What's an Atheist? Catch-All

CheezePavilion wrote:

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

What hair?

Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

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

What hair?

The hair on the floor.

CheezePavilion wrote:
Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

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

What hair?

The hair on the floor.

I vacuum regularly.

Robear wrote:
An atheist is one who believes in one less god than Christians do. :-)

+1

I don't think that Agnosticism and Atheism are full terms in of themselves - they partially describe certain aspects of your beliefs

I put forth the following definition (Copied from the other thread cuz I'm a lazy person):

Agnosticism applies to the domain of knowledge, as in, I don't know if there is a god.
Atheism applies to your actual position, as in, I currently don't believe that there is a god. And as with everything in life, this is subject to being revised.

A subtle distinction but important. Thus the proper term for someone in my position is that I am an agnostic atheist.

People tend to use Atheism interchangeably with a religion - which is a mistake (probably made intentionally to promote a false-equivalency).
Atheism is not a religion. It doesn't imply any other beliefs other than the belief in no god.

It's interesting to compare this:

NSMike wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

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

What hair?

The hair on the floor.

I vacuum regularly.

with this:

Jeff-66 wrote:
Robear wrote:
An atheist is one who believes in one less god than Christians do. :-)

+1

CheezePavilion:

As in they are contradictory?

Well, they are and they are also opinions.

Atheism doesn't have any structure, dogma or rules. All you need to be an atheist is a disbelief in magical sky daddies (or sky mommies)... This causes the atheist community to be rather broad, varied and disorganized. We don't believe in gods, but we all have our own reason and rationale for not believing.

ruhk:

Your description (and a lot of descriptions I've heard here) sounds more like a disbelief in all things supernatural rather than disbelief in a God. Is it not possible to believe in a supernatural world, but also be an atheist? If so, then shouldn't your definition be more like "disbelief in the supernatural" as a catch-all?

That's not really what I said, but whatever. I'll bite. Atheism concerns deities, skepticism typically covers the supernatural in general. Not all atheists are skeptics, and vice versa, but atheists tend to be skeptics as they are complementary and driven by the same skill sets.

Skepticism isn't really the same sort of label that atheism is, mind you, as it generally concerns attitude and standards of evidence more than belief. I've known people who called themselves skeptics but who still believed in things like Bigfoot. Some people have very low standards of evidence.

EDIT: and of course, labels tend to break down at the individual level since people don't really fit into perfect molds, so take this as you will.

ruhk:

I'm somewhat more concerned about the limits of the definition, since that kind of defines the, er, defintion. I guess. In a manner of speaking.

What I mean is, it sounded to me that if you believed that a rock had a spirit (but which you did not worship), then you could not be an atheist? How about if you thought that the sun had a spirit, which was more powerful than you (and your own spirit), but which you also did not worship?

I've heard it defined that a person who believed in any spiritually powerful beings (could be termed small g gods) would not be an atheist, regardless of whether or not he actually worshipped said beings.

Is that your position as well?

What I'm thinking about here is a worldview where, instead of everything being physical and scientific, everything is spiritual, and everything has a spirit. You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

Would that pass your view of what an atheist could be?

LarryC wrote:
You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

In my mind, that's not altogether different than bargaining with the Christian God to not give you a hard time (ie send you to hell).

LarryC wrote:
What I'm thinking about here is a worldview where, instead of everything being physical and scientific, everything is spiritual, and everything has a spirit. You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

How is a Storm Spirit, capable of affecting weather, not like a god? Aren't you just trading the concept of monotheism with polytheism and calling it a flavor of atheism?

EDIT: Remember that not all 'gods' are all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing. Some gods make sure that the drawers get stuck.

I think we're entering pedant territory here... Terms like "gods," "spirit," "supernatural," etc, are so vague that you can really derive any meaning you want from them. Trying to parse exacting definitions here is somewhat a futile exercise, I think.

Inova wrote:
CheezePavilion:

As in they are contradictory?

Well, they are and they are also opinions.

Yup. On both counts.

Rezzy wrote:
LarryC wrote:
What I'm thinking about here is a worldview where, instead of everything being physical and scientific, everything is spiritual, and everything has a spirit. You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

How is a Storm Spirit, capable of affecting weather, not like a god? Aren't you just trading the concept of monotheism with polytheism and calling it a flavor of atheism?

EDIT: Remember that not all 'gods' are all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing. Some gods make sure that the drawers get stuck.

gewy wrote:
LarryC wrote:
You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

In my mind, that's not altogether different than bargaining with the Christian God to not give you a hard time (ie send you to hell).

Seems that in defining an 'atheist', we must first define what is a 'god'.

ruhk wrote:
I think we're entering pedant territory here... Terms like "gods," "spirit," "supernatural," etc, are so vague that you can really derive any meaning you want from them. Trying to parse exacting definitions here is somewhat a futile exercise, I think.

I'm not so sure--as was brought up in one of these threads (tough keeping them straight at times!), there are people who consider themselves atheists but who believe in souls. Or an issue that came up in the 'mother thread' of all these: can an atheist believe in a natural law.

I suspect that the common definition of god and gods will generally fall under those who have organized religion behind them as they can be definitively called god(s) and thus I think atheism will generally be concerned with those.

But yes, ruhk is right, one man's spirit is another man's god and as the supernatural is such a vague term (as with everything that is pseudo-science), we cannot really say if a particular 'spirit' or 'demon' is a god to be disbelieved or not.

CheezePavilion wrote:
ruhk wrote:
I think we're entering pedant territory here... Terms like "gods," "spirit," "supernatural," etc, are so vague that you can really derive any meaning you want from them. Trying to parse exacting definitions here is somewhat a futile exercise, I think.

I'm not so sure--as was brought up in one of these threads (tough keeping them straight at times!), there are people who consider themselves atheists but who believe in souls. Or an issue that came up in the 'mother thread' of all these: can an atheist believe in a natural law?

Just walk away man, just walk away. You don't want this.

WTF is a "natural law"?

CheezePavilion wrote:
Seems that in defining an 'atheist', we must first define what is a 'god'.

Why? Seems like that would only matter to someone that believes in them. I think we should leave it up to each individual whether they can identify as an atheist rather than trying to find the concrete boundaries of this label and brand them. Again, 'Atheist' isn't some club that you have to satisfy some checklist for. But there are some commonalities among those that self-identify with that label.

ruhk wrote:
I think we're entering pedant territory here... Terms like "gods," "spirit," "supernatural," etc, are so vague that you can really derive any meaning you want from them. Trying to parse exacting definitions here is somewhat a futile exercise, I think.

The whole thing is pedant territory. The term atheist only has meaning if you accept the theists' framing of the issue before the conversation starts. It requires one party to define themselves using the language and perspective of a party they reject. It is largely a fools game. To use the term atheist assumes that there is a g*d that one does not believe in.

I used to call myself a post-Christian, since much of my intellectual and ethical training and my education came within the Christian tradition. I felt that I wanted to acknowledge the tradition and framework that helped me become the person I am, while also acknowledging that I had move beyond, to a place I found better and more intellectually honest. However, many of my Christian friends told me that they found my terminology to be insulting towards them, because it assumes that my beliefs were better than theirs. While, frankly, I did think my beliefs were at least more rigorous than theirs and despite the towering arrogance for Evangelicals to throw stones at anyone for this particular sin, eventually I grew up enough to cede the point and be kind to them.

My point is that being pigeon-holed as an atheist is just as jarring to me as my calling myself a post-christian was to my believing friends. To an Evangelical, an atheist is really just a synonym for apostate. It puts the focus outside the person and onto a deity, which from my point of view, is entirely wrong-headed. It assumes the existence of a g*d that is not believed in. This is why I prefer the old-fashioned term Freethinker, because it denotes a tradition were in order to believe something, there must be rational or empirical evidence in support of it. There is even room in the freethinking tent for adventurous Theists, who have enough faith to risk their beliefs before the light of reason.


What I'm thinking about here is a worldview where, instead of everything being physical and scientific, everything is spiritual, and everything has a spirit. You could bargain with the Storm Spirit to spare your crops, but that's less like worship and more like you trying to convince your boss not to give you a hard time.

Would that pass your view of what an atheist could be?

For me, when we start giving agency to supernatural beings - "spirits" and the like - they then fall under theism. The believed ability they have to affect the world in some way other than just "being there" is what makes the distinction. Once you can bargain with them, appease them, anger them, etc. they are effectively godlike in at least some way, even if their "domain" is tiny and relatively ineffectual.

In essence, we give our gods human characteristics that we can relate to.

NSMike wrote:
WTF is a "natural law"?

Natural law is the idea that there is a moral code embedded in nature, which all rational people can deduce from observing the world around them.

Natural law is used by cultures to enforce their norms on outliers, just at Divine law is used by theist cultures to enforce the dominant opinion on fringe groups.

An example of natural law would be that say two men loved each other and wanted to get married. The dominant culture says: "No you can't that's wrong." The couple says "why? That's unreasonable." The dominant culture says: "It's against natural law."

Natural Law is the unbelievers' fundamentalism: a lever to use to enforce a majority opinion on minority views.

Oso wrote:
NSMike wrote:
WTF is a "natural law"?

Natural law is the idea that there is a moral code embedded in nature, which all rational people can deduce from observing the world around them.

Natural law is used by cultures to enforce their norms on outliers, just at Divine law is used by theist cultures to enforce the dominant opinion on fringe groups.

An example of natural law would be that say two men loved each other and wanted to get married. The dominant culture says: "No you can't that's wrong." The couple says "why? That's unreasonable." The dominant culture says: "It's against natural law."

Natural Law is the unbelievers' fundamentalism: a lever to use to enforce a majority opinion on minority views.

OH IT IS ON NOW!

Natural law is most simply summed upon the principle of "The Golden Rule," "Categorical Imperative," A person should treat the other as an end, not a means, do to others as you would have them do to you. That most fundamental principle of justice, fairness that even dogs understand.

Cicero postulated that Natural Law was given to the world by God-Cicero was a bit too Aquintian for my tastes. Aristotle, Plato postulated Natural Law was in itself independent, even divine in itself. Kant, Satre firmly placed natural law within the grasp of any rational thinker, knowable to all people, universal to all cultures-rather than some force or given by a deity, any person with half a brain can work it out.

I am a fan of Mill myself. People, so long as they run no risk of harm to others should be left to their own devices.

KingGorilla wrote:
Oso wrote:
NSMike wrote:
WTF is a "natural law"?

Natural law is the idea that there is a moral code embedded in nature, which all rational people can deduce from observing the world around them.

Natural law is used by cultures to enforce their norms on outliers, just at Divine law is used by theist cultures to enforce the dominant opinion on fringe groups.

An example of natural law would be that say two men loved each other and wanted to get married. The dominant culture says: "No you can't that's wrong." The couple says "why? That's unreasonable." The dominant culture says: "It's against natural law."

Natural Law is the unbelievers' fundamentalism: a lever to use to enforce a majority opinion on minority views.

OH IT IS ON NOW!

Natural law is most simply summed upon the principle of "The Golden Rule," "Categorical Imperative," A person should treat the other as an end, not a means, do to others as you would have them do to you. That most fundamental principle of justice, fairness that even dogs understand.

Cicero postulated that Natural Law was given to the world by God-Cicero was a bit too Aquintian for my tastes. Aristotle, Plato postulated Natural Law was in itself independent, even divine in itself. Kant, Satre firmly placed natural law within the grasp of any rational thinker, knowable to all people, universal to all cultures-rather than some force or given by a deity, any person with half a brain can work it out.

I am a fan of Mill myself. People, so long as they run no risk of harm to others should be left to their own devices.

I'd add the easiest to understand and most familiar claim to a Natural Law: the Declaration of Independence.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Or maybe this alternate formulation:

An example of natural law would be that say a man wanted to make his two pet monkeys knife-fight to the death. The dominant culture says: "No you can't that's wrong." The man says "why? I own these two monkeys, for monkeys are not human." The dominant culture says: "It's against natural law."

That's somewhat similar to what I believe: There *is* a "true ethics", but anybody who claims to know what it is is selling snake oil. Exploring it is within the realm of philosophy, and therefore not truly related to the scientific method (it is not directly observable, it is not testable), but ethical theories should be approached in the same way as scientific theories: argued about constantly. It is by arguing with each other about what is right, constantly testing our ideas within our own minds and with our fellows, that we refine our understanding and approach the truth as best we can.

(Note: The truth of "true ethics" is not in simple absolute "rules", but more an overall understanding of what is right and wrong. If we make a simple story: "Pull this lever and a man dies in agony, with no other significant effect on the world than that he dies in agony--is it right or wrong to pull the lever?" it's pretty easy to answer. But any real situation is much more complicated--for a some very simple complications: As a general rule, stealing is wrong. But if your family is starving, is stealing a loaf of bread to feed to them wrong? What if it's easy to find work which you could use to acquire the bread lawfully instead of unlawfully? What if it's impossible to find such work? etc. etc.)

The principle, for me, is that right action may be related to the details of a situation, but it is not otherwise related to the social mores of a time. If slavery is accepted in a society, that doesn't mean that society ought to practice slavery--in fact, they ought not to. However, there may be many other evils in that society that ought to be changed first, or dangers to lives of people who rail against slavery, such that an individual ought not to do everything in their power to destroy the institution of slavery. (But again: That doesn't mean slavery is right, only that it is not practical to abolish it.)

Without the assumption that there are in fact things that are universally right and wrong, it is very very difficult to discuss the question of ethics at all. I've seen arguments for natural ethics that arise from our biological background, but I find them uncompelling: ethics is about what one *ought* to do, not what one's nature leads one to do. And of course, such a foundation doesn't extend well when you imagine non-human or worse non-terrestrial beings.

So, anyway: I believe in a universal fundamental truth in metaphysical matters (philosophy), just as I believe in such a truth in physical matters (science). In both cases, I take a strong agnostic position that we can never know the truth, only approximate it. We can potentially approximate it *really really well*, but we can never *know*. And for philosophy, certainty will always be harder than for science, because philosophical matters are not testable in the same ways.


Natural law is most simply summed upon the principle of "The Golden Rule," "Categorical Imperative," A person should treat the other as an end, not a means, do to others as you would have them do to you. That most fundamental principle of justice, fairness that even dogs understand.

Evolution teaches us that this "natural law" is species dependent. For example, dogs do *not* follow the Golden Rule as we understand it. Dogs understand inequity, but only for *themselves*, not for other dogs. So if you have two dogs side by side, and give one a treat, the other dog will behave with frustration. But the first dog will *not* share the treat, even if it gets more than one. Apes and chimpanzees and bonobos are capable of that sharing, I believe.

Likewise, our view of "good and evil" would be very different if we were herd animals, or dedicated predators. Think about it. What would our morality look like if we descended from lions (or better yet, solitary hunters like Cheetahs)? For darn sure, it would not be "share and share alike".

So natural law, far from being "natural", is a human concept, tied to our species' evolutionary history and advantages, and it's cultural evolution as well. We were not "imbued by our Creator" with these impulses; we evolved them.

That is a good way of putting it Hypatian. I don't disagree with many of the assertions that claim to be part of natural law, but since we don't have direct access to the entirety of natural law, claiming something is natural law doesn't add or subtract from it's validity. Occam's razor says we should drop the natural law claim as overly complicated and irrelevant.

Cheez: Self-evidence is the argument people use when they don't have anything better. It is an argument of last resort. Also, what is missing from your knife-fighting monkey argument are the reasons behind why we shouldn't do it. I suggest that if making monkeys knife fight is wrong, it is wrong for particular reasons. I just suggest we focus on the reasons themselves and avoid any smoke and mirrors about the natural law. From where I sit, making monkeys knife fight is wrong because it is excessively cruel. If we are to be cruel, there must be a compelling reason. Personal entertainment is not a sufficiently compelling reason.

Natural law is just a popularity contest for values. It is used to make arguments for popular beliefs compelling when the rational justification for them fails. When there is rational justification for something, then the rational justification is why we should believe it, not it's status as natural law.

In the end, if we have good reasons, we don't need to posit a hypothetical natural law in order to believe something. In the absence of good reasons, we shouldn't believe something, hypothetical natural law or not. It is simpler and more elegant just to stop hypothesizing natural law and and stick w/ the reasons themselves.

Robear wrote:
Likewise, our view of "good and evil" would be very different if we were herd animals, or dedicated predators. Think about it. What would our morality look like if we descended from lions (or better yet, solitary hunters like Cheetahs)? For darn sure, it would not be "share and share alike". :-)

Would it be more like, say, the person with the biggest weapons that protects the group doesn't have to do any other work and takes what he wants from those who do the work of gathering resources and if he takes over a new territory he kills the offspring of the former ruler?

See, that's the thing: we *did* have a morality that looks like we descended from lions: it was called "monarchy." They even tended to use lions as their emblems!

I realize you're just responding to ideas of natural law such as "The Golden Rule" or "Categorical Imperative" but remember that's not the whole of natural law: it's hard to find an evolutionary root for an idea like "all men are created equal" considering we evolved from animals with such hierarchical social structures.

And if you did, then what about the opposite idea, that not all men are created equal and an aristocracy is moral? The stronger the argument for one human idea on morality being tied to our evolutionary history, chances are the stronger the argument that the opposite idea is not--bit of a Catch-22.

Oso wrote:
Natural law is just a popularity contest for values. It is used to make arguments for popular beliefs compelling when the rational justification for them fails.

edit: I misunderstood you I think, so let me re-reply.

I won't say natural law isn't sometimes used that way, but that's not the only sense in which the term "natural law" is used. It's also used for why a "rational justification" is considered to be such.

Is that needlessly complicating things by calling them "natural law"? I don't think so--how do we know that "if we are to be cruel, there must be a compelling reason" or "personal entertainment is not a sufficiently compelling reason"?

What keeps the decision whether something is compelling or not from being, as you put it, "a popularity contest for values"? What is compelling to you might not be compelling to me.

Rezzy:

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? When any spirit and any soul can get called a "god," and believing in the existence of any such being is theism, then isn't atheism more simply defined as not believing in anything supernatural, period?

I confess that I am not familiar with these concepts of atheism. I'd always thought of a spiritual outlook as being compatible with not worshiping a god, or believing in gods - as beings that are meant to be worshiped, as opposed to spiritual entities that are just there.

ruhk:

It might be to a Westerner. Out here in Asia, we have somewhat more... ...diverse religious and spiritual points of view.

There are entire world views (not just belief systems) that are founded on a spiritual view of the world at large, rather than one founded on empiricist world view, or some Rationalist perversion thereof. Where you see physical laws, they see spiritual laws. The Aborigines of Australia, for instance, believe in the Dream World, and that just the present world we see with our eyes is not the real one, but merely a facet.

This is not pedantry, as you can see, but borne out of interaction with people who actually do exist in spiritual worldviews that, at the same time, do not involve the worship of a deity, or deities.

What about Confucianists who respect their ancestors, both living and dead? Is it god-worship to seek the aid of a dead relative, much as if he or she were still living, but in forms that are consistent with their current spiritual state? How is this different from seeking the support of a living relative, given that to this person, the way he or she views them overall is similar?

Robear:


For me, when we start giving agency to supernatural beings - "spirits" and the like - they then fall under theism. The believed ability they have to affect the world in some way other than just "being there" is what makes the distinction. Once you can bargain with them, appease them, anger them, etc. they are effectively godlike in at least some way, even if their "domain" is tiny and relatively ineffectual.

In essence, we give our gods human characteristics that we can relate to.

That question is actually derived from both Igorot pagan animism and Shinto Buddhism - they share some similarities.

The belief stems from an anthropomorphism of every thing - from things to plants to animals to people. They feel a connection and one-ness with everything so they treat and respect everything as human. For someone like that to treat you "like property" is not the same as a Westerner would consider it, since they respect their properties as if they were human. In fact, they respect some properties (like their weapons) as personages more important and more worthy of respect than some humans.

They don't venerate or worship them, exactly. It's exactly like a Disney film where anything and everything is alive and can talk. Belle doesn't worship Lumiere, but she does request things of him from time to time, and she would return the favor, if asked.

This is what I mean. Is belief in the supernatural, in itself, sufficient to be theist? It seems, yes.

If so, follow up question: how is this different from belief in aliens or Bigfoot?