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Recently, one of my hardest working pupils, whose capacities have flowered tremendously over the past couple of years, sent me an e-mail about a long-running exchange she had been having with a friend.  The subject of their parry and thrust was none other than the existence of God.  Readers will see their articulate ideas below the fold, as well as the response that I gave to my interlocutor in this matter.  

Though I wrote very much 'off the cuff,' and would hopefully speak with more discipline and coherence were this a forum in which we three and others were actively participating, I've decided to post this for a simple but plausibly important reason: instead of discouraging this sort of debate in the public schools, we should foster it and others equally tendentious at every possible opportunity, since the travails of the current age command us to contemplate difficult choices that at times seem almost impossible to disentangle.  Youngsters thus need exactly this sort of argumentation in order to hone their real world skills for considering how to proceed in the face of delicate differences and unfathomable complexity.

   
 

My student wrote to me as follows.

Hi, Mr. H.
This is (your favorite student). My idiot friend and I always argue about the belief in the existence of god. Basically I'm agnostic. I don't know if there is a god, and I dont know if there isnt a god. My friend is an atheist. He ardently believes that there is no god, even when he admits that he doesnt have enough proof to prove his belief that there is no god. I said what you said in class once: there is no difference between christians and atheists because christians say there that there is definitely a god, and atheists say that there is definitely no god. I say that there is not sufficient enough proof for both sides, so Im not going to take a side. He agrees with me that he cannot prove that there is no god, but he just has faith in this belief, and he cannot see how he is similar to christians. It's simply something he believes in...he has faith with not enough proof. Can you please explain to him that he is essentially no different than a Christian? Below is his argument. Please excuse him if he sounds really stupid.

This was the forwarded note that I was to examine and to which I had the chance to respond.  To say the least, its writer is a clever young thinker, though the text finesses the issue that my pupil asked me to address.

----- Forwarded Message ----
   I believe that there is no God because there is a lack of proof. I know how stupid this sounds. There are two sides of this arguement, God or no God. When there is a person selling me that there is this "God" who is all powerful and all knowing, then he better have sufficient evidence to convince me of it. Otherwise, there is no reason to believe that there is a God. I dont' have to "prove" that there is no God, because I'm not the one trying to convince people otherwise.    
   It's the same with me going up to a friend and saying "hey, there is this all powerful being called Bobby and he can create universes and exist forever." I clearly do not have any proof of "Bobby" at all. Now my friend has two sides, to believe in Bobby, or to not believe in Bobby. We both don't have proof that Bobby exists or doesn't exist. What option would my friend be likely to side with? He would probably say that there is no "Bobby" at all.

   
My response is as follows.  Again, this is fairly facile fluff, but it ought at the least to get these two thinking about what they hope to accomplish in their spirited back-and-forth dialog, apparently of longstanding duration.

Hey there!
What a cool and interesting exchange.  Neither you nor your friend is an idiot, and if I understand what your buddy is saying correctly, he pretty much acknowledges the substance of your point about his similarity with Christians.  However, he advances a spirited point that, whereas the Christians have nothing other than doctrine and holy writ with which to support their faiths, he has....what?  A clear eyed view of the cosmos that sees nothing Godly there.

You might try something in this vein when you correspond or speak again: "Listen you!  You've acknowledged that your position is a faith-based position.  Technically, any debate judge in existence would award me the laurels in this little spat.  The point is that, given a lack of dispositive proof, one has to make a leap of faith in order either to believe or not believe in God.  You remind me of Blaise Pascal, only in a weird sort of obverse way.

He said that although the most reasonable position was uncertainty, belief in God was more rational than either agnosticism or atheism.  His reasoning went something like this.  The cost of a worshipful attitude is lowest, because the payoff to being lucky is so huge, an eternity in heaven, even if the odds are against you.  On the other hand, the cost of disbelief or uncertainty if one is wrong about one's conclusion, an eternity in hell, makes this option unappealing, this time even if the odds are heavily in your favor.

Your POV, which uses rationality as a superior approach to questions such as this--a questionable assumption, let me tell you--basically supports a different version of Pascal.  You think that because you've marshaled copious evidence of the cosmos that doesn't contain God's footprint, so to speak, you can make a cosmic bet on atheism and escape inevitable characterization of your opinion as faith-based.  Since you admit this point, however, you are essentially standing Pascal's position in favor of Christianity on its head.  If you understood polarity and dialectics, you would realize that yours is therefore a precisely similar position, whatever your protestations to the contrary.  Your deity, the great God Ran-Dom is no more provable than is the holy trinity of the Catholics.

If you ever decide to celebrate the wonders of curiosity and uncertainty, you will join me in the agnostic camp.  "I am drawn to those who seek the truth," says one of my teachers, "but I flee from those who have 'found' it."  He means that any statement of utter certainty about any totality of being cannot help, coming from the partiality of human effort, but be uncertain, and hence, if maintained fiercely enough, absurd."

In any attempt to unravel epistemological issues, how we can ascertain the contours of our knowledge, interactions such as this can be helpful.  DK readers may be able to bring to mind a few matters--Israel v. Palestine, nuke futures v. no-nuke scenarios, interventionist foreign policy v. cooperative international relations, among others--in which a training ground in how to consider such questions might serve to create a more collegial and useful exchange of views.  Of course, if the purpose of our work is not to produce such utility, then we needn't worry about such preparations.  Inquiring minds, in any event, as ever would like to know.

Originally posted to SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 12:41 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

    by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 12:41:24 PM PST

    •  The wrong question is being asked (0+ / 0-)

      There is a difference between "does GOD exist?" and "does that GOD exist as defined by x religion?" There is more than adequate proof that the Christian GOD does not exist. HE can't possibly exist any more than can a round square. The Christian definition of GOD as all love, all knowing, and all powerful does not fit reality on the ground. Either he sees the suffering and doesn't care, or He doesn't see the suffering or HE does not have the power to stop it.

      And you can come back with "suffering tests our faith", or "sometimes GOD says no" and I will come right back with "how is that little boy in Iraq with his legs blown off being tested for his faith?" How about the starving baby in Darfur? "Well, he will be in heaven soon." Right?

      And that little tidbit from Pascale that you shouldn't take your chances because maybe you are wrong and you might end up in hell, begs a very important question. Christians say the Jesus was GOD, yet he told us to "love our enemies and do good to those that hate us." Does the Christian GOD hold humans to a higher standard than HE does HIMSELF? HE doesn't have to love HIS enemies, HE's GOD.

      In the Christian mind, GOD created us all. Did HE not see how some of us were going to turn out? HE already had to throw a bunch of angels in Hell for their rebellion, HE didn't see the same thing happening again? Maybe try to avoid it this time? I'm sorry, but if this is the guy that is running heaven, I'll pass. This is obviously a human definition of GOD.

      We have got to get this question straight, or we will never get an answer that properly describes reality. The question is not whether or not a superior intelligence exists, but whether or not that superior intelligence can possibly be defined or understood by humans.

      There are piles of evidence that the Christian GOD does not exist. Any investigation or discussion of "does GOD exist?" should first examine the definition of the word "GOD" very closely.

      As if we could make things better without making them worse.

      by A Voice on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:07:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank god you're not a teacher (0+ / 0-)

        Not that you'd last a day. Your self righteous proselytizing would get you shit canned in a heart beat, and good riddance to you too. Teaching isn't indoctrination in your ideology. It's showing your students how to think, not what to think.

        I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.

        by MnplsLiberal on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:25:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  What ideology would that be? (0+ / 0-)

          Critical thinking?  You could use a course yourself, though you may be a bit too opaque ever to recognize it.  

          Vaya con Dios, kiddo, and try to remain calm.

          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

          by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 06:51:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I wasn't speaking to you (0+ / 0-)

            A Voice's ideology would be what every ideology comes down to: "I have the Truth".

            I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.

            by MnplsLiberal on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:56:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Several seem to have chips on their shoulders. (0+ / 0-)

              Some have called you a troll.  Is that true?  You don't seem completely trollish to me.  Perhaps I'm easily fooled.  

              I'm an old fan of La Follette and DFL, so your posts didn't set off any trolldar in this old lefty.

              I just find the potential for discussion interesting enough sometimes to overcome my aversion to the know-it-all grandstanders and to those who've apparently just gone off their meds for the day or something.

              Who knows?  Keep me posted, in any event.

              I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

              by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 08:30:46 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Oh I am greatly disliked hereabouts (0+ / 0-)

                Especially by the Atheist children here. I bare their bottoms and turn them a bright cherry red and for that they think I must be a troll. They've never met the likes of me for they are accustomed to their echo chamber at Pharyngula and their pathetic religious strawmen the fundies. I am none of those and am here to deliver spankings. It's the only way to deal with snot-nosed brats like these.

                By all means go to PZ's monkey house and see what a cesspool that place has become. He lets them run wild there and when they come here they expect to be able to do the same. I won't allow it. They've already driven off many good democrats and if let off the leash they'd turn this place into yet another hollowed out shell.

                Atheism will not win elections. Driving away religious democrats will lose elections, and since there is no moderation here forceful words must be met with the same.

                I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.

                by MnplsLiberal on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 11:59:00 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Hey there, 'A Voice' (0+ / 0-)

        Well, you're entitled to your opinion, and while I'd be inclined to bet that you were right, your assertions are not dispositive.  Proving nonexistence is nigh on to impossible in an infinite system.

        That said, you might find the review essay, from a Spring, 08 "Science Times" feature, 'Scientist at Work,' interesting.  Entitled "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God," Cornelia Dean's piece reviews Francisco Ayala's work, including his most recent book, Darwin's Gift--to Science and Religion, in which Ayala, a Geneticist from UC Davis, I think, speaks to many of your assertions.

        Best of luck, and thanks for your views.

        I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

        by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 06:50:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Very interesting! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    randallt, beaky, SERMCAP, MnplsLiberal

    It's good to see young folk wrestling with these questions.  More than that, to see them wrestling with different ways to think.

    I like the trail you've suggested for them to follow.  They should make some interesting discoveries as they travel it.

    "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    by revsue on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:01:54 PM PST

    •  Thanks, revsue! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      revsue, randallt

      What consistently astounds me is how ignorant some 'scientific' thinkers are about how the history of science stems from the development of religious thinking.  I'm agnostic, but the debt of science to religion is so clear, as is the way that religious ideas grappled with the same questions with which cosmologists are now engaged.  

      That many 'religious' sorts do not see these intersections is less mystifying, since very few of my 'Christian' students have ever really read the Bible, let alone the work of Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, et al., et al., et al.  Of course, the main inducement to such interchange is how much fun it is, at least for the likes of me.

      I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

      by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:38:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm an atheist and I chose not to call myself (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teachme2night, SERMCAP, Prinny Squad

    agnostic because I feel it's a wishy washy position. I do feel I have proof that there is no god. If you look back at the evolution of religion, you'll see that there were gods for all aspects of life that could not be explained. As we developed knowledge, we lost those gods. For example, no one prays to Zephyr anymore because we understand weather patterns and jet streams. The only question we can not answer, for sure, is where do we go when we die. I'm quite sure we cease to exist just like all life, but whatever, humans need to think there's an afterlife for comfort. All of those gods are gone and the monotheistic religions remain.

    The other problem I have with your position that christians and atheists are the same because we have faith is completely wrong. We have a lack of faith and belief. I don't hold on to my atheist belief to get through life. i never even think about it until someone makes some claim about atheism.

    •  Spot on. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teachme2night, beaky

      The comparison between Christians and atheists was actually laughable, to be kind.

      I expect more from someone claiming to be an academic. Talk about a swing and a miss!

      Serving Master Etna since 2003 / Humans, too, can be reduced to basic mechanical parts.

      by Prinny Squad on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:47:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If you ever get a minute... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MnplsLiberal

        ...you might point out howso.

        I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

        by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:48:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well (0+ / 0-)

          first, atheists don't say definitely. They say I don't buy it. Second, your student's correspondent doesn't believe without sufficient proof [those are your student's words put in the other's mouth] - he says the evidence is insufficient to support belief, and the burden of proof is on the believer. And last, your claim that this unbeliever's position is Pascal on his head is unsupportable. Pascal placed his bet as he did because he saw the downside of being wrong to be greater for the unbeliever. This young infidel makes no such test, in no way chooses the "safer" position in terms of personal risk, and admits to no consequences if he's wrong except having to change his mind [and certainly being found to be "faith-based" is not parallel to an eternity in hell].

          So yeah, "laughable" is kind.

          We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

          by Prof Haley on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:06:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ooooh, you really like to kick people, eh? (0+ / 0-)

            Go for it.  I mentioned that I did this in like ten minutes and was responding to my student's characterizations, meaning that, while I saw the cleverness of her opponent, I accepted her characterization of their ongoing exchanges at face value.  

            In any event, you can define things as you see fit in your universe, but I'll stick to the OED or any other comparable source, thanks all the same, and atheism is more than 'not buying it;' it includes the positive assertion of non-existence, which is no more provable than the superiority of your cranial capacity.

            Best of luck.  I'm glad to proffer insult practice.

            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

            by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 06:55:10 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, it makes good (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SERMCAP, MnplsLiberal

        observational sense. Just look at the emotion invested in the faith, either side. It's in your response and the comment you responded to. An agnostic invests no emotion in faith because he has no knowledge or conclusive evidence either way. Sometimes atheists display as much absolutism as any religious fundamentalist. Same game either way, seems to me.

        •  "as much absolutism as any religious fundamentali (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Prof Haley

          ?

          Because religious moderates go around saying, "I don't really know if there is a god, I don't really know if my religion is false, I don't really know if my prayers are answered, I don't really know if I am being conned", right?

          Not only that, but you didn't say, "some atheists", you said "sometimes atheists", implying that ALL atheists act like "religious fundamentalists" sometimes.

          Can you elaborate? Do atheists shoot abortion doctors? Scream at grieving widows at military funerals because they think their dead spouses were gay? Accuse terrorists, and right-wing politicians, of not being "real" believers, but rather closet atheists, because they commit atrocities? Introduce laws to outlaw abortion? Introduce laws to prevent the Supreme Court from enforcing the 1st Amendment? Harass pregnant women attending family clinic? Prohibit funding for birth control, or even family planning education, for US foreign aid? Introduce laws to allow pharmacists to refuse to provide day after pills to rape victims?

          Tell me, exactly how do atheists "sometimes" behave like religious fundamentalists - as opposed to sometimes behaving just like regular religious believers?

          I'm fascinated to hear this.

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:58:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Simple, you are absolutists (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            SERMCAP

            Some atheists, the New Atheist variety in particular, have a fundamentalist and absolute belief system. You can see this in their extreme emotional reaction to any opposition, the stereotyping of their opponents and the constant ad hominems. When I see an atheist reduced to spittle flecked RAGE over some obscure point then I know I'm dealing with an ideologue.

            Your hate betrays you. You can't control it and it consumes you utterly. This is not the mark of a reasonable mind. It is the mark of a fanatic.

            I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.

            by MnplsLiberal on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:35:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Just to be clear, questions were for randllt (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Prof Haley

            not the known petty troll stalker-wannabe that spews its usual spittle below.

            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

            by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 04:31:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Who is a 'petty troll stalker?' (0+ / 0-)

              And what is a 'petty troll stalker?'  Hmmm.  Inquiring minds want to know.  

              I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

              by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:19:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  MNplsLiberal. Well known in this community. (0+ / 0-)

                If you don't already know that, you should have gleaned that from his comment comparing me to Adolph Hitler, because

                "Ya know who else couldn't tolerate criticism?
                Hitler, that's who."

                Actually, based on your favorable response to his other spray of spittle in this same diary, it seems you know who he is, and support his trollish ways.

                In which case, you'll be just as consistently ignored - by both atheists and theists who have a basic sense of decency and proportion (and who actually have a life offline).

                Your choice. You can engage in constructive debate here, or you can be an immature troll. You'll find this community has little patience for the latter, no matter whose "side" you are on.

                One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:42:03 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  I got a name for you. (0+ / 0-)

            'Random Acts of Fallacy.'  To say, 'sometimes atheists are absolutist' may mean what you say, but it does not imply that.  Lack of complete precision only implies derision to the paranoid.  Has anyone ever called you paranoid?  

            And, after committing a grammar error unworthy of an advanced middle school student, you go off on some wild combo of straw man and guilt by association path that does in fact suggest that the poster might somehow approve of the evil that you catalog.  Why not just stick to the discussion at hand?

            Oh yeah, after the RAF presentation, you do wonder how atheists "'sometimes' behave like religious fundamentalists."  Here's how.  They share intellectual inclinations with their religious counterparts.  They make an assertion--by the way that's a statement of something as fact without being able to prove it that, in the totality of the universe, God does not exist.  Now, the fact that I happen to think they are probably right does not change the fact that--unless they are God, they cannot demonstrate this as a fact.  They make a 'leap of faith,' admittedly one more in tune with other facts, etc.  

            Is disbelief in God reasonable 'beyond a reasonable doubt?'  I'd be inclined to agree.  Is that philosophical or mathematical or scientific certainty?  Only a fool or an intellectually dishonest person would say so, since the universe is too large to measure completely, at least so far, and some would say, intuitively, forever.

            In any event, you might take a look at "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God," a "Science Times" review essay from '08 that examines the work of Francisco Ayala, a former Dominican Priest turned Geneticist professor who no longer espouses much of anything other than tolerance and an understanding of evolution.  His book, Darwin's Gift--to Science and Religion, ought to be required reading for militant atheists, those who 'sometimes' behave like religious fundamentalists.

            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

            by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:17:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Are all who believe in god "fundamentalists"? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Prof Haley

              If not, then why are all who disbelieve in god "fundamentalists"?

              I addessed this question in a comment you chose to ignore.

              Unless you are stating that everyone who firmly believes that there is a God is a militant fundamentalist, then it is illogical for you to state that everyone who firmly believes that there is no God is a militant fundamentalist.

              Not to mention that most atheists do not firmly believe there is no god, they simply don't see any evidence that there is one. So, just like they don't see any evidence of the Tooth Fairy existing, or square circles, or buckets weighing 15 lefts, they don't see any reason to believe in a God.

              If presented with contrary evidence, they will change that opinion. They aren't engaging in an act of faith, there are simply being consistent - they don't believe in things for which there is no evidence.

              But, even for that sub-set of atheists who state, unequivocably, as a matter of absolute faith, that there  is no God, so what?

              They are no more "fundamentalist" than every theist in America who is sure, as a matter of absolute faith, that there is a God.

              Fundamentalism is not just belief, it is action to impose beliefs, by undemocratic means, on others.

              I challenged the commenter who made that false equivalence to present evidence of atheists acting as fundamentalists act, to impose their will on others and inhibit their practice of their beliefs, by undemocratic means.

              Or, even by democratic means! There are no bills in the house designed to impose atheism on anyone. I defy you to present evidence that atheists oppose pluralism in America.

              It's demagogic nonsense.

              Since no one - not one person here - and certainly not me - has ever made the statement - certainly nowhere in this thread - that the non-existence of God is a "philosophical or mathematical or scientific certainty".

              You are battling straw men based on a prejudicial view of what an "atheist" is - even though you claim to be one.

              One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

              by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:50:47 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  No. (0+ / 0-)

                I'm using the OED definition of atheist and atheism as a reasonable starting point and then going from there.  According to the same source's definition of agnostic, your atheists--if they do not 'positively deny' the existence of God, are not atheists by that definition.

                By definition, every atheist makes a 'leap of faith' that is similar to a fundamentalist's, or other religious believer's, 'leap of faith,' though as I've pointed out repeatedly, the evidence that the universe offers us overwhelmingly supports an 'atheistic' interpretation.

                The point is, what's your problem?  Why don't you listen?  Why do you keep stating absurdities?'

                If not, then why are all who disbelieve in god "fundamentalists"?

                I certainly never said anything of the sort; you've stuffed those idiotic words in my mouth.

                Unless you are stating that everyone who firmly believes that there is a God is a militant fundamentalist, then it is illogical for you to state that everyone who firmly believes that there is no God is a militant fundamentalist.

                Ditto my last note.

                  But, even for that sub-set of atheists who state, unequivocably, as a matter of absolute faith, that there  is no God, so what?
                  They are no more "fundamentalist" than every theist in America who is sure, as a matter of absolute faith, that there is a God.

                According to the definition that I'm working with this 'small subset' is the only group of 'atheists' in existence, a characterization with which OED agrees.  If you want to use a different definition, write a post about it for God's sake.  

                Oops!  I'm an agnostic.  The idiom is inescapable sometimes.

                Since no one - not one person here - and certainly not me - has ever made the statement - certainly nowhere in this thread - that the non-existence of God is a "philosophical or mathematical or scientific certainty".

                Hence they are all making a leap of faith, not unlike the Christian or Muslim or Hindu makes, intellectually, to stand by a certain position, though, as copiously acknowledged, it is much more of an evidence-based position.

                You are battling straw men based on a prejudicial view of what an "atheist" is - even though you claim to be one.

                I haven't set up any 'straw men.'  That's your department; see the above.  I'm not an atheist; I'm an agnostic with atheistic tendencies.  

                BTW, do you have a problem with people of faith?  Just checking.  Anyhow, intolerance, except when applied to fascists and the willfully ignorant, is not a very becoming feature.

                I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 08:12:04 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  As hundreds of conversations by dozens of (0+ / 0-)

                  members of this community have pointed out endless times, atheism is not exclusively the blind belief that gods do not exist.

                  Many atheists here have explained that atheism is lack of belief in gods. Period.

                  Some subset of atheists believe that gods do not exist. Just as a subset of agnostics belief it is inherently impossible to determine, while other agnostics believe that we just don't know yet.

                  It is generally considered rude in this community to continue to insist to define others contrary to the way they define themselves.

                  Self-determination is a basic progressive value.

                  We will not continue this discussion - which, you'll note, other atheists are not even bothering to engage you with - until you stop presuming to define others contrary to their own self-definition.

                  Until that time, we're done here.

                  One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                  by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 09:15:56 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Self-definitions aside... (0+ / 0-)

                    ...my definition, based on authority that most would find acceptable, i.e., the OED, is what I'll use in my essay, thanks all the same.  Of course, the notion of 'self-definition' in an examination is a little loaded as well.  Can we imagine letting Custer define his role among the Sioux, without taking into consideration other authoritative voices?

                    How about Catholicism?  Can we trust that 'self-definition' will always be apt?  Sort of sounds, oh, I don't know, like the 'fallacy of popularity.'

                    Hmmmm!

                    I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                    by SERMCAP on Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 09:50:30 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  This is obviously correct. (0+ / 0-)

          And quietly intelligent.  That means that the ax-to-grind crowd will unleash their puny cannonades in all probability.  Thanks for your brief wisdom.

          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

          by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 06:57:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Just agree with them (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Prof Haley, A Voice

      and ask them to grant atheists the same deference, respect, inclusion and avoidance of critical speech that they grant to all other religions.

      Ask them to help fight for tax exemptions, exemption from reporting, government subsidizing of annual conventions and use of public facilities for atheist organizations churches.

      Ask them to call any theist who criticizes atheism on Daily Kos a "militant fundamentalist hater", just like they do when an atheist criticizes any religious belief on Daily Kos.

      Ask them to write a letter to their Rep and Senators asking that atheists be included in Prayer Breakfasts, take turns delivering the prayer to open sessions of Congress, and fund and certify atheist military chaplains.

      Ask them to join our protests when public figures say there are no atheists in foxholes.

      If they aren't willing to do that, tell them that their argument that atheism is a religion is hypocritical bullshit.

      Besides, criticizing atheism because it is based on irrational beliefs is kind of a dubious thing for a theist to say....

      One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

      by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:51:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ya know who else couldn't tolerate criticism? (0+ / 0-)

        Hitler, that's who.

        I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think.

        by MnplsLiberal on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:37:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Don't feed the MnplsLiberal. (0+ / 0-)

        One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

        by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 04:32:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  You must have studied all of the fallacies dude!! (0+ / 0-)

        Let's reason by the fallacy of substitution.  Since the government's relations with religion are hypocritical and opportunistic, anyone who discusses atheism as sharing elements of religious thinking has two choices.

        Choice one: grant the same hypocritical bullshit that religion gets to the atheists.

        Choice two: kowtow to atheists' superior, and quite Godlike, capacity to know all that is knowable about the cosmos.

        Good luck.

        I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

        by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:22:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry, your comment makes no sense (0+ / 0-)

          If you hit "reply" to a specific comment, rather than replying to the diary in general, can you attempt to make your response address the substance of the comment you are replying to, directly and logically, rather than veering off into irrelevant tangents, straw men, and, in most of your other comments, attacks on the messenger?

          I honestly don't understand what you are saying in this comment of yours.

          What is this nonsense about "atheists' superior, and quite Godlike, capacity to know all that is knowable about the cosmos" all about?

          This discussion was about claims that atheism is a religion, to which I say, for the sake of the argument, so what? If you believe that, then grant it the same respect and rights as any other religion.

          I fail to see how that statement warrants your bizarre series of non-responses.

          And, my argument continued, if you (meaning those that insist that atheism is a religion)  aren't willing to grant atheism the same deference and benefits you grant to other religions, then your hypocrisy is clear, and your argument is disingenuous.

          Which happens to be fine, since atheism isn't actually a religion, and most atheists don't believe anything different about Jehovah than virtually every theist on Earth believes about Zeus, or Jupiter, or Xenu, or the Tooth Fairy. Most atheists simply do not believe there is any evidence to support a belief in God.

          In fact, the only reason most people consider it unique, is that it is widespread.

          Which, since you brought up "fallacies", you should know is the fallacious argument from popularity.

          SO, if you have a substantive, coherent andrespectful response to that, I welcome the debate.

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:58:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Don't you see a difference? (0+ / 0-)

            Your past three or four posts have been reasonable, and have not assumed premise after premise that cannot be sustained.

            One bit I don't follow, though, is this.

             In fact, the only reason most people consider it unique, is that it is widespread.
              Which, since you brought up "fallacies", you should know is the fallacious argument from popularity.

            What is your referent for "it" above?  Belief in God?  Atheism?  And who in hell said that any of those things were unique?  Please identify my error of confusing vox populi with proof.  I'm capable of it, but I don't know what in the devil(oops!  There I go again)here could conceivably invite such a charge.

            In general, your tone has shifted bubba.  Don't you feel it?

            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

            by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 08:24:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You still have no substantive response (0+ / 0-)

              Just more attacks on the messenger, "bubba".

              One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

              by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 09:05:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Hey, 'Bubba!' (0+ / 0-)

                I love that word, 'substantive,' coming as it does from the noun 'substance,' one that my ESL students often puzzle over.  

                Substantive commentary, as in solidly connected to some argument, is something that occasionally may be 'in the eye of the beholder,' so to speak.  On the other hand, I'm clearly capable of pointing out, as I've done more than once, the 'substance' of my original essay, which you have either ignored or misinterpreted, the latter so that you could project your rage and righteousness in inappropriate ways.

                These may be the attributes of a 'community' in your eyes, but I see the behavior of a gang, a clique, a group of children on an island, as in the Lord of the Flies, instead.

                I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                by SERMCAP on Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 09:55:42 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

    •  It is not a prerequisite of Atheism (0+ / 0-)

      to lack faith and belief. I have tons of faith. That the floor will be there when I get out of bed in the morning. That my car will turn when I turn the wheel. All activity requires faith. Faith in what is the question.

      I also have some very strong beliefs that there is a superior intelligence in the universe. I see it everytime a lizard no more than 2 hours old snatches a bug. I see it when a seed sprouts in the most unbelievable of conditions.

      You can't abandon faith and you don't have to abandon belief in order to know that a god as defined by humans cannot possibly exist.

      As if we could make things better without making them worse.

      by A Voice on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 03:16:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hey Beaky! (0+ / 0-)

    The point that I make, though like you my inclination is to disbelieve in any sort of ultimate cosmic consciousness, is that all atheistic 'lack of faith,' if believed to the point of an insistence on rectitude, does require a 'leap of faith' to attain that point of positively denying the existence of God.

    I see your point about wishy-washiness of course.  A review essay that might interest you, if you haven't already read it, is from a 2008 Tuesday "Science Times" section of the New York Times.  Entitled, "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room For God," it was Cornelia Dean's 'Scientist at Work' examination of Francisco Ayala and his recent monograph, Darwin's Gift.

    Anyhow, thanks for the input.

    I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

    by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:47:21 PM PST

    •  I'll read the article. (0+ / 0-)

      I do want to say that I whole-heartedly support you helping your students think critically, something that is sorely lacking today. It's something my husband and his fellow profs complain about.

      I was also amused that your two students were an atheist and an agnostic arguing about god.

      I'm not sure about the leap of faith thing, but that might be because I never believed - ever.  I was raised entirely without religion. My parents didn't have us baptized because they wanted us to find our own path. My brother became a Methodist and got baptized with his first child. Anyway, I  attended services with friends a handful of times and got nothing out of it.   James Michener's The Source really cemented my already formed idea that religion was a joke.

      •  Someday... (0+ / 0-)

        ...I'm going to post this coming of age essay that I wrote.  Though reared Catholic, from the age of seven, I've been a thorough skeptic about anything like God-the-Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

        The 'leap-of-faith' thing is just a point of logic, that when one believes something--a postulate in geometry, for instance, that is unprovable, no matter how plausible, one must accept its unprovability and get on with things.  That's a 'leap of faith' in my book.

        I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

        by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:08:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I understand. (0+ / 0-)

          My husband is also a lapsed Catholic. Boy, was his family glad to meet me - not. He started losing faith in high school. He really hated the Shroud of Turin movie/presentation and couldn't believe people were buying it. He's a physics/astronomy professor now, so he's a natural skeptic.

  •  Common mistake (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teachme2night, Prinny Squad

    to assert atheists claim certainty. To have no belief, on account of having no reason to believe, is not to have faith. See this series of diaries from earlier this year for more discussion.

    To regard the possibility of the existence of gods as vanishingly small, on account of overwhelming lack of evidence and Occam's razor applied to the history of religion, is not to assert certainty. Any god could demonstrate its existence any second now - but I'm not holding my breath. That doesn't mean I claim to know the unknowable. It means that I conclude the "two sides" of the question are not, in light of evidence, equally probable.

    Also - there are more religions than Christianity. In fact, that's one of the observations easier to explain without gods than with them.

    We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

    by Prof Haley on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:47:22 PM PST

    •  Now that's the stuff. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Prof Haley, teachme2night

      Right on, Prof.

      Serving Master Etna since 2003 / Humans, too, can be reduced to basic mechanical parts.

      by Prinny Squad on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 01:48:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  What do words mean? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MnplsLiberal

      The word 'deist' has meaning.

      So does the word agnostic.

      Also the term theist.

      And of course atheist means something.

      I agree that the likelihood of a cosmic consciousness anything like the Abrahamic concept is 'vanishingly small.'  But I'm also sure that in accepting this I am an agnostic, not an atheist.

      Arguing about definitions is paltry at best.  But I'm pretty certain that my OED definition for atheist,
       

      'one who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God'

      is possible to differentiate from the definition of agnostic, to wit
       

      'one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and, so far as can be judged, unknowable, and especially that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we know nothing.'

      Thus, since I do not see my agnosticism as atheism, I am comfortable in maintaining, that though my reading of the odds of God favor the atheist, his or her beliefs, if reaching the point of active denial, do require a 'leap of faith,' though this may also be 'vanishingly small,' as you point out.

      I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

      by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:00:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm pretty sure (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Prof Haley, SERMCAP

        a similar line to "I agree that the likelihood of a cosmic consciousness anything like the Abrahamic concept is 'vanishingly small.'" is in The God Delusion by Dawkins, and I don't think he'd describe himslef as an agnostic.

        I'd agree with you on everything you say, apart from that I describe myself as an atheist. Maybe its just a matter of your level of certainty, too subjective too quantify?

        •  Fair enough. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Narrative

          I honestly thought that this post would pass through the DK mill like grits through a goose, without comment.  Very interesting.  

          I totally acceded to your point, stated a little differently, that as a matter of semantics, one can discern little difference between the belief systems of many who call themselves atheists and others who contend that they are agnostics.

          I like words to have stable meanings, and I take mine from authoritative sources, at least today, but often, the very devil himself is in the definitions of things.

          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

          by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:27:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Um I hate to tell you this but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SERMCAP

    it is BOB not "Bobby". (How sacrilegious!)

  •  Your student has moved on and is ready for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Prof Haley

    teachers who will not betray his youthful trust by saying ridiculous things like

    there is no difference between christians and atheists because christians say there that there is definitely a god, and atheists say that there is definitely no god.

    Set him free to join the rational world.

    "I still believe in liberalism today as much as I ever did, but, oh, there was a happy time when I believed in liberals..." -- G. K. Chesterton

    by teachme2night on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:41:41 PM PST

    •  What? (0+ / 0-)

      What teacher said that?  Not me.  What are you saying?  Your quip doesn't register, in any event.

      I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

      by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:29:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's your student, quoting you (0+ / 0-)

        Read your own diary.

        We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

        by Prof Haley on Sat Nov 07, 2009 at 12:57:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you congenitally unable to read? (0+ / 0-)

          Or do you have to practice?  That was my student, quoting her friend, as in a 'forwarded transmission.'  Why don't you learn to read, 'Professor,' before you pester me again?

          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

          by SERMCAP on Sat Nov 07, 2009 at 10:17:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ahem (0+ / 0-)

            My student wrote to me as follows.

            Hi, Mr. H.
            This is (your favorite student). ... I said what you said in class once: there is no difference between christians and atheists because christians say there that there is definitely a god, and atheists say that there is definitely no god.

            That's you, quoting your student quoting you saying what teachme2night says you said.

            We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

            by Prof Haley on Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 04:10:39 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yesss! (0+ / 0-)

              That's my student, a sixteen year old who is quite bright but still merely a sixteen year old for all of that, paraphrasing various points that I've made about disagreements regarding belief systems, spirituality, ideology, and such: to state that this is a quotation is obviously ludicrous and false, thanks all the same; to assert that what the student said fully reflected what I in fact said, without checking in with me, is, at best presumptuous, and more likely fatuous.  People who love to burn straw men cannot resist such attacks, perhaps, but, as a 'professor,' you might show a little caution before indulging such nonsense.

              While I don't have recordings of what I've said, on the many occasions when students have shown an inclination to discuss such matters, I am clear about what I have conveyed, in a general sense anyway, which is this: Some atheistic thinkers are so certain of their rectitude that their attitude brings to mind fundamentalist religious folks of various stripes.

              The whole point of my post was very small, and perhaps paltry--to suggest that such conversations, about all manner of controversial issues, are healthy, both for seeing POV's more clearly and for teaching tolerance and reasoning/articulation skills.  Had I thought that 'professors' and those whose 'handles' suggest an interest in learning would take a young person's characterization as gospel, without any clarification, in order to attack the easily knocked down perspective suggested in the pupil's e-mail, perhaps I would have been more cautious.

              But only perhaps.  Your ilk doesn't care about dialog, or at least a clear implication of what has transpired here is that conversation has nothing to do with what you all are up to.  You do care about preening and self-congratulation about your 'superior' ability, which in fact comes down to the ability to draw crazy conclusions and then demolish these  non sequiturs that have little or nothing to do with what their erstwhile 'opponents' are saying.  Thus, why bother with caution?

              Not one of the posters here, who have assaulted thin air, instead of me, have even engaged my very modest point in writing the essay.  That idea may have little merit, but it strikes me as useful.  Schools should encourage, in class on a regular basis, discussion of such matters as spiritual belief v. rational thinking, abortion rights v. legal proscription of terminating pregnancies, nuclear power and weapons v. disarmament and renewable energy, criminalizing drugs v. decriminalization of controlled substances, and on and on and on and on, instead of disallowing, or generally discouraging,  such lively debates.

              You are welcome to your opinions, whatever they may be.  But you have yet to engage what I've been doing here, except with distortion and false witness.  Great work.

              I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

              by SERMCAP on Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 07:00:48 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Did your student quote you correctly (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Prof Haley

                or, more generally, learn the right lesson from this:

                I said what you said in class once: there is no difference between christians and atheists because christians say there that there is definitely a god, and atheists say that there is definitely no god.

                If not, can you clarify where the student got it wrong?

                One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 03:49:45 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Dude, this is not a quote. (0+ / 0-)

                  It is a searching sixteen year old's paraphrase.  And I didn't say 'it' once only; the idea that clashing ideologies is healthy is a recurrent theme in my work.  The student was probably referring to one of my 'legendary' quizzes, so difficult that I give cash prizes for perfection, about the 'Science Times' review essay that I've recommended to all and sundry here, "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God," an assessment of Francisco Ayala's peripatetic work, and of his new book, Darwin's Gift--to Science and Religion.

                  Ayala points out, aptly and axiomatically, that

                  Neither the existence nor nonexistence of God is susceptible to scientific proof,

                  which has been my primary stance with my students, that we must not confuse faith with fact.  In that context, I have said that fervent atheists, if they insist that their 'faith' in a God's non-existence is militant enough, is similar in form to the 'faithful' insistence by religious fundamentalists that they know the precise contours of God.

                  These are kids, RAofR.  How likely are they to be punctilious in making an attribution such as what you proffer?  Leaving aside that the entire, very small, point of my post was different from this issue, one would need to be careful in presuming that a child's paraphrase with complete accuracy reflected another's POV in such a situation.  

                  Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

                  I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                  by SERMCAP on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 06:38:45 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  What a politician's non-answer dodge (0+ / 0-)

                    you should run for office.

                    It's a simple yes or no - do you teach that:

                    here is no difference between christians and atheists because christians say there that there is definitely a god, and atheists say that there is definitely no god.

                    One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                    by RandomActsOfReason on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 08:24:45 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  If you cannot see that the answer is 'no,'... (0+ / 0-)

                      ...you need to go back to school, bad!

                      I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                      by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 06:38:03 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  So, what *is* the difference? (0+ / 0-)

                        One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                        by RandomActsOfReason on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 09:24:31 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Hmmmmmmm.... (0+ / 0-)

                          ....and what 'difference' would that be?

                          I think I get what you're getting at, but let's be clear.  I don't exactly trust your intentions here.  You seem to me to 'know' all the answers in advance.

                          So before I talk about what I think you're asking, why don't you clarify, to what 'difference' you are referring.

                          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                          by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:13:11 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Let's take questions as they are (0+ / 0-)

                            without trying to read between the lines all the time, and respond straightforwardly, and I think everyone will communicate better.

                            In fact, rather than assuming I know where you are coming from, and arguing with what may turn out to be a straw man of my own misunderstanding, I'm asking you for you to present, as simply as possible, your argument - so that I can respond to what you actually assert. I think that's fair, and the most constructive way to proceed.

                            Your student understood you to teach that there is no difference between Christians and Atheists because both make definitive statements about the existence of god.

                            If that is not what you meant to teach, it follows that there is a critical distinction between Christians and Atheists on this particular issue of definitive statements.

                            What do you believe is that difference?

                            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                            by RandomActsOfReason on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:39:29 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  One relies on doctrine... (0+ / 0-)

                            ...the other on evidence and reason, as I point out to my youthful charges.  Both, according to my definition of atheism--which various authority supports--make a 'leap of faith' in expressing certitude about their rectitude.

                            My argument, however, had nothing to do with any of this.  Rather, I was making a comment on the present state of much of public education, at least in Georgia.  In that scene, discussion of such basic controversies is rare, or even prohibited.  My point is that actual education requires full, open, and respectful exchanges about just such matters.  That is my argument, a very small point, as I've repeatedly noted, though I would be willing, given appropriate impetus, to write more about atheism, agnosticism, and theism, which are much bigger matters, and things that interest me.

                            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                            by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 10:48:57 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I support your points on education 100% (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Prof Haley

                            And I haven't heard anyone here who objects to them.

                            The primary objection I have is your insistence on the narrowest, pejorative definition of "atheism", which most atheists - including the prominent "new atheists" as well as just regular atheists in my experience, and I am active in atheist circles - do not accept as valid.

                            And, most modern dictionary and encyclopedia definitions do not agree with that singular, narrow definition, either.

                            Atheism used to be defined in dictionaries in very pejorative terms, as a synonym for evil. We're still fighting that battle in the public eye.

                            Insisting on denying people the right to define themselves, and denying a group of people the right to define themselves, in the way that seems most accurate to them, and which, in fact, accords with the accepted definitions in most dictionaries and philosophy textbooks, strikes many here as just hostile and arrogant.

                            The definition that seems to be the consensus among atheists is that there are six possible approaches to the question of the existence of god:

                            1. God/s definitely exist/s in the personal sense, and both intervene/s in the universe and respond/s to prayer (hard theism)
                            1. Some kind of supernatural "spirit" definitely exists "out there", and may have created the universe initially, but does not currently act on the universe (except, some believe, in the form of poltergeists or dead spirits talking to us) or respond to human prayer (modern deism, or, soft theism)
                            1. There is inherently no way to know, and either is likely (hard agnosticism)
                            1. I don't know either way, so either I just act as if there aren't, or I practice Pascal's Wager (soft agnosticism)
                            1. Given the utter absence of evidence, and the fact that the existence of god/s would contradict known scientific understanding of natural laws, it is overwhelmingly likely that there is/are no god/s, so one might as well assume there aren't and act accordingly (soft atheism)
                            1. There definitely is/are no god/s, either because logical arguments make the concept self-contradictory and therefore impossible - or, because I just don't believe there is/are god/s (hard atheism)

                            (note that the more common modifier have been "weak" and "strong", but, because "weak" seems to offend some people, many researchers have started to use the terms "hard" and "soft", which seem less offensive).

                            The only definitions I insist on are those for hard and soft atheists - everything else are my interpretations of other's beliefs, based on what I understand them to say - but I am willing to be corrected, since I don't believe in defining other people against their will, and respect self-definition more than dictionary definitions - self-determination being a primary progressive, humanistic value, in my view.

                            Statistically, every bit of data I've ever seen, corroborated by my life experience discussing this with literally hundreds of atheists, as well as the writings of the prominent atheist thinkers, supports my assertion that the strong majority of atheists belong to the weak, or soft, atheist camp. They act on the assumption god's do/es not exist, but, either as rational skeptics, or as people who just don't think about such things much, the likelihood is so remote (as remote as the existence of the Tooth Fairy or square circles) that is it not worth wasting time on or worrying about - BUT, if presented with new evidence, they will draw new conclusions.

                            I assert, similarly, that a large number of these atheists reached that conclusion deliberately and consciously, after examining their feelings and thoughts and understandings, and reaching the conclusion that it is far more likely that no god/s exist than the other way around.

                            I happen to be a strong or hard atheist, actually, and not at all for reasons of blind belief or emotional wishes, but because I believe the concept is a logical contradiction, and all arguments for the existence of gods are tautologies.

                            However, being a rationalist skeptic who tries to employ the scientific method and critical thinking wherever I can, I never close the door to any possibility. There is, in my estimation, a non-zero probability that a god or gods exist - but that probability is so low - lower than many more fantastical notions even the most superstitious person dismisses - that, for all intents and purposes, it's easier just to say, "gods do not exist".

                            However, I am in the distinct minority among atheists - Dawkins, for example, disagrees with me, and Sam Harris is more agnostic about spiritual realms, while rejecting the notion of a personal god. And Hitchens - well, Hitchens is just a sad drunk who has swung like a pendulum from one ideological extreme to another, driven in most part by what he hates more than what he loves, and I'm not quite sure why he is brought up as part of the group, except for the fact that he presents such an easy, distasteful target for anti-atheists.

                            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                            by RandomActsOfReason on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 11:16:58 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Dude! (0+ / 0-)

                            I like atheists; if I had to choose, or face a firing squad, I'd jump on board the atheist ship.  According to your definitional scale, I AM an atheist.  

                            I like words.  I don't discriminate.  I know the hideous hypocrisy of the governments of America in regard to religion.  I also acknowledge, however, that, as a therapist of my acquaintance once remarked, "the human psyche may very well work better with God in it, whether or not God actually exists."  I've written a short story, due for publication in a book with a title something like 'Atheist Tales,' that is a reasoned argument for abandoning that psychic proclivity.

                            But to me the distinction is useful between those who insist on either God's existence(especially along some doctrinal line)or God's nonexistence, and those, like me, who acknowledge some modicum(or more)of uncertainty.  This is key, to me, because the only position that leaves 'room' for others, as Ayala points out, is a position that admits our inability to settle certain questions conclusively.  Therefore, though it may piss you off, I'll stick to my own tripartite categorical scheme.

                            But your points, above, are well-taken.  Why don't you post about that and quit complaining that I don't adhere to that line of thinking?  Inquiring minds want to know.

                            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                            by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 11:29:54 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  What is relevant, in the context of this site (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Prof Haley

                            which is about politics in the real world, is that:

                            a) most theists in the US are hard theists (82% of American theists believe in a personal god, and a similar percentage believe not only in personal intercessory prayer, but that 2rd party prayer actually workds);

                            b) hard atheists are a small subset of atheists to begin with (who are, in turn a small subset of Americans) - but atheists who cite as mere belief, with no reasoning, "there are no gods" are a small subset within the hard atheist subset within the atheist subset of Americans.

                            In point of fact, they are so vanishingly few that making them any kind of issue is akin to a straw man;

                            c) you can insist all you want, but insisting on calling other people things they don't call themselves is both arrogant and irrational.

                            I call you a theist, and insist on carrying on our conversation accordingly. Is that productive? I don't think so.

                            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                            by RandomActsOfReason on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:10:16 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  So post it. (0+ / 0-)

                            But don't expect that, when you ignore(until your next to last comment)my main point, which however 'small' is profoundly, and 'within the context of this site,' political, that I will just say, "you go boy."

                            I don't know that I'd dispute any of your analysis above, with the exception of any statement or implication that I should just STFU and 'do it' the way that you see as apt.

                            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                            by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:26:42 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  You don't need to do anything, (0+ / 0-)

                            but if you want a discussion about education, don't keep insisting on redefining atheism pejoratively, and then act surprised when atheists take over the diary and try to correct you.

                            And, don't be surprised when you respond with snark, condescension and prevarication, that people don't respond with roses and obsequiousness.

                            Feel free to "insist" all you want, but I can't hear your educational message through your prejudicial language.

                            In my experience, when everyone seems to either misunderstand me or ignore my argument, I'm probably doing it wrong.

                            Of course, everyone else but you could be wrong, which you seem to think is de rigeur. But, even if that is true, you still fail to communicate effectively.

                            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

                            by RandomActsOfReason on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:37:09 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  You can dislike all you want... (0+ / 0-)

                            ...and you and your party-line agnostics-who-call-yourself atheists clearly constituted a majority of the commenters here.  But by no means were you 'everybody.'  I'm happy to take on all intellectual comers in debate.

                            I won't allow the people who hold me up, however, to insist--unless they're holding guns on me--that they are not highjackers and thugs, because they are behaving as they do due to my language's not conforming to their ideas of rectitude.  I will continue to point out the problems with such a process, as I am doing here and will continue to do.

                            More power to you building some sort of workable political coalition in these 'Christian' United States,  using your thuggish methods.  I've been working, now and again successfully, in the non-virtual political trenches in the South, a region that many of DK would just write off as hopeless, and I've only done that because of my tolerance and respect for theist progressives, whatever my own non-theistic tendencies.

                            How's your political coalition building going?  Anything to point to?  You'd have no luck here pitching the sort of 'woo' that came down in this instance, of that I am certain.  As I said, though, best of luck.  I love receiving practical lessons, instead of cant and self-serving insistence on rectitude.  Vaya con Dios, even if neither of us believe in the concept.

                            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

                            by SERMCAP on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:50:15 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

  •  My response to the "atheism is a religion" argume (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JimmyTheSaint

    is, "So? Does that mean you will fight for atheists to have all the rights, benefits, tax exemptions, respect and inclusion that all other religions are entitled to in our pluralistic America?

    "Does that mean you will actively fight back against those who attack atheists here - or even those who attack the idea of atheism itself, since the common trope here is to equate any challenge to a religious belief with personal attacks on all followers?

    "Does that mean you will now vote for an atheist for public office, and argue with your neighbors who say they won't?

    "Does that mean you will join our protests when news anchors say "no atheists in foxholes", when politicians say atheists are not patriots and perhaps shouldn't even be citizens, when celebrities say they wouldn't want their children to marry an atheist? Will you boycott these atheophobes?

    If atheism is a religion, will you support me building tall ugly edifices that block out the sun on prime land in your neighborhood, without requiring me to comply with city ordinances or pay real estate taxes?"

    If atheism is a religion, do you support exempting atheist organizations from reporting requirements of how contributors money is spent, just like other religious organizations?

    If so, WONDERFUL! I will accept that atheism is a religion.

    If not, shut the fuck up."

    One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

    by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 02:45:45 PM PST

    •  Yes to most inquiries... (0+ / 0-)

      ...no to a few, and a recommendation to remove the chip from your shoulder, which causes you to argue from substitution in a way that cannot possibly advance anything other than vituperation.

      Is that what you want?  People to say 'fuck you' back?  Hmmmmmm.  Get a grip.

      I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

      by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:31:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  SERMCAP, do you have any substantive argument (0+ / 0-)

        to make in any of your comments, or are you falling prey to the illusion that attacks on the messenger somehow address the message?

        One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

        by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:51:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Who knows? (0+ / 0-)

          I'm pointing out that discussion, in good faith and with collegial spirit, of difficult and contentious points is good for democracy, good for developing a capacity to understand complexity and choice, and that encouraging this among youngsters is a good idea.

          To illustrate this, I posted about a student's e-mail to me, a forward in that e-mail from another student, and my own response to my pupil.  I acknowledged that my thinking was 'off the cuff' and rudimentary.  But the fundamental point, that agnosticism is differential from both atheism and theism, both of which share a 'leap of faith' in defining their positions as a certainty, is 'philosophically, mathematically, and scientifically' indisputable, in my estimation, though the evidence is pretty overwhelming that God don't exist.

          I certainly didn't expect a miniature shitstorm.  It's all very interesting.  Thanks for asking.

          I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

          by SERMCAP on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 08:18:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Since this is a political community, (0+ / 0-)

            the logical question is, what are the consequences of your argument?

            You start with an error - maintaining that atheism is the belief that there are no gods.

            Then, you say that atheism and theism are both "leaps of faith".

            So what?

            Even if we accept your flawed premise - that atheism is the belief that gods do not exist, as opposed to lack of belief in gods, which is quite a different thing - what are the socio-political consequences of that conclusion?

            You wish to pretend this is your private site, and ignore the context of ongoing discussions on this issue in which theists use "atheism is a religion" as a bizarre sort of attack to discredit atheism.

            And, you wish to prevent commenters from discussing the implications of your (flawed) argument.

            You also seem to have no interest in discussing the flaws in your argument, because I have brought them up, and you have continued to ignore them, choosing instead to call me, "bubba".

            You ignore the fact that, with the exception of this particular thread, my comments in this diary have been responses to others, who have made complaints about "atheist fundamentalists" and how they are just like "theist fundamentalists".

            I'm not sure what your purpose is here. You seem a bit confused about the nature of Daily Kos specifically, and online discussion forums in general.

            You could cut the personal bullshit and stick to substance.

            Or, you can continue with the personal bullshit.

            It really doesn't make much difference in the broader scheme of things. You're just an pseudnymous poster in a community of thousands, just like me.

            What matter in the end is the power of our ideas, not the slant of our sneers.

            One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

            by RandomActsOfReason on Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 09:12:35 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I need hip waders... (0+ / 0-)

              ...to get through your postings.  And the stench, my God(oops!), I can barely breathe.

              No need to rip every line to shreds, which is basically plausible in regard to this last.  I'll just note that your first point, which resembles all of your other points in its falsity and distortion.

              You start with an error - maintaining that atheism is the belief that there are no gods.

              Just because you dislike my definition, or perhaps my source, the Oxford English Dictionary is distasteful to you, does not mean that you get to call that definition 'an error.'

              I'll quit getting personal when you do; stopping the lies and distortions would help too.

              I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

              by SERMCAP on Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 10:02:42 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Sorry: no. (0+ / 0-)

                Just because you dislike my definition, or perhaps my source, the Oxford English Dictionary is distasteful to you, does not mean that you get to call that definition 'an error.'

                But your definition is an error. Atheism requires only a lack of belief, not an affirmative belief that gods do not exist.

                As for the OED definition, again, you're simply in error:

                atheism Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.

                (Emphasis added.)

                Like so many others, it appears that you haven't bothered to look up what disbelief is:

                disbelieve 1. trans. Not to believe or credit; to refuse credence to: a. a statement or (alleged) fact: To reject the truth or reality of.


                I have never understood why so many people are so adamant that they know better than atheists do what "atheism" means. Why is it so important to you to shove your conception of who we are on us?

                It's hard to avoid concluding that it's a result of the widespread hatred for atheists that exists in our society--we members of a despised minority have such low status that you feel perfectly comfortable dictating terms (our terms) to us.

                Does it mean nothing to you that the vast, overwhelming consensus of self-declared atheists agrees that "atheism" is merely the lack of belief in gods?


                Why do so many people think they know what atheism is better than atheists do?

                Why, when atheists explain who we are and what we do and don't believe, do so many people respond by saying, "No, that's not who atheists are -- let me explain to you who you are"?

                [....]

                I can understand not being familiar with what atheism means in the first place. Heck, for years I myself thought atheism meant 100% certainty, too. But why -- when confronted with an actual atheist saying, "This is what atheism means" -- is the reaction so rarely, "Oh, that's interesting, I didn't know that"? Why, instead, is the reaction, "No, it isn't"? Why is the reaction, "I understand atheism better than you do, and now I'm going to explain it to you"?

                [....]

                Let me make an analogy. If you're not gay, would you say to a gay person, "You don't understand what it means to be gay"? Would you say to them, "Being gay means that 100% of your sexuality is directed towards people of the same sex"? Would you say to them, "If you've ever had sex with someone of the opposite sex, or have even had a slight passing inclination to be sexually interested in someone of the opposite sex, then you're not really gay"?
                Would you say to a gay person, "I understand what 'gay' means better than you do"?

                And if you are gay -- how would you feel if someone said that to you?

                [....]

                I think there are two things going on. (Apart from the more generous interpretation: that the people in questions really just don't know, and that it sometimes takes a few repetitions for the message to get through.)

                One, and most obviously: I think it's an attempt to marginalize atheists, and to discredit the atheist movement. When believers make the "Atheism means 100% rigid certainty" argument -- especially moderate and progressive believers -- they're attempting to make atheists seem like hard-line extremists who take an indefensible position and adhere to it dogmatically. (And when agnostics make the argument, I think it's an attempt to distance themselves from those bad atheists: the loud, confrontational ones who keep making everybody angry and getting in the news.)

                It's a classic straw man. It's the insistence that we hold extreme and indefensible positions that few of us really hold... so they don't have to wrestle with the reasonable and entirely defensible positions that most of us really do hold.

                Two: Defining one's self is among the most powerful acts a community and a movement can take.

                When gay people started insisting on being called gay; when women started saying, "Please don't call us girls, we're women"; when transgendered people politely but firmly request that people address them by the name and gender they identify as... those are powerful acts. Defining one's self says to the world, "We are not who you say we are. We are who we say we are." It says to the world, "You have to deal with us on our terms -- not just yours." It says this to the world... and it says it to other people in the movement.

                Defining one's self is among the most powerful acts a community and a movement can take.

                And people who desperately wish for a community and movement to disappear are not voluntarily going to let us have that power.

                They are going to keep trying to define us, so they can continue to make us look like rigid, hysterical, unreasonable dogmatists who don't have to be taken seriously. They are going to keep trying to define us, so they don't have to think too closely about who we really are and what we really think. And they are going to keep trying to define us, simply because they can: because defining a marginalized group is a way of saying that your definitions, and not theirs, are the ones that count.

                We have to not let them do that.

                - Greta Christina, Atheism and Self-Definition

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