General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

Does this clarification finally put to rest the debate over whether Atheism is a religion?

Asked by ninjacolin (14246points) January 28th, 2012
81 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

Mono-theism isn’t a religion.
Agnosticism isn’t a religion.
Pantheism isn’t a religion.
and of course:
Atheism is not a religion either!

Everyone happy now?
If not, could you please explain?

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cockswain's avatar

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Sunny2's avatar

They are all beliefs. Now we have to agree on what a religion is.

marinelife's avatar

I never had a debate. Atheism is not and never has been a religion.

jerv's avatar

According to G.W. Bush, Wicca is not a religion either. Your point?

Then again, according to those statements you made, religion does not exist anyways, rendering it all moot.

elbanditoroso's avatar

so you make four statements without definition and clarification to give ‘proof’ to something that wasn’t argued about. And this is your supposed proof? It’s empty.

Seems like you need to work on your logic and argumentation skills. You make an assertion without offering the rationale behind it.

You have proved nothing.

Jeruba's avatar

I know a professional atheist who refers to atheism as his religion.

I think your belief system must be faulty, @ninjacolin, if you think presenting a few facts is going to put an end to any debate about beliefs.

Aethelflaed's avatar

1, define religion – from what I remember from a couple religious studies classes, there is no one definition that encompasses all the traditionally-recognized religions (both big and small) without also defining several things that aren’t considered religion. 2, did someone say here on Fluther that it was a religion? I’m kind of confused by this question.

ninjacolin's avatar

lol, I guess I’ll have to take it as a compliment that NOW it seems soooo obvious that atheism ought never have been considered a religion. Haha, okay, for those who aren’t familiar, this is often a popular debate topic that comes up. I’ve seen it many times and if ever you see it, at maybe you’ll be able to put a lid on it quick by pointing this out.

@elbanditoroso the “clarification,” as I described it, was the class of word atheism is in along with the others. None of the other words in that class describe a specific religion. Rather each of those terms are used to label varying beliefs about the number of gods believed to be in existence. None of those terms are intended to describe a particular religion. Instead, multiple religions might subscribe to any one of them (eg. The Islamic religion and the Christian religion are both mono-theistic but separate religions.)

@Jeruba, @jerv yea, definitions can be personalized but by most common definition, atheism isn’t suppose to be considered a religion. It’s a misnomer of sorts that tends to confuse some people and sometimes confounds larger debates.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Aethelflaed, I believe I can give you a definition of religion that adequately meets those requirements. I would have to dig it up though, if you’re interested.

mazingerz88's avatar

I’m guessing in a religion, you have to worship someone or something. Atheists do not have that.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin Yeah, that’d be great.

PhiNotPi's avatar

I believe that the major difference between atheism and religion is not in the belief of a god, but in the relative predictability that is associated with the things that they believe in. Atheists limit their beliefs to things that can be used to predict future events, while religions have deities or spiritual forces that are not predictable. It is important that the predictions be formed before the event, and that there is a way to measure both when the prediction is confirmed and not confirmed.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Atheism is no more a religion than not living in Michigan is an address.

LostInParadise's avatar

Let me play devil’s advocate. Okay, atheism is not a religion, but Secular Humanism is.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ I’m kinda down with that. Admittedly, I’m lacking research on “secular humanism” but from the little I have learned, I’m comfortable calling it religion which SOME atheists subscribe to.

ninjacolin's avatar

@jerv said: “Then again, according to those statements you made, religion does not exist anyways, rendering it all moot.”

I don’t think anything I said rejects the existence of religions. Christianity, Islamity, and Buddhamity are all religions in my books. But monotheism (which the first two classify as) and deism (which the later classifies as) are not definable as “religions”.

talljasperman's avatar

I’m not happy… people should be able have the freedom to call what they belive whatever they want. A person can call themselves whatever they want and It shouldn’t concern anyone else…as long as they are not hurting anyone it is no ones business but theirs what anyone else belives in private.

LostInParadise's avatar

Is it possible for a person not to have a religion? You have to derive beliefs and values from somewhere. Could it not be said that how you derive what you believe in and what you value constitutes a religion?

ninjacolin's avatar

@talljasperman I totally know what you mean somehow..but what’s to be said for having common definitions of things? should everyone just expect words to mean whatever they want or should we generally be trying to communicate in a common tongue?

@LostInParadise :) i don’t think it’s technically possible to avoid having something which could be defined as a religion. Totally agree with what you’re suggesting… the whole of what you believe as it impacts your behavior and expectations of reality itself.. that massive worldview of yours.. seems to be synonymous with religion to me.. really wish I could find that definition though for specifics..

talljasperman's avatar

@ninjacolin Not if it means being controlled by some group…or some one, without my consent. The common tongue is for public use, the private tongue is your own property. We already have a good enough common tongue for the things that matter to the public. If I want to call myself anything different in private then It doesn’t matter to the public Its personal and anything personal doesn’t need to be made public. All we need to do is decide and agree on what is public and what is private. Or other words what is my business and what is not my business. I vote that my religion, or lack of religion, is only my business…unless I take it into the public then I should expect some rule or law to kick in.

Charles's avatar

They are all beliefs. Now we have to agree on what a religion is.

Not (necessarily) true. Atheism is the absence in the belief in a god.I am an atheist and I don’t believe in anything. I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe there is no god. I have no faith. Belief and faith are components of the process of non-thinking.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

Why the hell are we even having this conversation?

Not collecting stamps is not a hobby.

JLeslie's avatar

I consider atheism a belief system, but not a religion. Not an organized belief system, but rather a personal belief system.

I don’t think there really needs to bean argument or agreement about whether atheism is a religion and/or belief system. It’s sort of an argument of semantics, how one defines religion and belief system. I may not believe in God, but many of the questions in life religion tries to answer, I have answers for through my atheism.

ninjacolin's avatar

@JLeslie.. I notice that your description is unsettling to my senses for some reason.. By classic definition, Atheism has only one belief in it.. which is why I find “belief system” a convolution of the original meaning. There is no system, there’s just one item: The belief that god probably doesn’t exist. That’s the minimum and maximum requirement to classify as an atheistic conclusion.

There are no other beliefs or conclusions available that qualify as atheistic. All other beliefs, like “That bad people should go to prison” or the theory of evolution.. these aren’t atheistic in nature. For example, an atheist might believe the world is 6000 years old and the product of an alien Television network. None of his other beliefs have anything to do with question of how many Gods he believes might exist in the Universe.

An atheist specifically describes anyone who concludes that God probably doesn’t exist. How the person comes to that conclusion is irrelevant. The person’s other beliefs in addition to that one (eg. Whether or not to go to church. Whether or not to celebrate christmas. Whether or not to give to the poor) are irrelevant.

I don’t understand where the “system” you referred to comes in.

ninjacolin's avatar

@talljasperman Alright, I guess what I’m exploring then is the public definition of the term.

EverRose11's avatar

Gottcha ! But I never thought it was, nor did I ever wonder abut it either, however what proof did you offer those who may have and probably still do consider it a religion…. what was the point of your 4 < four >rather hallow statements?

auhsojsa's avatar

Religion is when a group of people decide that there is a set belief along social gatherings & events to support any deity. I don’t think atheist conjure amongst each other and share atheist idology whislt worshipping an atheia cause
Maybe there are cults but to me religion’s. Are cults. Why do I think that is?

digitalimpression's avatar

I never realized there was a debate about it.

But now that you bring it up.. the definition of “religion” is just vague enough to allow for atheism to be a religion.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Of course it doesnt.

Soupy's avatar

Atheism has no requirements other than not believing in any gods. Some atheists may believe certain things religiously, they may be superstitious, but these things have nothing to do with their atheism. You may as well group people who don’t like fig jam together and call them a religion.

So I suppose there might be atheists who one could call “religious”, but atheism itself is certainly not a religion any more than “off” is a TV station.

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin Atheists tend to not believe in an afterlife. Tend to deal with a bad situation not using prayer, not turning to God obviously. Atheists look to earthly answers. This is a system of sorts. If you give a Q and A about how your personal beliefs answers certain questions to Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Jews, and more, they all probaboy have answers for what they believe to be true. If I believe something, isn’t it part of my belief system? But, it is not organized like a religion atheists have no demand on other atheists to agree or think in the same way. There is no one saying you must agree to belong, and no one preaching a certain doctrine. I guess an exception might be religions that include atheism, but those religion seem to have more flexibity and patience and acceptance, and not expect blind faith.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I think a lot of the problem is that people are sloppy with the word “atheism.”

Some people use the word to refer to non-theism in general, which leads to the claim that babies are atheists. The fact of the matter is, however, that babies simply haven’t put any thought into the matter. They lack a belief in God, but they haven’t taken the trouble to figure out whether they should accept, reject, or suspend judgement with regard to the existence of God.

Other people use the word to refer to a particular form of metaphysical naturalism, an ontological position that rejects all things supernatural. While atheism is one component of metaphysical naturalism, however, this usage ignores the existence of atheists who are not metaphysical naturalists. Jainism is one example of an atheistic religion that rejects metaphysical naturalism.

The counterexamples to each of these misuses of the term point us towards what atheism is: the belief that God does not exist. So while @ninjacolin does not make the argument explicit, I take it his point is this: just as monotheism, agnosticism, and pantheism are not religions—but rather beliefs that may or may not be part of a larger worldview—so, too, is atheism a belief rather than a religion. Theism is not a religion, but Christianity is a religion that is also theistic. Atheism is not a religion, but Jainism is a religion that is also atheistic.

mattbrowne's avatar

Atheism is a belief system and a movement, not a religion in a strict sense.

However, human language is complex. Many words are ambiguous, i.e. they have more than one meaning. The word religion does have multiple meanings, a second one for example in

“consumerism as a modern religion”.

Dogmatic atheism can be seen as a modern religion, for example when thousands of people, who are rightly pissed about fundamentalist homophobia and creationism, are celebrating the veneration of Richard Dawkins. Not for being a world-class biologist, which would be fine, but for his ill-fated attempt to become a philosopher and expert of religion and theology.

So the answer to your question is: yes and no.

ninjacolin's avatar

@JLeslie and @mattbrowne

It’s a case of mistaken identity. People who consider the word “atheism” as denoting a “religion” are making a mistake since those words don’t formally have anything to do with one another. Colloquially, sure, you can do whatever you want with words but technically, the word simply wasn’t intended to be used that way.

“Atheist” is not like “Christian” or “McDonalds worker”
“Atheist” is more like “Believer” or “Worker”

The word Atheist simply doesn’t describe a religion. Atheist describes 1 specific belief that a person may hold.

Such a funny issue. I can see how it happens but it’s really hard to put your finger on why people get confused by the term. It’s like a misnomer of sorts.

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin I think both @mattbrowne and I basically agree it is not a religion. Are you just agreeing with us, or still misunderstanding where we are coming from? I can’t tell, online communication is difficult, I don’t want to misunderstand your intent.

Atheists as individuals still have a set of beliefs of how the world works, their morality code, and other things that many people credit religion with.

ninjacolin's avatar

Online communication is difficult. I expect these exercises teach us to be more clear in person-to-person communication though somehow… hopefully.. haha.

Cool, no it wasn’t perfectly clear to me before that you “basically agree it is not a religion”.. but it is clear now thank you. :)

ninjacolin's avatar

@JLeslie said: “Atheists as individuals still have [their own] set of beliefs of how the world works…”

Totes agree.

AdamF's avatar

@ninjacolin Just ask them whether theism is a religion?

Usually does the trick…

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin My first answer at the top:

I consider atheism a belief system, but not a religion. Not an organized belief system, but rather a personal belief system.

I don’t think there really needs to bean argument or agreement about whether atheism is a religion and/or belief system. It’s sort of an argument of semantics, how one defines religion and belief system. I may not believe in God, but many of the questions in life religion tries to answer, I have answers for through my atheism.

ninjacolin's avatar

@JLeslie I mentioned that your first answer struck me funny because you said: “I consider atheism a belief system” in lieu of the fact that Atheism technically only pertains to a single belief.

I guess that’s why I needed clarification. It’s a matter of semantics, I can see too. But as I said, I’m exploring how the word gets misconstrued by so many and I think your sentence “I consider atheism a belief system” contributes to confusion.

For example, I would consider it more accurate of a phrasing if your sentence read this way:
“The atheistic conclusion is a product of my belief system.”

But I still don’t agree that atheism is itself definable (formally) as a belief system in itself, rather it’s just one belief.

I’m sure this seems petty at this point, but I’m just trying to pinpoint the difference between our takes on the matter. lol, is it okay to explore this?

@mattbrowne also used the same words: “Atheism is a belief system”
Which again, I just don’t find that phrasing to be accurate.

I suspect, @JLeslie, that you mean to say something like: “I’m an atheist and I have a belief system.” Which I consider accurate and true even for myself. And I can see how in conversation one might say something like: “My atheistic belief system is awesome.” Which can be misinterpreted as: “My atheism is a belief system in itself and it is awesome.” but which is actually attempting to say: “My belief system, which happens to include the atheistic conclusion, is awesome.”

oh words…

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin I see now the point you are getting at. Thank you for further explaining. Makes me want to be careful about how I state it to be understood. I find it interesting how people, including myself, get hooked on a sentence, even if the rest of the paragraph or essay explains it differently than first understood.

Just a comment on “my atheistic belief system is awesome.” I would never say that, I can’t imagine any atheist saying it.

ninjacolin's avatar

lol, I’ll say it right now:

sorry for any potential confusion.

Nullo's avatar

Everyone worships something.

ninjacolin's avatar

Maybe they do maybe they don’t. But how many existent deities can an individual count on their finger tips? 6? 3? 0? 1? That’s what this is about: counting deities. And you’re grouped by the final sum you come up with.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@mattbrowne In what way is atheism, as opposed to secularism or something else that may (or may not!) be related to atheism, a movement? Atheism is a belief that may be part of one’s religion (e.g., Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism) or part of some other worldview (e.g., metaphysical naturalism). One can be an atheist without being part of any particular belief system or movement.

@Nullo I rather think that is false. I can think of plenty of people who clearly do not worship anything.

ninjacolin's avatar

@SavoirFaire, @Nullo‘s conclusion being false depends on how he defines the term “Worship.” (which is why I dodged that contentious point)

I didn’t disagree with @mattbrowne‘s movement point because I rather think there is somewhat of a movement towards the atheistic conclusion. I don’t have any facts to back it up but somehow I assume atheism is a growing phenomenon among a certain skeptical demographic.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire What is the thing that you hold in the highest regard? What do you come closest to obsessing over? What defines you?
That is most likely also the thing that you worship. For some people, it’s money. Some people revere celebrities. Some people devote their lives to their televisions.

mattbrowne's avatar

Okay, I already said that atheism isn’t a religion in a strict sense. Neither is theism. Both are belief systems. What is a belief system? I checked some dictionaries:

The basis on which beliefs are based.

The word basis means ‘a starting point, base or foundation for an argument or hypothesis.’

The main argument of atheism is that a deity does not exist or that there’s probably no God, as written on this bus

There are many theists who are not religious or who do not follow any religion. Theism is simply a belief system, the main argument being that a deity does exist or that there’s probably a God.

Some religions do not include theism such as Buddhisms, while others do such as Judaism.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@ninjacolin It may depend on that, but there are uses of words that are so out of line as to be wrong. I suspect that this is one of them.

@Nullo That’s really not an answer. Just because something is important to me does not mean I worship it.

@mattbrowne I really wish you would take the time to read previous responses when you join questions. You never do, or at least never seem to, and it makes your responses incredibly superficial. You are being sloppy with the word “atheism,” as I discussed above, and using it to refer to a subset of atheists. This is a mistake.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

It’s still going. Why, oh, why is it still going?

Atheism is a blanket term to describe those without a belief in a deity. All good? All good.

This encompasses everyone from those who would say “There is absolutely no god, and I’ll kill you if you say there is.” to those of “I was never raised in any kind of deity-believing environment, so I’ve been unable to form any kind of opinion on this topic.” to “I’m not really sure if there’s a god, now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and do some reiki.”.

Done? Good? On we go to more important matters.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@KoleraHeliko False. “Non-theism” is a blanket term to describe those without a belief in a deity. “Atheism” is a blanket term to describe those who reject the existence of a deity. Again, see my post about being sloppy with words. So while I agree that atheism is not a religion, your definition isn’t quite right either.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire First, you’re conflating strong atheism with atheism, and second, drawing an artificial distinction between the overlapping philosophical positions of nontheism and atheism.

Earlier you wrote this “what atheism is: the belief that God does not exist.” Which once again is unnecessarily narrow, because the belief in the non-existence of something is not the same as the lack of belief in something. The former is stroner than the later. Both nevertheless are atheists.

Atheism : a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

or: a person who does not believe in God or gods

ninjacolin's avatar

usually, I say an atheist is someone who believes there is “probably no god.”
But I like the expression: “denies or disbelieves in any gods.”

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin For me, I call myself an atheist because I don’t look to God for answers or miracles. I also don’t believe he exists, but am willing to say it might be impossibpe to know for sure. Some might say that makes me agnostic, but in reality I live as an atheist. I didn’t have an idea of God until my teens. I didn’t know who Jesus was according to Christianity until my late teens.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@AdamF I am not conflating them, I am denying the clarity and usefulness of the strong/weak distinction and providing an alternative. We’ve had this conversation before—albeit indirectly—so you should know that. Nor am I drawing an artificial distinction: at no point did I say that atheists are not a subset of non-theists. I am happy to agree that they are. I find most of the work surrounding pop-atheism to be historically ignorant and philosophically shallow, however, so you will have to forgive me for not taking Mr. Cline’s word as gospel.

The dictionary fallacy doesn’t really impress me either. The first definition agrees with me, the second is from a dictionary that isn’t supposed to be technical, and the whole appeal is pointless anyway. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive.

@ninjacolin Indeed. One of the advantages of putting it that way is that one may be an atheist with different degrees of certainty, and one can be an agnostic while still thinking that probability swings one way or the other.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire Recap: You claimed that @KoleraHeliko definition “Atheism is a blanket term to describe those without a belief in a deity” was “False”, and instead defined Atheism as “a blanket term to describe those who reject the existence of a deity.”

The important distinction seems to be that you narrow the term atheism well beyond issues of mere belief, to the point where atheism only includes those who outright reject god(s) existence.

So the problem as I see it is that 1) you’re claiming that others are wrong when their definition is more consistent than yours is, with that provided by the most comprehensive English dictionary available (as philosophically shallow as that may be;, and perhaps more importantly, 2) the definition you last provide isn’t even consistent with a definition you provided earlier on this very page i.e. “what atheism is: the belief that God does not exist.”

SavoirFaire's avatar

@AdamF No, my definition is still in terms of belief. The difference is that it is not in terms of lack of belief. The belief that God does not exist is not the same as the lack of a belief that God exists. As the former is all I mean by “reject,” my definitions are perfectly consistent.

Furthermore, appealing to the dictionary is fallacious, as I have already noted. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. That they reflect a popular error is to be expected for precisely that reason, but they cannot then be used to further support that error.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire I think you’re continuing to overlook that “a blanket term to describe those who reject the existence of a deity.” does not convey the same meaning as “what atheism is: the belief that God does not exist.”. But so be it.

With respect to the descriptive versus prescriptive argument, unless I’m missing something, there isn’t a consistent nor objective philosophical position as to what atheism is. So to see the issue as broadly as possible, the meaning of the word has changed through the millenia, the etymology of the word can be interpreted differently, and there are correspondingly different schools of thought as to what atheism “should” or “should not” refer to.

So I fail to see how anchoring this to “prescriptive rather than descriptive” helps your argument.

The oxford definition may be “descriptive”, but it seems to accurately convey the current breadth of “prescriptive”, ie. disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@AdamF I am not overlooking, but rather denying, that the phrases mean different things. What is it you take the difference to be, and is the difference to be cashed out as something more than conversational implicature? I have not denied, after all, that the phrases may fall differently on the ears. What I have said is that they are semantically the same (even if their pragmatics are different).

As for the descriptive versus prescriptive argument, the point is only that appealing to dictionaries (and especially to etymology) is fallacious when debating how a disputed word is best used. I am quite aware that the word “atheism” is used in ways that I am rejecting as lacking perspicuity, and I am quite aware that any good dictionary will acknowledge this use. Indeed, we wouldn’t even be having this debate were it not for the fact that people use the word this way. What I am arguing for is the abandonment of one taxonomy in favor of a linguistically and philosophically superior one (same as in our previous conversation).

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire “Reject(ing) the existence of deities” indicates an active denial of the existence of any gods. Resistence is inherrent to this philosophical position, because to reject something is an active stance. Whereas “the belief that god does not exist” does not indicate such resistance, and thereby broadens the concept to include those who do not deny the existence of gods, but nevertheless believe that they do not exist.

Seems there’s an easy solution to this issue at least. If regardless of what I’ve just written you nevertheless see the two wordings as identical in implications, then may I suggest you should stick to the later. It shouldn’t cost you anything (they are interchangeable in your eyes anyways), and has the benefit of removing an unecessarily loaded term.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@AdamF “Reject” was explicitly used in contradistinction to “accept” and “suspend judgment.” In that context, it is no different from “believing not-x.” The point is only to distinguish “rejecting x/believing not-x” from “not believing x.” I also think you are making an unnecessary public/private distinction. Even if I never speak of my belief that God does not exist, I still reject/deny His existence. That I do it in my head rather than to other people changes nothing. Regardless, you’ll notice that my default is to describe atheism in terms of “believing not-x” except for when there is an argument that requires clarification in terms of accept/reject/suspend.

LostInParadise's avatar

Let me see if I can draw a distinction between the two sets of beliefs. Suppose a person is in a desperate situation and is contemplating whether or not to pray for help. The person who neither accepts nor rejects God would reason, “Well I have no reason to say that it will not work and I am desperate, so I might as well give it a shot.” The person who rejects the notion of God would say, “I am desperate but praying is a waste of time.”

ninjacolin's avatar

Atheism and Theism are conclusions you reach on considering certain arguments and evidence. In the foxholes of despair, with no other arguments/evidence to consider besides the terrors of the moment and the few scattered thoughts you have access to, the brain will conclude whatever it can.

An atheist might very well hope there is a god to save him just as a theist with a guilty conscience might start hoping there’s no hell. At that point, you’re working with limited imagination. I don’t think it matters whether you’re one or the other in those circumstances.

What does matter, I would think, is what you can conclude during times of careful examination.

LostInParadise's avatar

By that reasoning, @SavoirFaire makes a valid point. If there is no way of distinguishing the behavior of someone who denies the existence of God from someone who is indifferent to the notion, then for all practical purposes they are one and the same. I would go further and claim that someone who professes to believe in God but who does not display any religious behavior is for all intents and purposes an atheist.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@LostInParadise Suppose I’m a utilitarian. I’m fully and wholly utilitarian, but I don’t go to my little utilitarian meetings every week. By your logic, I must be a libertarian.

LostInParadise's avatar

@KoleraHeliko , Unitarians have a bit of difficulty in defining just what they are. What behavior do you engage in that makes you a Unitarian other than saying you are one.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire (and others!) “I also think you are making an unnecessary public/private distinction.”

Actually I wasn’t intending to take it there at all, because to do so adds an unnecessary layer of uncertainty and interpretation that does nothing to help clarify the issue. My comment should be taken purely in reference to an individual contemplating the classification of their own beliefs.

Anyways, to bring this back to my personal views, I would never define myself as “rejecting the existence of god(s)”. It implies (to me at least) an a priori stance, rather than a post hoc conclusion based on the evidence available.

But it is true to say that I don’t believe that god(s) exist. But even writing that is complicated by the fact that god claims vary from the ridiculous to the irrelevant, with the level of probabilistic dismissal of the nonbeliever likewise varying accross the spectrum from outright rejection of some god concepts, to something perhaps more suitably described as a conscious lack of belief (as opposed say, to the “lack of belief” of a child) in others.

Response moderated
SavoirFaire's avatar

@KoleraHeliko I don’t understand your response to @LostInParadise. Utilitarianism and libertarianism are not in the same kind of oppositional relationship as theism and atheism.

@AdamF I don’t understand why you think “rejection” implies an a priori stance. This is certainly not the way that it has been used in philosophy; and indeed, the paradigm of a posteriori reasoning—empirical science—is frequently described as engaging in rejection (e.g., of the null hypothesis).

But if we want to bring this back to personal views, my own are part of the reason for my adoption of an alternative taxonomy. I am an apatheist: I believe that the existence or non-existence of a God or gods is irrelevant. As I am not interested in accepting or rejecting claims about the existence of any god, one could say that I lack belief. That does not make me an atheist, however, and so I have good reason to reject any definition that would attempt to force me into that category.

As for your comments regarding your own beliefs, all they seem to show is that there are different ways of being an atheist. But this should come as no surprise. There are different ways of being a theist, as well, not to mention different ways of being an agnostic, an ignostic, or an apatheist. These are broad labels; they need not capture every single detail. They simply should not get any of the details they are supposed to cover wrong.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@LostInParadise It was an example. The “suppose” made that clear, I thought.

@SavoirFaire They don’t need to be logical opposites, they are different enough to make the point that ”...someone who professes to believe in God but who does not display any religious behavior is for all intents and purposes an atheist.” is utterly incorrect in every conceivable manner.

LostInParadise's avatar

Beliefs manifest themselves in behavior. If there is no difference in behavior between two people then their belief systems must be equivalent.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@LostInParadise Many species of insect are further classified according to colour. If two insects have the same colour, they must be the same species.

LostInParadise's avatar

Insects have no beliefs and color is not behavior.

ninjacolin's avatar

I wouldn’t think insects could function at all without beliefs.

LostInParadise's avatar

They are automatons. They have no more beliefs than my computer.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@LostInParadise Analogies are so tricky to understand, aren’t they. Let’s try another: I don’t like jam. So I don’t buy jam. Another person loves jam, but they don’t have enough money to buy jam, so they buy no jam. By your logic, since our behaviour is the same, we must hold the same feelings for jam.

LostInParadise's avatar

You bring up a good point. What I said was somewhat simplistic, because we may be limited in our ability to carry out certain kinds of behavior. I might like Porsches, but I cannot afford to buy one. What our buying behavior indicates is our relative preferences. The person who cannot afford jam is forced to demonstrate relative preferences for other commodities. The person who can afford it is not forced to make such a decision.

Similarly, a person who has a certain religious belief may not show religious behavior if he lives in a place that would prosecute him for acting that way. My assumption regarding religious behavior was made on the assumption that a person has the freedom to choose what to believe and how to act on it.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire Sorry for the intermission…too many work meetings.

You wrote the following “I don’t understand why you think “rejection” implies an a priori stance. This is certainly not the way that it has been used in philosophy; and indeed, the paradigm of a posteriori reasoning—empirical science—is frequently described as engaging in rejection (e.g., of the null hypothesis).”

Precisely why I made the point. No one has falsified the god hypothesis. Any one of us can posit the existence of a superpowerful being that can’t be detected.

So defining atheism by your terms requires the rejection of the existence of all gods regardless of the absence of falsification. Thus the rejection is not post hoc, but a priori.

It’s not surprising therefore that atheists reject this taxonomy. It unecessarily limits atheism to an impossible position, and places the burden of proof on them rather than on those who are making the supernatural claims.

LostInParadise's avatar

All of which is why you classify a person as theist or atheist based on behavior. Simply put, a theist demonstrates religious behavior and an atheist does not. One more time, belief is manifested by behavior. Beliefs that result in the same behavior are indistinguishable.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@KoleraHeliko Ah, I see. Thank you for the clarification. I completely agree.

@AdamF I’m afraid I do not see how your response fits into the dialectic. My point was limited to the implicit claim in your post that all rejection is a priori. This is false, as I take it we now agree. I never said that all rejection is a posteriori, and I certainly never said that all a posteriori rejection is based on scientific falsification. And this is all for the best, as to say otherwise would be patently absurd. I accept and reject claims based on philosophical reasons, as well as scientific reasons (again, this is not exhaustive).

Let us again recall that all I mean by “to reject the existence of God” is “to believe that God does not exist.” You are the one who bears the burden of explaining why—in the limited context under which I find the term to be applicable—it is inappropriate or infelicitous for me to make this equivalence. Furthermore, I see no reason why it ultimately matters given my clarifications. Even if you do not like my word usage, it should be abundantly clear what I mean by it. Addressing the usage, then, does not address my actual definition.

AdamF's avatar

@SavoirFaire “Furthermore, I see no reason why it ultimately matters given my clarifications.”


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