“No” is less than “Why?”


If you’re looking for a calm conversation about the latest split in the atheist community (don’t ask, it doesn’t matter), here’s Thomas Smith, Kevin Logan, and Kristi Winters talking about it. I just wanted to pull out one YouTube comment that makes me see red — it’s the same attitude that I think is one of the major contributors to the poisoning of the movement, and one I’ve addressed before.

Atheism is a singular answer to a singular question.
The answer is “No”.
The Question, “Is there a god?”
Nothing else should be attached to this definition, by either the right or the left.

So…atheism is a dogma, I guess. There is one question and one answer, and then you’re done. Makes it easy.

I would just ask, how did you arrive at your answer? Is it built on any philosophical foundation at all?

And then I would ask, how does that answer inform your views on everything else? Or does it?

Those are the interesting and important questions, and the answer to those matter. “No” is just an empty negation in a vacuum and is spectacularly stupid and uninteresting.

Comments

  1. hemidactylus says

    Given Marxism and Objectivism are both atheism adjacent toward what end is atheism a movement. Still grounded in Christian eschatology preparing a heaven on Earth? Or ring of Gyges impunity?

    The post-atheist reflection is now God’s out of the way then what?

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    hemidactylus @ 1

    As someone who has been hanging around Leftist online spaces of late and discovering a disgusting number of pagans, Wiccans, New Agers, astrology buffs, and “progressive Christians” dealing their brands mass opium, I’m sad to report that Marxism is fast becoming something other than “atheist adjacent.”

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    It’s simple: These assholes don’t want to believe in a god, but they lived and thrived in a racist, sexist, capitalist culture that associates “atheism” with those godless, race-mixing, queer-loving, commies. If their atheism informs them of anything, it lends them a façade of rationality and “logic” to defend their callous bigotry. It allows them to behave as the intellectual puppets of the far right… including by many of the Bible-beaters they claim to despise.

    They want into the Republican Boys Club and all the privileges that go with it, but don’t want to have to go the church on Sundays.

  4. davidc1 says

    At the risk of sounding thicker than the offspring of a trump voter and a britshiter ,what else is atheism about ?
    There are no gods ,all the money and effort that is wasted on religion should go to looking after this planet of ours .

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    cervates @ 5

    Just gripping that a political philosophy that understood that god was nonsense and that religion was a means to delude and lie to the masses–the first real atheist “safe space”– is now being invaded by various deluded liars I spent most of my adult life trying to escape. No, I don’t care that their version of the invisible, magical, cosmic, dictator is “nicer” than the classical Abrahamic variety, THEY STILL DON’T FUCKING EXIST AND YOUR A PIECE OF TRASH FOR BELIEVING IN THEM!!!

    (Takes several long, deep breaths)

    I’m sorry, you were saying?

  6. naturalistguy says

    I came to the conclusion that the “god of the gaps” argument for the existence of a supernatural deity was flawed because it doesn’t prove such a thing exists, merely that there are still questions about the universe we don’t have answers for. Even claims about “why anything then?” aren’t proof of there being a supernatural entity that made the universe we observe possible. So I call myself an atheist because I don’t believe in the existence of a supernatural deity that explains anything that philosophical naturalism (materialism, basically) doesn’t account for and is otherwise just held up as an explanation for what we don’t know. No wonder there’s so much variation in gods and religion then, as there’s no actual evidence to be had for them so people are free to make it up, and have.

    I don’t believe there’s any larger insight that follows from atheism though. It’s not as if the argument-from-authority tactic is something only the godly indulge in, or that good works and deeds aren’t done by non-believers as well as believers.

  7. says

    Interesting.

    If atheism is just an answer to a question how does some uses of the word atheism trigger this flocking/political reaction to hyper-focus on definitions and not the use? Individual atheists can organize and that answer to a question does not give an atheist a reason to direct the behavior of other atheists either. They can sit and sputter.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    Brony @ 8

    Of course, they’d say the exact same thing about us. e.g. “How dare you tell me that atheism requires me to care about [INSERT RACIAL/SEXUAL SLUR HERE]!!!”

    After 9/11 and the rise of Dubbya’s Christian conservatism in America, we atheists thought we could unite against the world-wide slide into religious fanaticism and maybe draw people toward, at the very least, secularism. That was, until this largely left-wing movment started noticing that some of us were racist, sexist (and sexually abusive), Randites who started to the movement to bash Middle Eastern people and justify cut-throat capitalism, scientific racism, and rape. A schism was bound to happen.

  9. dean56 says

    “These assholes don’t want to believe in a god, but they lived and thrived in a racist, sexist, capitalist culture that associates “atheism” with those godless, race-mixing, queer-loving, commies. If their atheism informs them of anything, it lends them a façade of rationality and “logic” to defend their callous bigotry. It allows them to behave as the intellectual puppets of the far right… including by many of the Bible-beaters they claim to despise.

    They want into the Republican Boys Club and all the privileges that go with it, but don’t want to have to go the church on Sundays.”

    Shorter: some people are just assholes, no matter how they label themselves.

  10. says

    @Akira 10
    In the end the people dealing with abusive behavior have the right to confront that abuse in their groups. Including political groups. The same thing to keep social justice out of video games “just keep it about the game!” and similar. I think it intersects with the situational denial of our individual political nature when people disparage “politics” in general terms like they aren’t part of someone elses problem. I’ve wondered if knee-jerk anti-religion is messing up our own grouping ability as we confuse general group dynamics with reality claims.

  11. fishy says

    What is it like to be a digital human? On or off. This or the other. Yes or no. Here not there.

  12. kestrel says

    I must be weird. For me, realizing there was no god, was incredibly freeing. I no longer had to think: “Something bad happened to those people, god must hate them” Or “Something good happened to those people, god must love them”. In addition all the ideas about “We’re ______, so that means X are bad” was no longer true. Examples: Mormons and “gentiles” (well OK, and gay, trans, atheists etc. etc.). Islam and “infidels” (well OK and gays, trans, atheists etc. etc.) Pretty much all of them and “unbelievers” (well OK and gays, trans, atheists etc. etc.). For me, all of a sudden, I could think that EVERYONE was important. And I do mean everyone. No matter what. I personally found that incredibly freeing. Personally, that meant to me that I now had a duty to civilization to help everyone. And I do mean everyone.

  13. DanDare says

    The ven diagram comment is interesting. Atheist being about lack of beleif is a common union of all sets of atheist.
    I can’t be arsed with what it means. I use the term to shock theists from time to time but label myself humanist nowadays.

  14. ORigel says

    Atheism is just an answer in the negative to one question: “Do you believe any gods exist?”

    That’s it. Science, social justice, libertarianism, antitheism, sexism, the arts…none of these need matter to the dictionary atheist. The pure, dictionary atheist doesn’t even have to care about secularism or criticizing religion to qualify as an atheist.

    The thing is, the atheist movement was always about more than dictionary atheism, or even atheism-adjacent causes/positions like keeping creationism out of public school curriculums.

    In these politically polarized times, a schism was inevitable between the “SJW” atheists and the asshole atheists.

  15. naturalistguy says

    To be a Christian all one has to do is believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. That’s why there’s only one Church. Right? Right? Right.

    There’s always been different groups of unbelievers too, even though they may all have non-belief in gods in common, because people being people just have to argue about what it all means. There’s atheists like Madalyn Murray O’Hair who were quite militant, and others like James Randi who focused more on skepticism. There really isn’t an atheist dogma or one true way of being an atheist.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira @6:

    Just gripping that a political philosophy that understood that god was nonsense and that religion was a means to delude and lie to the masses–the first real atheist “safe space”…

    I wonder how many of the tens of millions killed by warped versions of Marxism last century were atheist? Not so safe for them.

    Ideologues of all stripes are fucking dangerous idiots.

  17. ajbjasus says

    Religions are so embedded in society that coming instantly to a fully formed worldview of atheism and all its ramifications is pretty tough. As a first step, I would cut some slack to those who say it’s just about non-belief in gods, as that is often a huge step, and all the other stuff can take some time and processing.

    Of course there are others of many strips for whom atheism might just be the last bit of the jigsaw.

  18. unclefrogy says

    I kind of agree that atheism is an answer. I was not led to this conclusion as a goal it is the result more then anything else.
    I only lately accepted that as a word that replies to me. I just over time have changed my definition of belief and god. I came to question the authority of the church long before I accepted disbelief in god, I questioned the political definitions that the church proposed for god and reality. They did not match reality very well, the class distinctions they supported seemed arbitrary and did not match with what the “founder” seemed to say (christ). My questioning also led me to accepting I did not believe in any “god” what ever the definition.
    I suspect that many who stick to atheism is only none belief in god for them it is a really political. I am begining to think that the question is becoming mostly just a distraction from the reality that is confronting us. I read a quote yesterday

    “We must learn to live together like brothers or perish together as fools.” —–Martin Luther King, Jr.

  19. nomdeplume says

    If you can get people to believe in a god or gods you can get them to believe anything. Not sure what point PZ is making.

  20. hemidactylus says

    @19- Rob Grigjanis

    How many did the Frankfurt School kill? Weren’t they at least marginally Marxist at least more so than the wishy washy poststructuralists allergic to totalizations? Marxism is better for critique than implementation.

    Of course what you’re getting at was a source of division between Camus and Sartre and a defining characteristic of so-called tankies to look past.

  21. robro says

    I didn’t know there was a decree about the definition of “atheism”. Is this a memo from the authorities? Are we expected to nod in agreement? Amen!

  22. ardipithecus says

    Religion has demonstrated its complete failure as an arbiter of moral values. Why expect atheism to do any better?

  23. naturalistguy says

    Reading through this list of professed atheists it’s… interesting to say the least. If even Richard Spencer is an atheist then how to cast him out while still maintaining that being an atheist has certain moral implications? Hmm.

    List of American atheists

  24. says

    @naturalistguy 26
    “Casting out” might be a potential feeling but I see it as in-group criticism myself. Atheists responding to the word/label. Boycotts are shunning behavior but I’m not kicking them out of society.

  25. chris61 says

    Those are the interesting and important questions, and the answer to those matter. “No” is just an empty negation in a vacuum and is spectacularly stupid and uninteresting.

    I agree with you PZ that the questions you pose are interesting and important and their answers matter. But regardless of how one chooses to answer those questions, a disbelief in any supernatural being defines one as an atheist.

  26. bcw bcw says

    But that “No” leaves the question: is there no god because god is dead or was there never a god?

    ….just kidding.

  27. John Morales says

    chris61:

    But regardless of how one chooses to answer those questions, a disbelief in any supernatural being defines one as an atheist.

    Yeah, but… One could be an animist and still be an atheist.
    Or one could believe in reincarnation and still be an atheist.
    Etc.

    In short, though all non-supernaturalists are perforce atheists, not all atheists are non-supernaturalists.

  28. Akira MacKenzie says

    Really, Rob? Why not just admit that liberals are just Diet Right Wingers. I expect that anti-communist shit from the Twitter feed of Kapo Shapiro or Ted Cruz.

    I mean, How many people did Karl Marx kill? Not a soul as far as I can find.

    Also my heart bleeds for all the monarchs (and their crotch spawn), aristocrats, business owners, priests, middle-class-grovelers, fascists, and other scum the various “communist” regimes “murdered.” Boo hoo hoo.

    As for ideologues being “dangerous,” well…

    “The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way, you stand a better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous marks the difference – the only difference in their eyes – between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that it’s nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.”

    ― Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon

    Right now, the Democrats and American liberals are about as dangerous as a Nerf ball.

  29. beholder says

    @31 Akira

    Right now, the Democrats and American liberals are about as dangerous as a Nerf ball.

    Leaving aside Rob’s disgusting red-baiting, I’m not so sure I agree with that take.

    As bought-and-paid-for enablers of the U.S. military, the single greatest threat to world peace and the future of human life on Earth, Democrats and Republicans are both plenty dangerous. The chilling part is, when it comes to military adventurism, they seem to be on the same team.

  30. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @8: The argument is indeed hilariously self-refuting. If atheism only means one thing, then you have no grounds to call upon other atheists to care about how they may apply the definition. Sure, atheism can be a simple statement of acceptance of a binary proposition, just like one could identify as Team Jacob or Team Edward. But in actual practice movements and communities emerged around the idea. So… then there is no excuse any more to not talk about politics.

    As people like PZ pointed out, it’s even funnier that no one ever bothered policing the boundaries of atheist topics when it was about anti-creationism or evolution or any kind of science.

  31. rcomian says

    I’m still incredibly wary about this whole area. Who defines what an atheist is? Who defines what a good atheist is?
    I don’t see an “atheist movement”. Oh sure – you might be in a movement that you think is informed by your atheism, great, wonderful, go for it. But on what basis does that apply to all atheists? I don’t think it does, I don’t think it can.

    If you think your movement applies to all atheists and you disagree with other atheists – aren’t you just gatekeeping? Trying to own a generic term for your own ends? Aren’t you trying to define who’s an atheist … or at the very least, who’s a good atheist?

    I mean, go for it, you and me are aligned in our political goals, but get your own term that defines them. If i disagree with you, you don’t get to call me a bad atheist (or code it as an “uninteresting atheist”, “asshole atheist”, “dictionary atheist” or some other crap), or even “not really an atheist”. You can call me a “bad pharyngulan” or something, fine.

    The way your atheism informs your behaviour, if it does, is not generic. It’s not a guaranteed “I’m an atheist therefore my value are …”. The way your atheism informs your behaviour is a valid reason to band together under a banner, like the “atheist+” or some other thing. “Atheist” is not that banner.

  32. says

    Yeah? You might notice that what I’m saying isn’t that you have to be one way to be a True Atheist™. I’m pointing out that the person I quoted is lying about the nature of their understanding — they are denying that there is an epistemology of belief. And that is bogus.

    I’m not saying I get to define your values. I’m disgusted at the dishonesty of people who deny that they even have values, or an ideology, or a reason for their ideas.

  33. addicted4444 says

    I had to face up to the inadequacy of the “Atheism means No” approach and the damage caused by it this very weekend.

    My wife and I lead to put down our only cat (he was 14 years old but he had only entered our lives in the past year and a half over the pandemic and we love him to bits) over the weekend. It is a devastating loss and our grief knows no bounds. Being an atheist, however, meant that thanks to the impact of the Atheism means NO crowd, it was impossible for me to process the loss of our cat in atheistic terms, never mind helping my wife who isn’t an atheist grieve.

    I had to fall back on the language and constructs that I learnt as part of the religion I grew up with as a child. I’ve been an atheist for almost 15 years now, but over those 15 years the vast majority of atheism has been built around this atheism means NO principle, which means that much of atheism hasn’t even started to provide alternatives to the many social, community and emotional constructs that people rely on religion for.

    Atheism can never be a true alternative to religion if it cannot build ways to support basic human needs. Which is ironic considering that by being the only system that is even close to resembling what the world is really like, it should really be the only one that can truly and genuinely support human needs.

  34. addicted4444 says

    I had to face up to the inadequacy of the “Atheism means No” approach and the damage caused by it this very weekend.

    My wife and I lead to put down our only cat (he was 14 years old but he had only entered our lives in the past year and a half over the pandemic and we love him to bits) over the weekend. It is a devastating loss and our grief knows no bounds. Being an atheist, however, meant that thanks to the impact of the Atheism means NO crowd, it was impossible for me to process the loss of our cat in atheistic terms, never mind helping my wife who isn’t an atheist grieve.

    I had to fall back on the language and constructs that I learnt as part of the religion I grew up with as a child. I’ve been an atheist for almost 15 years now, but over those 15 years the vast majority of atheism has been built around this atheism means NO principle, which means that much of atheism hasn’t even started to provide alternatives to the many social, community and emotional constructs that people rely on religion for.

    Atheism can never be a true alternative to religion if it cannot build ways to support basic human needs. Which is ironic considering that by being the only system that is even close to resembling what the world is really like, it should really be the only one that can truly and genuinely support human needs.

  35. Akira MacKenzie says

    PZ @ 35

    I’m disgusted at the dishonesty of people who deny that they even have values, or an ideology, or a reason for their ideas.

    Here’s an example of that sort of double-think from the Granddaddy of modern right-wing scolds, Russell Kirk:

    Conservatism, I repeat, is not an ideology. It does not breed fanatics. It does not try to excite the enthusiasm of a secular religion. If you want men who will sacrifice their past and present and future to a set of abstract ideas, you must go to Communism, or Fascism, or Benthamism. But if you want men who seek, reasonably and prudently, to reconcile the best in the wisdom of our ancestors with the change which is essential to a vigorous civil social existence, then you will do well to turn to conservative principles.

    –Russell Kirk, Conservatism is Not an Ideology

    So, any belief that was can and should improve the societal ills and end centuries-old bigotries and superstitions is an “ideology,” fanatical and doomed to end in totalitarianism. However, a slavish devotion to social hierarchies, “traditions” (i.e. those aforementioned “centuries-old bigotries and superstitions”), and capitalist greed isn’t an ideology? How convenient for you, Rusty.

  36. rietpluim says

    Despite my diligence for social justice I’ve always happily identified as a dictionary atheist, but it appears that there are multiple dictionary definitions of dictionary atheism.

  37. Rob Grigjanis says

    beholder @32:

    Leaving aside Rob’s disgusting red-baiting

    I’ve been a commie sympathizer for as long as I can remember. Does that mean I’m supposed to ignore the atrocities committed by Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot?

  38. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira @31: I have no problem with Marx. I have a problem with people and movements who have done horrible things using his name. I guess you missed that I said “warped versions of Marxism”.

  39. unclefrogy says

    Marxism and atheism are terms that are dependent on definitions often applied by those who disagree with some ideas they apply to them. Atheism is dependent on the definition of what god is. marxism and communism has been defined in the general public by it’s enemies, as terms in common usage they both are very problematic.
    uncle frogy

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