That is why atheism is confined to its most simple definition, no matter how many dogmatists would like to force certain conclusions (i.e. beliefs) on the entire atheist community. Anyone who insists that the simple, dictionary definition of atheism is somehow wrong, and that people who insist on this definition are (and I quote PZ here) “atheist idiots” would seem to be a person who would like to have atheism include some sort of list of beliefs.

    The ONLY thing that defines an atheist is lack of belief in god(s) – period. The fact that those who don’t believe in god often share other beliefs is totally irrelevant. This whole post was intended to imply that certain beliefs should naturally arise from atheism, and that anyone who denies that is incorrect. I would guess that the next step would be to define WHICH beliefs should arise from atheism, but we can wait for that.

    There is not one idea, belief, philosophical notion that is directly tied to atheism, except those that specifically require a god.

  239. consciousness razor says

    All of these positions are open to the atheist, and likely more that I didn’t think of.

    Sure, if by “open” you mean those positions are possible, regardless of their truth, validity, coherence, self-consistency, etc. That’s awfully fucking open. If you toss all of that out, you get all sorts of garbage. But let’s be open about that, for the sake of argument. If consistency and coherence don’t count, we can easily toss a god right back into the mix. So now “atheist” means the same as “theist.” … Where do we go from there? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to disregard facts and logic, eh?

    Do you still not understand that people are talking about what a godless world means, not whatever nonsense might come out of the mouth of any old self-contradicting incoherent wreck of an atheist who’s utterly ignorant of the facts?

  240. says

    patrickdoyle

    Neither PZ not CR is saying “this set of conclusions” will naturally arise from disbelief in gods, merely that “some set of conclusions” is inevitable as a knock-on effect of disbelief.

    So what? The point is that those conclusions can be as varied as Nazisim and the Humanism.

    The point is that the concept of dictionary atheism says that there need be no conclusions; no knock-on effect.

  241. anchor says

    @patrickdoyle:

    “Please tell me then what conclusions (other than that there is no god, or at least that there is not likely to be) are an inevitable consequence of not believing there is a god? Aside from explicitly theistic notions such as that morals come from god, I cannot think of a single one.”

    You can’t think of single one besides the one you mention, that notorious morality thing? You really can’t think of any other conclusions that emerge as an inevitable consequence of rejecting religious (or theistic) traditions that invest supernatural deities with omnipotency and are fancied to be the ultimate creative source of everything under the sun?

    I don’t believe you.

    More generally, it seems to me that lots of people are forgetting that atheism isn’t just a disbelief in god, but a rejection of theism and all of the hocus pocus baggage associated with it.

    As often as atheists may insist they are philosophically godless, to say that one does not believe in god is often mistakenly taken by theists to be a tacit admission of the potential existence of god as a hypothetical possibility. It frequently backfires: theists (especially fundamentalists and creationists) commonly jump on that narrow definitional form to imply that atheists are against something that exists. They then compound the mistake by inferring that atheists are against what they believe their deity actually stands for. Since they identify their deity with morality and goodness and love, for example, they conclude as an inevitable consequence that atheism is a rejection of morals, goodness and love.

    If however atheism is also (if not primarily, in practice) a rejection of theological thinking and all it implies (and the above is a good example of the sort of sloppy thinking that deserves rejection), then its clear that atheism must involve much more than merely not believing in god, or whatever dictionary definition some atheists insist on limiting it to.

    One thing seems underappreciated: very few appear to insist that theism ought to be confined to a comparably simplistic dictionary definition. Moreover, almost nobody disputes that religion represents a stupendously rich and messy collection of traditions and rituals that generate a plethora of ‘conclusions from inevitable consequences’ for its adherents. Its obvious that everybody is free to assume their own personal position, by whatever rationale, but if many individual theists can and do collectively identify themselves with more than a narrow ‘belief in god’ definition that can and does inform their diverse behaviors and philosophies that all stem from inevitable consequences covered by the umbrella of their belief, individual atheists can collectively identify themselves as composing a community which identifies itself with more than a narrow ‘disbelief in god’ definition that overlooks the inevitable consequences of rejecting theism. And that only means that atheists are also allowed to formulate a rational foundation for the ineffable behavioral aspects of the human condition, including morality and aesthetics, as well as the practically important bases for building accurate conceptual models of how the physical world actually works and what we actually are and can do in that real world.

    Because – as an inevitable consequence – if atheism isn’t contingent on logical reasoning in tandem with empirical investigation of our natural real-world environment (‘science’), and if the rejection of religious superstition and supernaturalism isn’t justified by such consideration, then being an atheist is indeed nothing more than a mere disbelief in god…and about as useless if not pernicious in its indifference to the human condition as theism is in the subversion of it.

  242. says

    anchor @ 273:

    One thing seems underappreciated: very few appear to insist that theism ought to be confined to a comparably simplistic dictionary definition.

    This is a most excellent point. Thanks for bringing it into the discussion.

  243. Anri says

    anchor @ 273:

    One thing seems underappreciated: very few appear to insist that theism ought to be confined to a comparably simplistic dictionary definition. Moreover, almost nobody disputes that religion represents a stupendously rich and messy collection of traditions and rituals that generate a plethora of ‘conclusions from inevitable consequences’ for its adherents.

    Ok, I’ll bite: can you give me an example of an inevitable consequence of theism? That is to say, a belief that all theists share, other than the fact that god/gods exists/exist?
    Note please that ‘common but with some exceptions’ isn’t ‘inevitable’.
    I’m not saying there aren’t any, I’m saying I can’t think of any, and so I’d like to get an example or three down so I’ll be able to figure out where I’m making the error.

  244. says

    *sigh*

    No one is saying that all theists share any particular consequence to their beliefs. Just that their beliefs have consequences.

    Ditto atheists and lack of belief.

  245. erik333 says

    @152 PZ Myers

    I’m not saying that you have to become a philosopher to be an atheist — I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do. If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

    You say that like disbelieving in gods necessarily takes effort and/or is a conscious decision. Like i could somehow just decide to believe. I’m at a loss as to how I would perform such an overt piece of self-deception…

    @273 anchor

    More generally, it seems to me that lots of people are forgetting that atheism isn’t just a disbelief in god, but a rejection of theism and all of the hocus pocus baggage associated with it.

    Nonsense, and you can believe any amount of it and still be an atheist. The only defining criteria is that you cannot believe a god exists, while being an atheist.

    if atheism isn’t contingent on logical reasoning in tandem with empirical investigation of our natural real-world environment (‘science’), and if the rejection of religious superstition and supernaturalism isn’t justified by such consideration, then being an atheist is indeed nothing more than a mere disbelief in god…and about as useless if not pernicious in its indifference to the human condition as theism is in the subversion of it.

    It isn’t contingent on either of those things. Tough? I have to assume this perspective is hard to comprehend if one is brought up in a mostly religious culture like the US, but in e.g. Sweden you can grow up atheist by plain default due to the lack of religious indoctrination.

    The only use that necessarily follows logically from atheism, is that you will also deny the soundness of arguments which use “god exists” as a premise.

    One thing seems underappreciated: very few appear to insist that theism ought to be confined to a comparably simplistic dictionary definition.

    Not really? That would maybe depend on what is being discussed, but “theist” does not tell you much beyond the belief that a deity exists. Once you start narrowing down on their specific beliefs you have to use other labels with slightly narrower scope: muslim, christian, hindu etc. Similarly, you should use terms with narrower scope than “atheism” if you’re trying to get more information across than the dictionary definition.

  246. Anri says

    Daz @ 277:

    No one is saying that all theists share any particular consequence to their beliefs. Just that their beliefs have consequences.

    Ditto atheists and lack of belief.

    And I’m saying that since those consequences are not the same for any given set of theists, they aren’t included in the definition of being a theist. If there are theists who don’t believe “x”, then “x” is not part of being a theist.
    If there’s nothing that you can say of all theists except that they all believe in god(s), than that’s exactly and completely what ‘theist’ means. Any given theist may (or may not) draw any given conclusions from their theism, but so long as it’s not inevitable, it’s not definitive of theism.

    To put it another way, if one theist believes that we get our morals from god, and another one doesn’t, then believing that we get our morals from god might stem from a particular theist’s theism, but it can’t be a part of the general definition of theism, as it’s not always there.

    An oak tree grows from an acorn. An acorn is not an oak tree.

  247. erik333 says

    @277 Daz

    Could you give an example of such a consequence of a lack of belief in a god, where the lack of belief is actually important? (other than rejecting the soundness of arguments that use god as a premise)

  248. says

    Anri

    What’s being called “dictionary atheism” is the statement that atheism only consists of lack of belief in gods. While true in the dictionary sense, it’s useless as rhetoric, when used to argue against this consequence or that consequence. Because the implication is that the speaker’s atheism has no consequences. Which is dishonest.

    The honest argument would be for the speaker to say that they disagree with the train of thought which led from “there is no god” to the position they’re arguing against.

  249. says

    erik333

    Could you give an example of such a consequence of a lack of belief in a god, where the lack of belief is actually important? (other than rejecting the soundness of arguments that use god as a premise)

    You mean apart from having to come up with a moral system not handed down by a god; a naturalistic explanation for the existence of, well the whole freakin’ universe and everything in it; the fact that I can go for a walk in the park on Sunday mornings, the fact that I can’t convince myself I’m helping someone by asking favours of an invisible six-foot rabbit or whatever… etc?

    No I can’t. Sorry.

  250. billforsternz says

    Nerd of Redhead, OM, Dances Trolls @240

    The points by the critics weren’t fair. They are reflexive and ill thought out, lacking introspection and self-analysis. Which proves PZ’s point time and time again. Essentially, they say, “you can’t force me to think like you”, which isn’t what PZ says. Same as always whenever this topic is brought up.

    I can accept that *some* of the critics were saying “you can’t force me to think like you”. Clearly you are right that isn’t what PZ says. Let’s have a look at something PZ did say;

    PZ Myers @152

    Look back to my examples: someone could be atheist because they’re angry, and what they give a damn about is ending the destructive influence of the church. Someone could care about church-state separation. Someone could care about patriarchal misogyny. Someone could care about nonsensical religious arguments about abortion.

    Those are all legitimate atheist causes. I’m not saying that you have to become a philosopher to be an atheist — I’m saying it should make a difference in how you live and what you do. If it doesn’t, why bother being an atheist?

    Look at PZ’s examples of why someone could be an atheist; Being an atheist in this worldview is all about rejecting religion and its consequences. In @273, anchor, in an admittedly very impressive post bases his arguments on the same premise. (One of) my points is that you can be an atheist without explicitly referencing your atheism to religion. You can build a rationalist, humanist, atheist worldview from first principles; This is how the universe is constructed (as best we can tell so far), it’s an amazing and extraordinary place, remarkably it’s physical laws accommodate a phenomenon called evolution and that process has created a remarkable range of lifeforms over billions of years on this otherwise unremarkable planet. Even more remarkably in the last 0.01% or so that this great biological machine has been grinding, self-aware beings capable of meta analysis, in other words decoding the processes that created them have spontaneously emerged. I happen to be a member of that species and alive now, wow talk about winning a cosmic lottery.

    That tends to be the basis of my worldview. I am an atheist by default, not because I reject religion. To me religion is a historical irrelevance, the legacy of a time when the great puzzle of life was still a complete mystery. This worldview is far from uncommon in those societies where religion has for all intents and purposes, died. Obviously the USA is not one of those societies, and I can understand why USA atheists are a little more angry and put upon, than for the sake of argument, Danish atheists. Ironically I suppose, perhaps I need a new dictionary definition of atheism, because “non belief in Gods” doesn’t really cut it for me – my reaction is; Gods? Seriously?

    My apologies if my thoughts are reflexive and ill thought out, lacking introspection and self-analysis. I could be barking up the wrong tree. I always admit the possibility, which is another of my meta-points I suppose.

  251. tomh says

    @ #276 Anri wrote:

    can you give me an example of an inevitable consequence of theism?

    One consequence I see is that, in my view, theism inevitably leads to a feeling of privilege. Whether it’s a subtle, condescending feeling of superiority, or a more blatant expectation of privilege in the legal system, it always stems from theism. I’ve never known a theist whose theism didn’t result in a feeling of privilege.

  252. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You can build a rationalist, humanist, atheist worldview from first principles;

    Yes, and in doing so, you reject religion and religious based laws. Thanks for proving my point.

  253. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Nerd is fine for those trying to quote me. Saves on offerings to Tpyos.

  254. billforsternz says

    Nerd @287

    Yes, and in doing so, you reject religion and religious based laws.

    Sure, but I am doing it implicitly not explicitly. I think turning it around and looking at it the other way gives a different perspective. I don’t care about religion and this makes “why bother being an atheist ?” a rather absurd question from my perspective.

  255. Anri says

    Daz @ 281:

    What’s being called “dictionary atheism” is the statement that atheism only consists of lack of belief in gods. While true in the dictionary sense, it’s useless as rhetoric, when used to argue against this consequence or that consequence. Because the implication is that the speaker’s atheism has no consequences. Which is dishonest.

    The honest argument would be for the speaker to say that they disagree with the train of thought which led from “there is no god” to the position they’re arguing against.

    I disagree about it being useless. It’s simply a statement of fact. The reason I think it’s important to note that atheism is just a lack of belief in god(s) is that including other things in that definition results in the No True Scotsman problem – if we say atheism necessarily includes (for example) a humanist worldview, or a rejection of authority, or suchlike, than all someone must do to make us look thoughtless is to find someone who espouses atheism but rejects when we say is an inevitable outgrowth of it.

    Like the rejection of life after death – transhumanists, theist or atheist alike, claim they believe in the resurrection of the dead. I think it’s bullshit, but it is not incompatible with atheism.

    Like humans shaping the world by their will – correct me if I am wrong, but a dedicated Marxist might very well believe that worldwide Communism is an inevitable result of history, and no amount of will on the part of capitalist people can halt it. Again, bullshit, but not incompatible with atheism.

    Like accepting the humanity of others – if we assert that we are all born atheists, and must be taught to believe in god, we must accept that a human mind can be free of both god-belief and understanding of the humanity of other humans.

    Are these odd and narrow exceptions? Yes, but if we ignore them, we can be made to look foolish when they are brought up. It is fine to say that your humanism is a result of your atheism, but clearly, it is not an inevitable result of it. Therefore, it’s not definitional.

  256. Anri says

    Drat – I neglected to address why I should bother with arguing for a ‘dictionary definition’ of atheism.

    The answer is to be able to distance myself from other atheists who do not share humanist or rational or freethought attitudes. So long as we insist that atheism includes humanism, or freethought, or rationality, we will be successfully argued against, and successfully put into the same category as those who are atheists but not the other things.

    As soon as I say “I am not just an atheist, but a humanist atheist”, I have separated myself from those that aren’t.

  257. erik333 says

    @282 Daz

    You mean apart from having to come up with a moral system not handed down by a god; a naturalistic explanation for the existence of, well the whole freakin’ universe and everything in it; the fact that I can go for a walk in the park on Sunday mornings, the fact that I can’t convince myself I’m helping someone by asking favours of an invisible six-foot rabbit or whatever… etc?

    I would argue that you should do those things even if you did believe a god existed. There is no guarantee that a creator god would have human best interest at heart, or even care one way or the other – or that it is possible to reliably receive information from said entity. Even if we knew for a fact that a god existed, e.g. christianity would still just be a bunch of nonsense. We would still have to come up with a moral system as best we can. Further, such work would depend on other, more important prerequisits: like valuing empathy and the welfare of others and so on. The question of atheism becomes irrelevant to such questions for me, as I’ve never adhered to a doctrin of faith to reject and contrast myself with.

  258. Maureen Brian says

    Anri,

    I don’t think PZ or anyone else is trying to deny the existence of people who wake up one morning, decide there is no god and grow up to be utter shits. We meet them all the time. Nor can we deny the existence of those who wake up the same morning, make the same pronouncement and then cling to all the comforts of religion – where it is comfortable – and all the fears of religion when they live in a society which operates on fear.

    We were discussing earlier whether all theists share any single belief above and beyond the idea that a god or gods exist. I suggest that they do. They all believe that by some means, in some circumstances the usual operation of cause and effect can be suspended by the intervention of a god or god-substitute. It matters not which god you choose and whether the appropriate action is to sprinkle coloured powders, sacrifice a goat or pray on the White House lawn, it’s the same belief.

    I should need to point you only at the reaction to last year’s drought in the US – the calls for prayer, more prayer, even more prayer and while we’re at it let’s kill off the teaching of science in schools and defund the meteorological services! That’s how it looked from across the Atlantic, anyway.

    billforsternz gave us a good account of growing up in a society where non-belief is the default. I’d love also to hear an account of what mental defences were used when someone came at him (?) with a religious demand or explanation. Are you there still, billforsternz?

    So, just being a dictionary atheist and no more is useful only if you plan to spend the rest of your life in an hermetically sealed tube. To operate effectively in the real world will involve choices and a degree of mental spring-cleaning. At the very least you need to be aware what habits you have which belong to the times before you saw the light. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that!)

    And that is why some of us have no time for the Pat Condells of this world. He has not done the most basic thinking about where the ideas he loudly proclaims came from in the first place. I tell ya what, Pat, every last one of them comes straight out of religion and the layers of superstition which lie underneath to power it.

    I do not complain that the man is an idiot – though he is – but simply that his preaching is an active deterrent to rational thought and that it appeals especially to people with little experience of thinking rationally. Rational thought is something I have always found to be far more useful than religious nonsense, however and by whomever it is presented.

  259. says

    Maureen:

    We were discussing earlier whether all theists share any single belief above and beyond the idea that a god or gods exist.

    Some sort of afterlife seems shared, whether it’s heaven or hell, rebirth, turning into stardust to roam the universe, whatever. Even transhumanism, which isn’t a religion (yet), runs on the notion of a sort of afterlife. So that, and the notion of a soul/spirit/essence.

  260. Maureen Brian says

    You’re right, Caine. So there’s quite a bit they have in common, loath though they are to admit it.

    I worry about quite so many people prancing about proclaiming that after they decided on god or not-god they never had a single extra idea in any way related to the first!

  261. erik333 says

    @295 Maureen Brian

    Why do you assume that the existence of god is the fundamental question to ask for everyone, from whence all truth is derived? If the idea of god isn’t forced upon you from an early age, how early do you suppose that idea spontaneously arises? As far as I’m aware, I first heard of the concept somewhere around ages 6-8 and I never had any reason to differentiate it from other fairy tales like the hobbit or lord of the rings.

    My contention is that this perception that atheism points a vector in idea space might be a bit of an illusion, caused by the rejection of a set of beliefs previously held, or at least ideas somewhat pervasive in the society around you. If you never were a christian, or don’t live in a society where moral arguments are routinely framed around christian dogma – then the vector has zero (or close to) length and thus lacks a direction (or atleast is hard to judge).

  262. scimaths says

    You really can’t think of any other conclusions that emerge as an inevitable consequence of rejecting religious (or theistic) traditions

    You really can’t get hold of the idea that there are people in this thread right here telling you that 1) not everybody grew up with the same theistic lens that you might have and 2) in fact they themselves grew up in a culture where religious traditions were a trivial if not absent part of their experience and therefore said “rejection” actually came with no real consequence at all and 3) there are actually other paths, with other significant factors that bear upon our philosophies/moralities

    lots of people are forgetting that atheism isn’t just a disbelief in god, but a rejection of theism and all of the hocus pocus baggage associated with it.

    I “rejected” theism in the same way that I “rejected” communism. That is, I was NOT brought up in an authoritarian communist country, and I just didn’t need to give it that much thought.

    I do understand that IF I had been brought up under such all-pervasive authoritarianism, and IF that was my particular struggle then a considered rejection (note: a considered rejection, not just fuck them I’ll do what I like) of said authoritarian ideals would most likely be a significant influence on my forming an alternative political/social stance.

    BUT I would NOT be insisting that all other people of the world (who were NOT brought up in such circumstances) 1) actually must have been brought up in those circumstances and 2) must absolutely have rejected communisim in exactly the same, considered, thought-out, having to wrestle with my entire upbringing in the exact same way I had otherwise they had no business claiming not to be a communist and 4) how dictionary non-communism was unacceptable and 5) how they were “forgetting that humanism isn’t just a disbelief in Stalinism, but a rejection of communism and all of the hocus pocus baggage associated with it” and 6) the dictionary non-communists had nothing of interest to say in any discussion of liberal politics and so on….

    That would be self-obssesed, close-minded, my country and personal direct experience-is-the-entire-world bullshit. One might even say “simple-minded” or “idiotic”

  263. scimaths says

    Sorry, forgot to name the quotes (anchor 273) in my previous post, though my remarks are not just aimed at that one poster obviously

    erik333

    Why do you assume that the existence of god is the fundamental question to ask for everyone, from whence all truth is derived?

    Yes, this.

  264. Maureen Brian says

    erik333 @ 296,

    But I don’t assume that erik! I’ve spent quite a bit of time – most recently over at Alex Gabriel’s – pointing out that people arrive at the “there is no god” idea by any number of routes, including the one you describe – what we might describe as the “never imagined there might be a god” option.

    What we are arguing about here, or we were, are the people who try to impose upon us the daft idea that once you have described yourself as an atheist you may not, ever, have any thought about a factual, practical or ethical issue which in any way relates to the fact that one day you picked up the dictionary, saw the new word and thought, “Hmm, that’s me!”

    I fully accept that many people grow up in an entirely god-free environment and that others find the subject causes them no stress. I was, after all, brought up to be an atheist by a fairly learned Christian father who was a damn good teacher of critical thinking. He got it into my head that working ethical questions out for yourself from first principles was the only way to go.

    Now, are you going to tell me that you have never faced an ethical challenge? Never rejected an off-the-shelf religiously based answer? Never noticed that taking responsibility for your own actions does not sit easily with following the mob, whether that mob is in hock to an economic dogma or a religious teaching?

    Because if you do I won’t believe you.

  265. consciousness razor says

    @295 Maureen Brian
    Why do you assume that the existence of god is the fundamental question to ask for everyone, from whence all truth is derived?

    A strawman. Not all truth, many truths. It’s not one belief. It’s a lot of interrelated beliefs: not every conceivable belief there is, but many of them. More than one.

    It’s right there in plain in English, for everyone to see: “they never had a single extra idea in any way related to the first!”

    If the idea of god isn’t forced upon you from an early age, how early do you suppose that idea spontaneously arises? As far as I’m aware, I first heard of the concept somewhere around ages 6-8 and I never had any reason to differentiate it from other fairy tales like the hobbit or lord of the rings.

    Sharing anecdotes like yours wouldn’t answer your question. We’d have to talk about the psychological/sociological causes of god-belief. What kind of answer do you actually want?

    It certainly isn’t rooted in one person forcing another person forcing yet another, as far back as time goes. Even if that were a reasonable model of how god-belief generally happens, the infinite regression would have to stop at some point, because there have been finite human beings.

    Moreover, I wouldn’t call an infant human being an atheist, just like I wouldn’t call a zebra or a treestump an atheist. That’s an absurd distortion of the “literal” dictionary meaning, of simply lacking belief, without regard to context. That kind of default “lack” is missing the point by a mile.

    Likewise, when my Catholic parents baptized me a few weeks after I was born, I don’t care how you define it: there was no sense in calling me a “Catholic baby,” because there is no such thing. That has rightfully been criticized as an abusive and authoritarian mindset to take toward children: they cannot consent to or reason about these belief-systems which are being attributed to them by other people.

  266. Ogvorbis: Heading down the Failure Road. Again. says

    geroche@247:

    The “many other boys”, later referred to as “the other boys at his school”, should be interpreted as friends (or potentially classmates) with whom he discussed the abuse with. Dawkins statement along the lines that “it didn’t affect any of them!” should be interpreted as the less certain but nonetheless existent view that “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm”.

    You are correct. Dawkins, in saying, “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm,” did not say it didn’t affect them. Sorry. I wrote poorly. He is still, however, projecting his experience onto the experience of others. This is called privilege. There was a very long, and involved, discussion (on the threads that Caine mentions) which included discussion of the validity of the qualifications he added to his apology.

    patrickdoyle@249:

    I am curious. How does the sexual abuse of Richard Dawkins, and his attitude toward it show up on a thread about the definition of atheism?

    One of the major discussion points over the last few years has been a discussion of privilege. Richard Dawkins is an important voice in the atheist community when he is discussing certain things. When he discusses women, or sexual abuse, or a host of other issues, his privilege shows through loud and clear. Any discussion of A+ that does not discuss privilege, especially the privilege of white, older, cis-gendered, straight, well-educated rich men (and (save for the ‘rich’ part) that is me, too) is pointless.

    Richard Dawkins, through his skills as a writer and thinker, is one of the minds at the forefront of modern atheism. His brilliance, however, is severely tempered by the huge steaming piles of privilege (including the ones earlier this month regarding the effect of childhood sexual assault on others (he is welcome to speak for himself, but speaking for others is a privilege turd)) he occasionally drops.

    My point in my @241 was not to reintroduce that specific topic, but, instead, to make the point that were I to sit down, one-on-one, with Dawkins and disagree with him about his extension of his experiences onto others, he would be more likely to listen to me than to Caine because I am more like he is than Caine.

    A question was asked of Caine. I felt (obviously incorrectly) that I could add something useful to the conversation. That is why I brought up something that I have a personal interest in where Dawkins has taken a privelege dump on me.

    geroche@254:

    The first paragraph is to better align Ogvorbis’ post with what was actually said, so someone coming in fresh can judge it properly.

    And, again, you have completely missed the point. Dawkins is privileged in many ways (most of which I share). He is also a brilliant mind who has done much to ‘market’ atheism, to make atheism more acceptable. Being a brilliant mind does not excuse him when he exercises his privilege.

    Caine was asked whether or not sitting down with him, one on one, would get anywhere. I pointed out (inneptly, obviously) that, even though Dawkins has dumped his privilege on both of us (to differing degrees), he would probably actually listen to me before dismissing my concerns as opposed to the reaction Caine would most likely get (probably a verbal ‘Dear Muslima’ privilege dump).

    If he’s permitted to respond here

    Permitted? Really? Do you not see a discussion of privilege, privilege that is asserted and preserved as a part of our shared Abrahamic patriarchal heritage, as being part and parcel to the discussion of whether or not human rights is a logical, or even acceptable, outgrowth of atheism?

  267. Anri says

    Maureen Brian @ 293:

    We were discussing earlier whether all theists share any single belief above and beyond the idea that a god or gods exist. I suggest that they do. They all believe that by some means, in some circumstances the usual operation of cause and effect can be suspended by the intervention of a god or god-substitute. It matters not which god you choose and whether the appropriate action is to sprinkle coloured powders, sacrifice a goat or pray on the White House lawn, it’s the same belief.

    A Deist might very well not believe that. Nor might a Calvinist, for that matter, depending on how they interpreted predestination.
    Likewise, if someone believed that the only cause-and-effect was god’s will – that literally nothing happened without god making it happen, then they wouldn’t believe that god’s will interferes with “the natural operation of cause and effect”, as there’s no such thing beyond his will. I believe there are charismatic fundamentalist churches that teach this specific belief.

    Are there people who believe such things? I dunno, but having seen any variety of loony beliefs out there, I wouldn’t bet against it.
    In any case, none of these beliefs are incompatible with god-belief and therefore they can’t be excluded from theism by definition.

    – – –

    consciousness razor @ 300:

    Moreover, I wouldn’t call an infant human being an atheist, just like I wouldn’t call a zebra or a treestump an atheist. That’s an absurd distortion of the “literal” dictionary meaning, of simply lacking belief, without regard to context. That kind of default “lack” is missing the point by a mile.

    Do you mean that they aren’t capable of god belief (which is self-evident for a treestump… I would hesitate to make such an assertion about a zebra, or a housecat, or a bonobo, myself)?
    Or do you mean you would not call someone who hasn’t been taught to believe in god, and then rejected it, an atheist?

    The arguing point “we are all born atheists, and must be taught to believe in god” is actually very non-trivial, as there are many who like to argue that we have a (god-inspired) god-shaped hole in our souls, yearning towards the father of the universe. I’m perfectly willing to accept both treestumps and an infants as atheistic beings, as it allows us to show that god-belief is imposed on people rather than being inherent.

  268. consciousness razor says

    Anri, #302:

    Do you mean that they aren’t capable of god belief (which is self-evident for a treestump… I would hesitate to make such an assertion about a zebra, or a housecat, or a bonobo, myself)?
    Or do you mean you would not call someone who hasn’t been taught to believe in god, and then rejected it, an atheist?

    Yes to the first.

    The second seems to be a loaded question, so I don’t understand what’s being asked. (More below.)

    The arguing point “we are all born atheists, and must be taught to believe in god” is actually very non-trivial, as there are many who like to argue that we have a (god-inspired) god-shaped hole in our souls, yearning towards the father of the universe.

    Someone (or many people) must have been capable of coming up with it all by themselves. The idea doesn’t need to be zapped into our heads by a god, just as you suggest. And there are not infinite humans in the past. Ergo, it is not always “taught” by someone else. It’s not necessarily taught by a god, nor is it necessarily taught by another human being. It is not strictly a cultural phenomenon: there are “ordinary” psychological mechanisms which give rise to it, with or without culture. Culture enhances it and embellishes it and spreads it, but that does not make culture itself the origin.

    I am saying they do need to be capable of having it in order to say they’ve rejected it. The semantics of “lacking” a belief doesn’t really address the semantics of “belief”: whether there is any ability to have a belief (of any sort) in the first place. We can play this word game in which it’s claimed that treestumps (or maybe zebras) lack belief, when what that really means is that they couldn’t have any belief or disbelief or non-belief, regarding any subject whatsoever. That isn’t like the case of adult human beings who could but do not despite their ability to do so.

    And when they could have it, that implies their ability to reason about it (perhaps badly). They consequently have some concept of facts which this belief supposedly explains and how those facts may or may not fit in with their other beliefs (which they’re also capable of having). You get a nice, big, messy network of interrelated beliefs, just like what happens in reality. You do not get that with a baby who other people are calling an “atheist,” and who can’t have any other beliefs (thus circularly concluding that this is the only thing being an atheist is).

  269. says

    Anri @290

    I said:

    While true in the dictionary sense, it’s useless as rhetoric, when used to argue against this consequence or that consequence.

    Then you replied:

    I disagree about it being useless. It’s simply a statement of fact.

    Please note that what you’re arguing against is not what I said. I didn’t argue against the statement of fact. I argued that it’s useless to argue on the basis that that there will be no consequences† because atheism always has a knock-on effect on other thoughts and opinions.

    Care to try again?

    †Also note that no one is trying to predict specific consequences; just that there will be some.

  270. Anri says

    Daz @ 290:

    Please note that what you’re arguing against is not what I said. I didn’t argue against the statement of fact. I argued that it’s useless to argue on the basis that that there will be no consequences† because atheism always has a knock-on effect on other thoughts and opinions.

    Care to try again?

    †Also note that no one is trying to predict specific consequences; just that there will be some.

    So, you’re saying it’s helpful to argue that atheism causes – we’re sure – some – no idea what, mind you! – effects on someone’s – well, maybe morality, maybe vorldview, maybe patterns of interaction – no way to tell!
    And that these totally unpredictable, undefinable, unverifiable, malleable, completely unique and individual effects are nonetheless so important, that they must be included in the definition of atheism lest it lose all rhetorical meaning.
    Am I following?

    Also, since you’re apparently willing to accept that the knock-on effects for every person can be completely different, why insist there must be any at all? Why are you willing to accept that atheism can inform a morality towards humanism, or towards monstrosity, but not that it might not inform morality at all?

    In other words, we’re sure atheism has knock-on effects, not because we can quantify them, or describe them, or predict them, or even detect them (in all cases), but ’cause we sez so?

    – – –
    consciousness razor @ 303:

    Are other humans the only thing humans learn from?
    You can learn things from your environment, as well and false positives can lead to false beliefs (they’ve done experiments that show this effect even in chickens). I don’t think that makes theism inherent, however, as it is still being taught by external stimuli.

    Personally, I’m willing to call something that cannot possibly be red “non-red”, just as I am willing to call something that can’t believe in god “an atheist”. I’m willing to make the claim that my livingroom curtains are not Lady Gaga fans, or Democrats, or that they prefer Whitman to Poe, and also that they don’t believe in god.
    I’m not certain why not having the capacity be in a particular state weakens the argument that it’s appropriate to say they are not in that state.

  271. erik333 says

    @305 Anri

    I baffled as to why you would consider “atheists” as a descriptive term for curtains. Why would you ever use the term for things which are not persons capable of belief?

    @300 consciousness razor

    I agree “all truth” was overplaying the statements, further I might have misinterpreted the statement in that i felt it overplayed the importance of the god/no god question as fundamental to further inquiry. I.m.o. its quite a ways down the list, as you both have to establish god’s existence and how god’s existence matters before it even begins to be a meaningful exercise to factor god into questions of morality. Even if I believed a god existed, I would still need to develop my own morality until such time as I can a) establish a reliable means of communication with said deity b) be certain said deity is actually concerned with human well-being. Now if I have to do all the same work, regardless if I believe a god existed or not – atheism really stops being much of a factor. I really don’t have a preference as to which god I’m an atheist with regard to, I’m an equal opportunity atheist. There is no reason I can se as to why i would suddenly adopt e.g. christianity before I’m already convinced some god exists, thus I’m not viewing myself as an atheist with regard to any specific doctrinal baggage.

    Similar to the question: “So, I’m an atheist. Now what?” you may ask “So, I believe the universe must have been created by some intelligent agent (or some other argument from ignorance). Now what?”

    Of course christianity does not simply pop up in a vacuum, and that is part of the point. A single person is perfectly capable of inventing/imagining some concept of a god, and the complexity will vary with the imaginativeness of the person – but inventing christianity wholecloth seems like a tall order for self-deception. It thus seems reasonable to assume early god concepts would be relatively vague and nebulous, unless they are purposefully invented. But you really have to add some detail to such a concept before it becomes a factor that affects how you view e.g. moral questions. I don’t see how vague theism as such is a factor, but I agree that e.g. christianity would be. So, yes, “atheism” as in “rejection of christianity” would have consequences compared to “accepting christianity”. But I don’t think there is that much to be derived from “I don’t believe a god exists” vs “I believe a god exists”.

    I wonder if the morality one adhers to drives the theism you invent to justify your position, or is it mostly the other way around?

    I agree that calling infants atheists is usually meaningless and empty, of course they don’t believe. Though sometimes theists do claim that god belief is factory installed, then such arguments might have a place.

    @299 Maureen Brian

    What we are arguing about here, or we were, are the people who try to impose upon us the daft idea that once you have described yourself as an atheist you may not, ever, have any thought about a factual, practical or ethical issue which in any way relates to the fact that one day you picked up the dictionary, saw the new word and thought, “Hmm, that’s me!”

    You may naturally have any ideas you like, and add further descriptive terms next to the “atheist” in order to convey more detailed information if you so desire. And no, I’ve never come across an issue where i thought “If only I could divine information from a deity to do my homework for me”. Even if I somehow could “choose to believe” a god existed, choosing one that would answer questions/prayer is simply exceeds my imagination.

    Now, are you going to tell me that you have never faced an ethical challenge? Never rejected an off-the-shelf religiously based answer? Never noticed that taking responsibility for your own actions does not sit easily with following the mob, whether that mob is in hock to an economic dogma or a religious teaching?

    I’m not entirely sure what you are asking, what do you mean by an ethical challenge and how does it relate to the topic?
    As I’ve stated previously in other comments: I think it follows from atheism that you deny the soundness of arguments which use god’s existence as a premise. This does naturally not mean that you necessarily disagree with the conclusion of the argument, just that it’s a bad argument.
    Sure there is a cost/benefit analyses to be made if you think your own view might be unpopular, but that doesn’t (at least shouldn’t) affect the view itself.

    This line of inquiry seems to me to be drifting from the topic of “what atheism means/implies”, which is fine by me, but might be deemed OT by some moderator perhaps.

  272. says

    So, you’re saying it’s helpful to argue that atheism causes – we’re sure – some – no idea what, mind you! – effects on someone’s – well, maybe morality, maybe vorldview, maybe patterns of interaction – no way to tell!

    No. I’m saying that it’s dishonest to claim that atheism has no consequences merely because one wants to claim that another person’s or group’s conclusions are not “natural consequences” of atheism. As I said upthread, the honest approach would be to point out the faults, as one sees them, in that person’s or group’s reasoning from “no god” to “conclusion X.”

  273. consciousness razor says

    It thus seems reasonable to assume early god concepts would be relatively vague and nebulous, unless they are purposefully invented. But you really have to add some detail to such a concept before it becomes a factor that affects how you view e.g. moral questions.

    I think you have cause and effect reversed. If something good or bad occurs (e.g, a good harvest, a famine), you don’t have to reach far at all to get to the idea that someone is rewarding or punishing you, for whatever you did or didn’t do. It’s a natural assumption to make, because as social organisms, it is often someone who is responsible for that stuff, when we feel most strongly and emotionally that something is good or bad. A personal god, with some moral dimension, fits right into that. You may not think you know who it is or even have a good of what it is, and you may not especially care. The really important thing is to make sure the good stuff keeps happening and the bad stuff stops.

    But it could start out as anything. Why don’t we ever see this thing you’re saying caused the famine? Well, it’s really good at hiding… well, even though we made sure to keep an eye out, I guess it’s invisible… or maybe it’s a ghost which can move through walls too… and maybe I did see and talk to it in a dream once, now that I think about it…. and so on.

    People had their moral hardships and quandaries for a very long time, certainly before they were even “people” or “human beings.” Then they get to thinking a little more about their situations, and gods are invented as a way of solving problems or justifying what is to be done about them. Prehistoric people didn’t dream up (much less “practice”) some vague theism, just for shits and giggles. They certainly didn’t dream up non-interventionist deism, involving some abstract ground of all being which has no moral component whatsoever. That kind of thing is an extremely recent development in philosophy, because of cultural and institutional pressure to try to make religion seem rational. Prehistoric people had mundane moral concerns just like we all do now. Those are probably the sorts of things which led to their inventing gods, ghosts, spirits, witches, sacred places and objects and rituals, along with all of the rest.

  274. Anri says

    erik333 @ 306:

    I baffled as to why you would consider “atheists” as a descriptive term for curtains. Why would you ever use the term for things which are not persons capable of belief?

    Well, a theist asked me that question directly (would I consider – I recall it was a chair- atheistic), and so I replied. I said it was, in a completely trivial sense.
    I’m baffled as to why the term doesn’t apply to something that doesn’t believe in god.

    – – –

    Daz @ 307:

    No. I’m saying that it’s dishonest to claim that atheism has no consequences merely because one wants to claim that another person’s or group’s conclusions are not “natural consequences” of atheism. As I said upthread, the honest approach would be to point out the faults, as one sees them, in that person’s or group’s reasoning from “no god” to “conclusion X.”

    I personally have never seen ‘dictionary atheists’ forward the argument that there are no consequences to atheism. I have always seen the argument phrased as “Since atheism means only a lack of belief in god, we cannot come to any conclusion about what an atheist should, or will, believe about other topics simply because they are atheists.”

    Boring as it may be (and PZ isn’t arguing that’s wrong, just boring), it appears to be true.

  275. says

    To me this word, atheism, is what the roots say, ‘without god’, and NOTHING more. I slap every other view of mine on with another definitive word. You’re just trying to impose something new over the already defined and understood word. It doesn’t need the baggage, because the word has a meaning aimed solely to distinguish you in one aspect: whether you believe in gods or not. Slap another word after that if that’s not satisfactory enough to describe you. Which it shouldn’t, like any other religion isn’t either.

    To give an example.
    Christianity: Means you believe in the god as described by the bible.

    And that’s about as accurate as you can go. Further than that and we start to get different denominations, even on the divinity of Jesus. It might IMPLY you believe in angels, demons, heaven, hell, souls, sins, divine revelations, morality given by higher beings to us….. But those all vary from person to person and from denomination to the next. Maybe not all christians even think that morality comes from god. As crazy as that sounds, I’m sure there’s some denomination blaming satan and the fruity temptation in the garden for that.

    So why are you trying to push any more baggage to atheism? Being christian doesn’t tell me any more than that they believe in the god of the bible. Being atheist or a christian doesn’t tell me anymore than that you don’t/do believe in a god. It’s fine and dandy if you wish it did, but it doesn’t and I personally hope it never will. Sure, it implies a helluva lot more, but there’s nothing universal that includes all atheists, aside from the lack of a belief in god. Of course you can go with a “no true scotsman” and claim all sort of things that are implied with atheism, but barely anything, perhaps nothing else, can be unanimously said about atheists.

    If you’re desperate for the word to imply something more, get a new word and start your own denomination. There’s already been a few attempts, successful or not, to denominate atheists. A+ and their asshattery, Brights and Nones with whatever they want, etc. That’s fine by me, I don’t mind. When you come up with one that jives with me, I’ll happily adopt a new term to describe my non-belief and some other issue I’m siding with. I once might’ve called myself a feminist, but seeing how that word is also getting hijacked by insane individuals and the fact that women aren’t the only one being ostracized depending on the issue, I’ve just started to say I’m for genderless equality. Women, men and everything in between and on the sides. The same goes for atheism: If the word gains extra baggage that is just stupid to me, I’ll stop using it. I’d much prefer if we’d concede the current definition serves the purpose it needs and come up with a new one for the excess claims you wish to slap on.

    I’m perfectly happy to use another definition before or after atheism to define myself. And that’s because atheism is like christianity, just drawing attention to some idea that might be important to us. But it doesn’t really define you as a person in any way, shape or form.

  276. erik333 says

    @310 Anri

    Because theist/atheist distinction is only relevant to the set of objects that are persons, the belief of persons is the only subject matter until such time we have reason to suspect some animal might be able to hold similar beliefs. Would you consider the word “theist” an atheist?

    Boring as it may be (and PZ isn’t arguing that’s wrong, just boring), it appears to be true.

    Really? Whouldn’t he then call the opposition “bores” rather than “idiots”?

  277. erik333 says

    @310 Anri

    I personally have never seen ‘dictionary atheists’ forward the argument that there are no consequences to atheism.

    Well, I actually come rather close to that position. What logically follows from atheism is to deny the soundness of arguments that use god’s existence as a premise. That’s not enough to build a positive case for anything, be it gay rights or the right to bear firearms or whatever. Denying the soundness of an argument is not even enough to show that the conclusion of such arguments are wrong, only that the argument itself is a bad argument. Once you build such a positive case, you don’t even mention atheism when making the argument. It’s not “Since I’m an atheist and consider women to be actual people I don’t think we should go about raping them all the time”.

  278. consciousness razor says

    Well, a theist asked me that question directly (would I consider – I recall it was a chair- atheistic), and so I replied. I said it was, in a completely trivial sense.
    I’m baffled as to why the term doesn’t apply to something that doesn’t believe in god.

    You got one part right: “completely trivial.” Lacking sense, but it is trivial. That’s always helpful.

    I already explained why it’s not a simple dichotomy between believing and not believing. Reading back on it, it may not have been very clear. If we’re talking about an atheist, we’re talking about a conjunction of both of these kinds of claims: (1) they are a person who can have beliefs, AND (2) they do not believe in a god.

    But if you really need it to be in a dictionary in order to accept it, I guess this will have to do: the -ist suffix means the same thing that it does for all sorts of other words (some like “mist” and “wrist” don’t have the suffix, just end with those letters).

    Instead of being baffled (or pretending to be baffled), I think you’d at least understand that babies and treestumps and curtains and so on are not paradigmatic examples of what nearly anyone else (except perhaps you) means by “atheist.” They have nothing to do with a question like “are you a theist or an atheist?” (Indeed, would ask a curtain that question?) So those should not dictate what makes for a reasonable definition, which tracks the way most who are familiar with the word actually use it (probably all of them practice, including you).

  279. consciousness razor says

    Denying the soundness of an argument is not even enough to show that the conclusion of such arguments are wrong, only that the argument itself is a bad argument.

    But you are claiming a premise (or more than one) is false. That’s what being unsound means. That is itself a conclusion, regardless of any “bad argument” some makes up which is premised on it. So many other true things (in addition to it being true that “god exists” is false) must also follow from that.

  280. consciousness razor says

    Once you build such a positive case, you don’t even mention atheism when making the argument. It’s not “Since I’m an atheist and consider women to be actual people I don’t think we should go about raping them all the time”.

    You certainly can argue things like like “Since there’s no god, nothing exists for a purpose, so (for example) women do not exist for the benefit of men, to pleasure a god who likes seeing them raped, or for any other purpose. Thus, there’s no justification for X, Y, Z, etc.”

    Your premises aren’t dealing in facts. What you consider and what you think are just your views, which may well be false. Try to think about what follows from the non-existence of gods, not your beliefs about that or “what an atheist must think” (as if someone or something were forcing all them to be the same), because atheists can be wrong and that leads the conversation down a blind alley. Facts don’t get themselves wrong.

  281. kermit1981 says

    @ 316 consciousness razor

    You certainly can argue things like like “Since there’s no god, nothing exists for a purpose, so (for example) women do not exist for the benefit of men, to pleasure a god who likes seeing them raped, or for any other purpose. Thus, there’s no justification for X, Y, Z, etc.”

    I think the problem is the fact that you can just as equally frame an argument for rape based on atheism along the lines of “Since there’s no god, there is no ultimate judgement or morality and anything goes as long as you are able to do it” (Note this is not a position I hold). If Atheism can be used to justify either side of an argument how is the label atheist useful as anything other than meaning “this person doesn’t believe in god”? Yes you can argue that all atheists have no god given morality but what use is that to us in telling us anything about that persons actual morality? A lack of god given morality isn’t even exclusive to atheists as deists also the ability to claim a divine basis for their morality.

    None of my views on morality or anything that does not involve the need for a god to exist stem from my lack of belief in a deity. I don’t think for example that women and men should be treated as equal because there isn’t a god to tell me they shouldn’t be, I believe that women and men and every sub group their of should be treated equally because I think everyone is more or less the same in the end and that the differences between people apply over all sexes and races e.g. some people are smarted then me and I am smarter than some . When I think about my morality and I question my own views on things the lack of a god doesn’t come in to it. It is entirely possible that for some people they do start with the lack of a god when they think about things but since this is not all atheists how can the term atheist mean that a person has built there morals specifically from a stand point that no god exists.

    It still seems that the only meaningful thing that you can say about someone that says they are an atheist is that they do not believe that any gods exist and thus reject any argument that requires a god to exist even if they agree with the conclusion of the argument (an off the top of the head example could be Theist: the bible says god created stars therefore there are stars Atheist: I accept there are stars but your argument they exists because god does I reject – possibly a bad example but hopefully it conveys my thinking)

    apologies if the following block quote fails horrifically

    I usually see the dictionary definition brought out when someone says “because you are an atheist, you ____”. The only thing that you can confidently put in that blank is “don’t believe in gods”, and the dictionary definition is brought out when someone fills the blank with something else that turns out not to be true.

    203

    Doug Hudson
    27 September 2013 at 11:33 am (UTC -5) Link to this comment
    Matthew Buckley @202,

    The whole point is to discuss what should go in the blank.

    PZ has said many times that he isn’t trying to dictate what goes in the blank, he’s just making suggestions.

    A+ is one possible answer, but there are others.

    @ 203 Doug Hudson

    Why should anything other than ‘you don’t believe in gods’ go in the blank? Why should atheism necessarily lead to any other belief?

    So far it seems that not one person has been able to state specifically what the actual consequences of not believing in god are that follow solely from being an atheist to show that atheism should mean anything more than not believing in a god (let alone that it already does hold other meanings as PZ states). Surely if we can not come up with any specific examples of what the extra meaning/s should be that would apply to all atheists then we are left with atheist simply meaning “does not believe in god”. Sure that leaves atheist as a broad group title but then so is human or even male and female are broad groups that doesn’t mean they are meaningless.

    On the issue of freethought in the title of the blogs I didn’t know the specific background to the word but assumed that had the intention been to mean free thought (as in free to think anything) then I figured the site would be called “free thought blogs” criticising the site on the basis of the name seems like a rather petty and ridiculous thing to do anyway even had the criticism been valid. If people want to criticise the blogs on here or anywhere else I would suggest sticking to the content of the blog rather than the name of the site it is on. After all “what is in a name”.

  282. erik333 says

    @316 consciousness razor

    You certainly can argue things like like “Since there’s no god, nothing exists for a purpose, so (for example) women do not exist for the benefit of men, to pleasure a god who likes seeing them raped, or for any other purpose. Thus, there’s no justification for X, Y, Z, etc.”

    At the end of that argument, did you really show that rape is wrong or did you simply show that the benefits of rape have yet to be demonstrated?

    Also, I’m unconvinced of “Since there’s no god, nothing exists for a purpose”. Who decides what the purpose of something is? Is it enough to have the ability to enforce your opinion? Does the created actually have to care about the creators opinion for any ethical reason? The creator might be an asshole, like the god of the bible, but more likely the creator wouldn’t care one way or the other what humans do – we’re completely irrelevant on the cosmic scale.

  283. erik333 says

    This, I guess, goes back to how one resolves the euthyphro dilemma. My opinion is that god’s opinion is irrelevant, something is either moral or it isn’t. Until such time as gods opinion can be demonstrated to be communicated to us reliably, and demonstrably moral in all cases – we have no recourse but to investigate matters on our own. Besides, we have no way to demonstrate that gods opinion is moral but via such means either, so wether or not god exists is irrelevant.

  284. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Of course the opinions of whatever gods one believes in is irrelevant, and even the believers know this to be true, which is why pretty much all religions have moral ‘absolutes’ that change with the general ethical values of the times (so not really ‘absolutes’ in any sense of the word).

  285. consciousness razor says

    kermit1981, #317:

    I think the problem is the fact that you can just as equally frame an argument for rape based on atheism along the lines of “Since there’s no god, there is no ultimate judgement or morality and anything goes as long as you are able to do it” (Note this is not a position I hold).

    “Ultimate judgement” is irrelevant. That’s probably why you don’t hold this position. So tell me something that is relevant and which you are willing to substantiate with something more than “some atheists might say this kind of irrelevant bullshit.”

    If Atheism can be used to justify either side of an argument how is the label atheist useful as anything other than meaning “this person doesn’t believe in god”?

    As I just said, it cannot justify such an argument. People may use it to try to do so, but they fail in terms of actually doing it.

    None of my views on morality or anything that does not involve the need for a god to exist stem from my lack of belief in a deity.

    So you say. And I don’t care if that’s true or false.

    I don’t think for example that women and men should be treated as equal because there isn’t a god to tell me they shouldn’t be, I believe that women and men and every sub group their of should be treated equally because I think everyone is more or less the same in the end and that the differences between people apply over all sexes and races e.g. some people are smarted then me and I am smarter than some .

    Yet you do think there’s no god to tell you otherwise. That really is what is entailed. If there are other good reasons to come to the same conclusions independently of any religious considerations, those are also good reasons. I’m not claiming they aren’t good reasons. I’m claiming that does not imply the first sort are therefore invalid.

    erik333, #318:

    At the end of that argument, did you really show that rape is wrong or did you simply show that the benefits of rape have yet to be demonstrated?

    It shows there cannot be any such justification.

    Also, I’m unconvinced of “Since there’s no god, nothing exists for a purpose”. Who decides what the purpose of something is?

    We all decide what the purposes of things are, when we intend things with them. I’m obviously not claiming we don’t act purposefully. The claim is that existence itself doesn’t intend things, because it isn’t a “who” with intentions. That’s why there’s no teleology written into the nature of reality itself. People don’t have some prescribed “station in life,” nor are there “gender roles” that they ought to fulfill. There are no castes of people, of whatever type, who are “naturally” inferior to one another, or who serve this or that function in nature. And so forth.

    Does the created actually have to care about the creators opinion for any ethical reason? The creator might be an asshole, like the god of the bible, but more likely the creator wouldn’t care one way or the other what humans do – we’re completely irrelevant on the cosmic scale.

    It’s true that divine-command ethics is unjustified. And I’d agree we probably would be irrelevant to a deity if there were a deity. But if there were no deity, then all of this is irrelevant. You can’t assume that there is a god, then tell me what that does or doesn’t imply about the world if atheism is true. Because it’s a contradiction to assume atheism is both true and false at the same time.

  286. erik333 says

    Yet you do think there’s no god to tell you otherwise. That really is what is entailed. If there are other good reasons to come to the same conclusions independently of any religious considerations, those are also good reasons. I’m not claiming they aren’t good reasons. I’m claiming that does not imply the first sort are therefore invalid.

    Yes, but (I assume) his position is similar to mine in that god’s opinion is irrelevant. The reasons why something is wrong don’t hinge on gods approval, they are wrong on their own merits. Those “other good reasons” are the actual reasons you should hold the position, if it hinges on god’s non existence for validity you are doing something wrong.

    It shows there cannot be any such justification.

    I’m unconvinced that it does, but even if it did you seem to agree that it didn’t demonstrate that rape was wrong, just that it’s not justified. By the phrasing of the argument one can assume your position is that rape is wrong if you don’t have justification, but it never actuallt adresses that.

    You’ve successfully argued that atheism denies the soundness of arguments which attempt to justify rape using divine command theory (of sorts), but then I already agreed from the beginning that this was something that you would be able to do, but that the argument for your position “rape is wrong” doesn’t depend on god’s non existence… atleast I hope not.

    We all decide what the purposes of things are, when we intend things with them. I’m obviously not claiming we don’t act purposefully. The claim is that existence itself doesn’t intend things, because it isn’t a “who” with intentions. That’s why there’s no teleology written into the nature of reality itself. People don’t have some prescribed “station in life,” nor are there “gender roles” that they ought to fulfill. There are no castes of people, of whatever type, who are “naturally” inferior to one another, or who serve this or that function in nature. And so forth.

    But if society decided that they do, then people would have a purpose – a prescribed “station in life”? If a family has children with the intention to sell any daughters off as wife-slaves when convenient, does that suddenly become moral because the daughters “have a purpose”?

    It’s true that divine-command ethics is unjustified. And I’d agree we probably would be irrelevant to a deity if there were a deity. But if there were no deity, then all of this is irrelevant. You can’t assume that there is a god, then tell me what that does or doesn’t imply about the world if atheism is true. Because it’s a contradiction to assume atheism is both true and false at the same time.

    I didn’t, I was trying to show that if I decide atheism or theism doesn’t actually seem to make a difference, even with your argument.