What's an Atheist? Catch-All

You tell him "You are clearly an incredibly powerful being, but I have no way of knowing if you are (a) God."

With enough evidence, you could provisionally accept this hypothesis, provided you were willing to be proven wrong later. In fact, that might be the smartest choice.

Robear wrote:

Larry, I don't think that animist-style spirits qualify *unless* they are deemed to have *supernatural* powers over their domain, small though it may be. The question of whether there is a "spirit" in each of us is independent of the question of whether there are supernatural powers which influence the world.

So someone who believes that everything has a spirit, a consciousness of some sort, a place in the world, could still be an atheist. If they also believed that those spirits were created by an All-Father figure of supernatural power, then he'd be a theist. But the two are not necessarily congruent beliefs.

Sounds very close to polytheism, but not quite. If a group of animists were to organize and worship said spirits in some way, then I think they'd fall under the definition.

LarryC wrote:

Farscry:

Follow up question:

What if you were a kind of animist who believed that the world itself was spiritual in nature, and so everything had a spirit in the same way that everything has color and sight and sound. So in that way, the sun has a spirit in the same way that the air, the plants, the rock, and yourself - all spirits in a spirit world.

This is not that far away from early Aristotelian natural philosophy, actually, except that Aristotle did not assign agency to his elements.

So, the entire world is composed of "gods" (you yourself are a god), but you worship none of them. This is actually also somewhat similar to Shinto Buddhiism, which you referred to. So on the basis of that, theist?

I'm going to get super-specific here since you're digging down to that level.

Deities can be anything from major deities (such as the God of Abraham) to medium deities (various Greek, Norse, etc gods that were major supernatural beings but restricted to specific domains and powers) to minor deities (Animist beliefs which you describe here).

So yes, if you are a Shinto Buddhist, an Animist, or something similar, then you are not an atheist. You are actually a theist (more specifically, you would fall under some branch of polytheism).

The problem with the term atheist is that it allows the theists to frame the issue.

There is no reason for an atheist to describe herself or himself in terms of a deity unless the theists are controlling the societal norms.

As I've tried to explain to people who ask me: "why don't you believe in g*d?", it isn't so much that I've made a conscious decision not to believe in a g*d, it is more that I just don't think that "do you believe in g*d" is a very interesting question to ask. It is like asking me which giant animal I think carries the Earth on its back through the cosmos. (Although, for irony's sake, I'd pick the Turtles all the way down camp in a heartbeat.)

It is more accurate to describe my approach as Freethought.

Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas.

This describes me and my values much, much, much better than my position on which brand of invisible sky-friend I talk to at night. I can only think that by continuing to allow the theists to frame the discussion based on their primary assumptions puts non-theists and those who don't think the answer to the theist question is interesting at a significant disadvantage. It would be like a progressive congressperson saying "I support the death tax" instead of "Inheritance taxes maintain the freedom of our society and allow success to be based on merit rather than on a hereditary nobility."

*edited paragraph order

It's funny because when I started reading into Buddhism there was a record scratch moment when I got to the metaphysical stuff. I kept reading about Buddhism and thankfully it's compatible as a philosophy with discarding the metaphysical stuff. But yeah, Buddhists are largely theist, I would say. Depending on how they practice.

Robear wrote:
You tell him "You are clearly an incredibly powerful being, but I have no way of knowing if you are (a) God."

With enough evidence, you could provisionally accept this hypothesis, provided you were willing to be proven wrong later. In fact, that might be the smartest choice. :-)

I don't even want to know what the consequences might be to remain an unbeliever in a world where "God" has shown up.

So yes, if you are a Shinto Buddhist, an Animist, or something similar, then you are not an atheist. You are actually a theist (more specifically, you would fall under some branch of polytheism).

Better yet would be to say that the Western term "theism" isn't accurate enough to describe your spiritual tradition. It is a popular myth that global cultures are commensurable, that is to say, are capable of being measured by the same tools.

For example, if you translate the term "siesta" from Spanish into English it comes across as "afternoon nap". Afternoon nap is a really crappy way of describing the break in the work day due to the oppressive heat of the subtropic climate. Similarly, Theism or Deity are really crappy and inaccurate terms to use to describe the objects of respect and veneration of non-Western cultures.

We call a lot of thing "gods" and a lot of activities or relationships "worship" because we aren't clever enough to really understand what is going on.

DanyBoy wrote:
Robear wrote:
You tell him "You are clearly an incredibly powerful being, but I have no way of knowing if you are (a) God."

With enough evidence, you could provisionally accept this hypothesis, provided you were willing to be proven wrong later. In fact, that might be the smartest choice. :-)

I don't even want to know what the consequences might be to remain an unbeliever in a world where "God" has shown up. :shock:

You know that scene at the end of Dogma, where God makes the angel's (Gabriel?) head explode?

Yeah, I imagine it'd be pretty much like that.

Farscry wrote:
DanyBoy wrote:
Robear wrote:
You tell him "You are clearly an incredibly powerful being, but I have no way of knowing if you are (a) God."

With enough evidence, you could provisionally accept this hypothesis, provided you were willing to be proven wrong later. In fact, that might be the smartest choice. :-)

I don't even want to know what the consequences might be to remain an unbeliever in a world where "God" has shown up. :shock:

You know that scene at the end of Dogma, where God makes the angel's (Gabriel?) head explode?

Yeah, I imagine it'd be pretty much like that. ;)

And then you appear in the afterlife and that guy who just blew up your head is there. He looks to you and says: "Told ya."

An Atheists is the person who laughs at all "gods".

A monotheist is the person who laughs at all of them but his.

I'm also partial to Sam Harris' take on this issue. excuse the wall of text.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-5-2007/sam-harris/3736/

Sam Harris wrote:

They should know that the very term “atheist” is not necessary. There are many atheists who would never dream of calling themselves atheists or join an atheist society or otherwise organize themselves. We don’t have a word for not believing in Zeus, which is to say we are all atheists in respect to Zeus. And we don’t have a word for not being an astrologer. Nobody gets up in the morning and says I’m not an astrologer, I’m not an astrologer. This is just not a variable around which people gather. Ultimately the point of view of atheism is really one of — atheism is just the disgruntled noises people make in the face of religious dogmatism. It’s really reason and a demand for evidence in the face of religiously sanctioned false certainly. I’ll be very happy when we retire the term “atheist,” and I think it is a word destined for disuse because if atheists win and we all just achieve a level of intellectual honesty where we are no longer going to pretend to be certain about things we are not certain about, then we’ll just be open-minded, rational, scientifically inclined people who will talk about spiritual experiences honestly, talk about ethics honestly, talk about the shape of the universe honestly, and it won’t be a word.

The definition as I know it is, an atheist is a person who believes there is no god(s). An agnostic is someone who has no opinion either way.

The way I learned it, possibly here, is this:

  • An agnostic believes you can't know whether a God exists or not, that the question is unanswerable forever.
  • A weak atheist has no belief in a supreme being, usually because it hasn't been proven, but doesn't automatically think that such a thing is impossible.
  • A strong atheist thinks that a supreme being is either impossible or has been disproven.

People usually self-label as agnostics when they are really weak atheists, because atheism has such a nasty, nasty connotation in this culture. They mis-use agnosticism as protective camouflage.

I can't remember ever running into a true agnostic; very few people seem to think the idea is inherently unknowable.

I also really liked Paleocon's observation that, if God did show up, proved his/her validity as a God, and then told us in plain language what the rules were, the atheists would be the first to convert.

Short form: "People call themselves atheists because they learned that when they said 'I'm not religious', it was interpreted as 'I don't go to Church regularly'."

I don't even want to know what the consequences might be to remain an unbeliever in a world where "God" has shown up.

Remember, most religions have, built into their most fundamental DNA, a warning that OTHER prophets are wrong and evil. Successful religions claim that THEIR version of the truth is the full and final one, and that anyone coming along later and claiming otherwise is an enemy of the faith. Religions that don't claim this die out, subsumed by later religions that do.

If God did really show up and try to tell us the correct version of The Rules, whatever they are, most religions would declare God to be their equivalent of an Antichrist. There would be blood, and lots of it.

Yup. If there were a goddess and she were to show up and say "eat lots of greens, get more exercise, and don't be a dick", the world's religions would declare healthy living and decent behavior a sin.

When I saw whats the difference between atheist and theist I automatically thought of Morrisey being asexual.

krev82:

I really, really like that guy's take on the topic.

LarryC wrote:

krev82:

I really, really like that guy's take on the topic.

I gotta dogpile on this and say "ditto".

Farscry wrote:
LarryC wrote:

krev82:

I really, really like that guy's take on the topic.

I gotta dogpile on this and say "ditto". :)

Can a bilge cat dogpile? ; D

Just me adding that this Sam Harris guy seems worth checking out considering how smart that sounds.

Oop, I kind of assumed everyone familiar with the contemporary atheism discussion was aware of Harris (along with Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennet). Aside from that above interview I highly encourage checking out some of his talks and books. Here is a short (23:35) example (not intended as a derail)

Oop, I kind of assumed everyone familiar with the contemporary atheism discussion was aware of Harris

I doubt many (any?) of us follow the argument closely or give it much thought outside the occasional GWJ thread. I think you're assuming an active engagement when most of us probably think about it not a whit when we're not in an active P&C discussion. You should probably assume, at least in my case, near ignorance of current argumentation.

I stay up on atheist arguments and trends, but I also try to stay current with apologetics and religion in general, as well. I'm still pretty fascinated by religion and superstition, despite my skepticism, and keeping up with atheist arguments and counter-apologetics offers insights into religion that you can't get just by studying it.
I guess I'm just a religion nerd, albeit one who's atheist.

ruhk wrote:

I stay up on atheist arguments and trends, but I also try to stay current with apologetics and religion in general, as well. I'm still pretty fascinated by religion and superstition, despite my skepticism, and keeping up with atheist arguments and counter-apologetics offers insights into religion that you can't get just by studying it.
I guess I'm just a religion nerd, albeit one who's atheist.

I found his Letter to a Christian Nation particularly well written. Many of my Christian friends took offense to it, but few were able to muster meaningful counterarguments.

KingGorilla wrote:

About 5'11" 230 pounds, dark brown hair and beard, graying at the edges. I like to cook, kiss my girlfriend, and go to the movies.

Winner!

kazar wrote:

It sounds like based on what krev82 said, everyone is pretty much an agnostic of some kind (everyone doubts). It is just a question of whether you sit on the atheist side or the theist side of the fence.

Edit: I have an interview to go to now so I have to bow out of the conversation for a bit.

Yup, here's the diagram:

http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/...

There is no agnostic versus atheist, they're mutually compatible positions. You're also free the be gnostic or agnostic with respect to other positions that have nothing to do with religion.

Sam Harris is a good writer on the topic of non-theistic morality, good and evil, and belief. I've recommended his books here before. Sadly, he's usually listed second after Richard Dawkins in lists of disruptive atheists. In my opinion, it's because he's got good arguments and evidence for them.

His latest Kindle Single is an argument that we should not tell even "little white lies", an interesting thesis. I suspect Harris might argue that an atheist is "one who does not lie about the world", if it were put to him that way.

He has degrees in philosophy and neuroscience. If you like his work, Michael Shermer may also be of interest.

Penn Jilette just wrote an article in which he said that atheism is a religion the way not collecting stamps is a hobby. Quite amusing, I thought.

Rallick wrote:

Penn Jilette just wrote an article in which he said that atheism is a religion the way not collecting stamps is a hobby. Quite amusing, I thought.

IMAGE(http://www.chickencharlie.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/thumbs-up-like-chicken-charlie.png)

I LOVE not collecting stamps, I'm honored that my pastime is finally getting the celebrity recognition it deserves!

See also:
IMAGE(http://demotivationalfunnypics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/atheism-is-to-religion-like-bald-is-to-hair-colour1.jpg)

Rallick wrote:

Penn Jilette just wrote an article in which he said that atheism is a religion the way not collecting stamps is a hobby. Quite amusing, I thought.

How about:

Atheism is a religion in the same sense 'bald' is a hair color.

Atheism is a stance on the topic of religion in the same sense 'bald' is a hair style.