What's an Atheist? Catch-All

Farscry:

You're missing the part about the imposed dichotomy. In a spiritualist/animist POV, there are no laws of nature beyond that involved in the description of the wind spirit's nature. Furthermore, there is no separation between the spirit of the wind and the wind itself, just as there is no separation between the spirit of a man and the man himself. They're the same thing. The spirit isn't controlling the wind so much as it IS the wind.

The dichotomy only exists in world views that specify both a natural order and a supernatural order.

LarryC wrote:

Farscry:

You're missing the part about the imposed dichotomy. In a spiritualist/animist POV, there are no laws of nature beyond that involved in the description of the wind spirit's nature. Furthermore, there is no separation between the spirit of the wind and the wind itself, just as there is no separation between the spirit of a man and the man himself. They're the same thing. The spirit isn't controlling the wind so much as it IS the wind.

The dichotomy only exists in world views that specify both a natural order and a supernatural order.

So in this example the wind sprite cant act as anything other then itself? Hmm that question needs work I think. Can the sprite decide to change its behavior or act in a manner other then how one would expect the wind to act? ...Even figuring out how to ask the question I'm trying to get across becomes difficult if you remove the distinction between the wind and the wind sprite.

To me the difference might be one of agency. If the wind sprite cant act as other then the wind, even if it wanted to, then in my mind it would not be a god.

If the "wind sprite" can't act outside of the constraints of what we scientifically understand as wind today, then the wind sprite may as well not exist at all. The wind sprite is indistinguishable from actual wind.

NSMike wrote:

If the "wind sprite" can't act outside of the constraints of what we scientifically understand as wind today, then the wind sprite may as well not exist at all. The wind sprite is indistinguishable from actual wind.

Thus springs the famous atheist quotation: “The world behaves exactly as you would expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.”

ruhk wrote:
NSMike wrote:

If the "wind sprite" can't act outside of the constraints of what we scientifically understand as wind today, then the wind sprite may as well not exist at all. The wind sprite is indistinguishable from actual wind.

Thus springs the famous atheist quotation: “The world behaves exactly as you would expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural.”

That's what I was going for.

LarryC wrote:

Farscry:

You're missing the part about the imposed dichotomy. In a spiritualist/animist POV, there are no laws of nature beyond that involved in the description of the wind spirit's nature. Furthermore, there is no separation between the spirit of the wind and the wind itself, just as there is no separation between the spirit of a man and the man himself. They're the same thing. The spirit isn't controlling the wind so much as it IS the wind.

The dichotomy only exists in world views that specify both a natural order and a supernatural order.

Nope, I'm not missing it. What you just described is what I meant by anthropomorphizing the wind. So yes, in the explanation you give, it fits with atheism rather than theism.

NSMike wrote:

If the "wind sprite" can't act outside of the constraints of what we scientifically understand as wind today, then the wind sprite may as well not exist at all. The wind sprite is indistinguishable from actual wind.

You're projecting the dichotomy again. The wind sprite cannot act contrary to its nature, because it IS the wind. Whatever it does, is what it does. That does not mean that the understanding of its nature within the animist POV is scientific or that the understanding of its nature according to the Spiritualist Theory is consistent with what we think of as weather models, especially since our own weather models today aren't consistent with what they were a century ago, and that's within the same culture and within the same thought model and philosophy. It would be a little much to ask a spiritualist description of what wind is to be consistent with scientific understanding.

To fully understand the point, you must be able to either "stand back" one order of philosophy further than scientific thinking, or else be able to change POVs completely - either one will do. But you can't get it if you keep looking out only from a scientific perspective, since this is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one.

To say that the wind sprite does not exist while looking from within the animist POV is the same thing as saying that wind does not exist. They are the same thing. From a scientific perspective, we might say that the wind sprite might not as well exist, but that is because Western philosophy on this topic has the supernatual/natural divide which I was speaking of, though this perspective is not universal.

In other words, the nature of the wind sprite may contain aspects which are not consistent with how we think of wind in scientific terms, but it will not contain things which are inconsistent with how the animist sees wind from his own POV, since the wind and the sprite are the same thing. Differentiating between them is like saying that your right hand and your right hand are two separate things.

It is important to either make the shift or to stand back from empiricism (or however you understand science to be).

Sorry--I was not trying to show that the Golden Rule was contradicted by monarchy. I was attempting to show that your argument is contradicted by monarchy.

You asked: "What would our morality look like if we descended from lions (or better yet, solitary hunters like Cheetahs)?"

Wouldn't it look a lot like a morality that considers monarchy to be a good thing?

I don't think so. First, lion society is largely organized around the females. They outnumber the males in a pride, usually by two or three to one, and will eject males from the pride over time, bringing in new ones. Females do most of the hunting and probably have the choosing role in mating.

Cubs are raised collectively, and male cubs are then thrown out of their pride on maturity. They will either join another pride, or stay solo. (A second form of social behavior, nomadism, is common, and accepted, so there's some variety within the social organization.) This is of course good genetics.

So - no male privilege. No single leader. Communal child-rearing. Group resource gathering focused on females. No fixed hierarchy - power relationships vary with time. Children do *not* in any way "inherit" membership in the pride. And of course there is no prospect for plant cultivation, as lions are not omnivores like we are. They don't show signs that they might tolerate a partner species, that I can see, so domestication might not even be in the picture.

So, considering that, which aspect of lion society would lead you to predict government with solo leadership with hereditary inheritance and massive control over fixed resources - monarchy? Again, try Shermer's book, it's an eye-opener.

To fully understand the point, you must be able to either "stand back" one order of philosophy further than scientific thinking, or else be able to change POVs completely - either one will do. But you can't get it if you keep looking out only from a scientific perspective, since this is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one.

Why does the wind sprite deserve freedom from scientific scrutiny?

Why should I change my POV because someone anthropomorphizes the wind?

Why is an anthropomorphized version of the wind a philosophical question? That doesn't make sense.

NSMike:

The entire question of what a POV is is a philosophical question, and the one we're asking centrally when we want to determine whether or not someone or a stance is atheist. It's not that the wind sprite "deserves freedom from scientific scrutiny." That very objection suggests that you view scientific inquiry as an unshakable truth, and the only worthwhile POV - you can't distance yourself from it.

In light of what I said, the answer to your first question is that it's not a question that's relevant to the discussion. We're not talking about the scientific veracity of wind sprites, nor the scientific validity of animist beliefs. For that matter, we're not even talking about their theological value.

The answer to your second question is that you can only understand the point I'm making by fully adopting the POV of someone who anthopomorphizes the wind. It's not that that POV is special. It's the ability to change POVs that allows the key perception of the point. You might think of it as triangulation, analogously, in a philosophical sense.

The answer to the third is that the key question is linked to different paradigms and points of view, and that is a philosophical question, or at least not at all a scientific one, nor really a theological one, so I'm at a loss as to how to describe it.

And yes, it won't make sense unless you can make the jump. I apologize for not being able to describe it better. Perhaps others can take a hand and offer an alternative way of saying it.

I still don't think it matters what the wind sprite does and I don't believe we have to change our PoV. Do they consider it a god? If so, they are theists. If they do not, and only see it as a non-corporeal being, they are atheists.

Occam's Razor gents.

I understand that you want me to view it from the POV of the person who thinks the wind is a sprite. Ok, so I think the wind is a sprite. What does that change? Especially if this sprite can't do anything different than you might expect the wind to do (i.e. blow sh*t around)?

NSMike:

Well, you see, if you really were an animist and didn't have the benefit of a technological upbringing, then you might, through tradition, think that the wind sprite (AKA the wind) could do things other than blow things around. For one thing, since you think everything is a spirit, you'd think that it was self-aware and capable of communication, just like everything in the world is. For another, you might think that it brought rain, or typhoons, or the summer season. It depends on the locality and the traditions within that locality.

None of this implies that you worship it, or that you believe in a supernatural/natural divide. What a Westerner might say is a shrine to a god, could simply be you thinking that the wind sprite's been a good friend to you all these years, and you just want to build somewhere where it could hang out and maybe chat.

LarryC what I'm getting from you is that the point of view of the animist is indicative of an entirely different world view, a basic change in the understanding of the mechanics of how natural processes in the world works. And while I think I can see how someone could live with that view, I'm not sure how it isn't just an addition layer of story put on top of physical reality, cutting off the possibility for further inquiry or understanding into the natural processes that involve — int his instance — the wind.

It seems to be a "turtles all the way down" argument.

Robear wrote:

So, considering that, which aspect of lion society would lead you to predict government with solo leadership with hereditary inheritance and massive control over fixed resources - monarchy?

Like I said: the part where the male person/male lion 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.

Are we requiring so perfect a correspondence as you seem to be asking for? If so, explain Libertarians to me given our primate origins.

Again, try Shermer's book, it's an eye-opener.

I might, just to see how he gets to many of the ideas humans have had about sexual morality involving celibacy and sodomy for a species so closely related to the bonobos ; D

Ah, I see what you're getting at now.

Well, I don't that that counts as theology. It certainly has the potential to develop into it. It's some solid ground work for polytheism. In the constraints you describe, though, by itself I don't think that is a theology.

You say hypothetical animist, we say probable polytheist. Can't we just call him a filthy heretic and get along?
Edit: Just in case anyone thinks I'm being serious with that statement.

LarryC wrote:

None of this implies that you worship it, or that you believe in a supernatural/natural divide. What a Westerner might say is a shrine to a god, could simply be you thinking that the wind sprite's been a good friend to you all these years, and you just want to build somewhere where it could hang out and maybe chat.

Wait... did I miss something? How is a wind spirite not classified as supernatural?

The East/West mutual misunderstanding of religious systems is something I find simultaneously interesting and maddening. I like to think of myself as "worldly"--whatever that means--and yet I cannot get over what I perceive as incredible ambivalence towards belief systems in the East. Here's an easy explanation for why religion is the way it is in the West though: religion was the de facto way of picking sides in European conflicts. In the East, such wars were attributed to... droughts.

Ugh, humanity gives me a headache.

Oh, and what I came here originally to post: I think I'm OK with secular humanism, but I really hate the phrase "secular humanism." It like a hippy invented the concept.

lostlobster:

In the first place, an animist view of the world doesn't impede one from trying to understand the nature of the "wind sprite" from a purely empirical standpoint. In this case, you're just trying to "get to know" the wind sprite (AKA the wind) a little better, which is in no way contrary to your beliefs and what you believe in. Thus, it does not contradict, nor does it even retard scientific inquiry, unlike the possible political concerns of a centralized religious body. In essence, it's a completely alternative world view. You'd have to adopt it fully if you want to project possible conflicts.

NSMike:

I don't know that it's theology per se, in the sense that the Catholic Church uses the term, but it is a belief system as well as a world view. It underlies many of the "supernatural" aspects of Shinto Buddhism, and I don't know that you could really call it polytheism in the sense of one "god" overseeing a bunch of different portfolios in the manner of Norse mythology; nor does it have the sense of ever heading here, really.

The central question here, of course, is, "Is this person an atheist?" Of course, he himself would probably just scratch his head at the entire notion of a theist/atheist divide, or even of the strange notion of a supreme being somewhere who made everything and presides over everything minutely or remotely.

Grubber788:

Yup. I've tried to explain in previous posts. You'd have to review them all, maybe, or perhaps NSMike might be able to explain it better in the vernacular. I'm not super confident about my grasp of American idiom at the moment.

Animism is sort of a proto-religion, in that it is an early precursor to organized religion. The human brain is hard-wired for pattern recognition, this allowed us an advantage in the early days of humanity when some rustling bushes could be holding a predator that wanted to eat us, but it also often causes us to see intelligence and agency where there is none. The wind blows. Sometimes it blows fiercely and violently, sometimes it is barely noticeable. The brain notices this and tracks it with what else is happening in the world, and through pareidolia and selection bias soon the observer thinks the wind is an intelligence that is responding to the concerns and desires of the observer. That is animism. Fast forward in time and soon the observer has told all his neighbors about the wind spirit and what is needed to placate it, and these requirements are beginning to calcify into rituals and ceremonies. That's religion.

All in all, yes, animism counts as theology, it is just a very simplified and early form of it.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

Do they consider it a god? If so, they are theists. If they do not, and only see it as a non-corporeal being, they are atheists.

Occam's Razor gents.

That assumes a uniform definition of g*d that all reasonable people can agree on. I don't think we have that. What someone from a monotheist tradition calls a g*d is very different from the things animists, pantheists, or ancestor worship/respecters focus their spirituality on.

I don't think that kind of uniform definition exists. When we force our monotheist assumptions onto other traditions who don't share them, misunderstanding occurs. Consider the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. These giant statues of the Buddha in both male and female forms were destroyed by the Taliban because they represented the worship of idols and false gods. However, (generally speaking) in Buddhism, the belief in supreme beings is considered a barrier to attaining nirvana.

The problem is that the Taliban saw large statues that were venerated by others and automatically assumed that this was a form of diety worship. This was clearly mistaken. The self-same mistake is what makes the use of the term "atheist" to describe people who do not participate in a theistic religious tradition so inaccurate and troubling. While it may be technically true that some of these people called atheists do not believe in a supernatural authority, it assumes that the question of whether one believes in a supernatural authority is either important or interesting.

To frame the issue differently, forcing the conversation about spirituality and beliefs into the Theist/Atheist dichotomy is a form of cultural imperialism. It is the result of people from a theist tradition insisting that anyone who wants to talk about beliefs, values, or spirituality must conform to their framing of the issue before any conversation can take place. As such, it pretty much guarantees that whatever conversation that does take place will be less interesting and less insightful than if a common ground were sought first, or if the parties talking took turns trying to see things from other perspectives.

If we insist that anyone who talks about spirituality artificially contorts their perspective into something compatible with Western monotheism, then we guarantee that what we learn will be distorted from the spirituality as experienced and practiced. To use video-game metaphors, we end up w/ a bad console port of what otherwise may have been an interesting game.

Grubber788 wrote:

Oh, and what I came here originally to post: I think I'm OK with secular humanism, but I really hate the phrase "secular humanism." It like a hippy invented the concept.

Oh, hippies didn't invent the term, it is a term invented by the Christian Fundamentalists and is meant as a term of derision.

Oso wrote:
KrazyTacoFO wrote:

Do they consider it a god? If so, they are theists. If they do not, and only see it as a non-corporeal being, they are atheists.

Occam's Razor gents.

That assumes a uniform definition of g*d that all reasonable people can agree on. I don't think we have that. What someone from a monotheist tradition calls a g*d is very different from the things animists, pantheists, or ancestor worship/respecters focus their spirituality on.

I don't think that kind of uniform definition exists. When we force our monotheist assumptions onto other traditions who don't share them, misunderstanding occurs. Consider the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. These giant statues of the Buddha in both male and female forms were destroyed by the Taliban because they represented the worship of idols and false gods. However, (generally speaking) in Buddhism, the belief in supreme beings is considered a barrier to attaining nirvana.

The problem is that the Taliban saw large statues that were venerated by others and automatically assumed that this was a form of diety worship. This was clearly mistaken. The self-same mistake is what makes the use of the term "atheist" do describe people who do not participate in a theistic religious tradition so inaccurate and troubling. While it may be technically true that some of these people called atheists do not believe in a supernatural authority, it assumes that the question of whether one believes in a supernatural authority is either important or interesting.

To frame the issue differently, forcing the conversation about spirituality and beliefs into the Theist/Atheist dichotomy is a form of cultural imperialism. It is the result of people from a theist tradition insisting that anyone who wants to talk about beliefs, values, or spirituality must conform to their framing of the issue before any conversation can take place. As such, it pretty much guarantees that whatever conversation that does take place will be less interesting and less insightful than if a common ground were sought first, or if the parties talking took turns trying to see things from other perspectives.

If we insist that anyone who talks about spirituality artificially contorts their perspective into something compatible with Western monotheism, then we guarantee that what we learn will be distorted from the spirituality as experienced and practiced. To use video-game metaphors, we end up w/ a bad console port of what otherwise may have been an interesting game.

I understand that different people see things differently. That's why I said

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

Do they consider it a god? If so, they are theists. If they do not, and only see it as a non-corporeal being, they are atheists.

I'm not contorting anyone's perspective to meet a Western mindset. The reason I am using a dichotomous language is the entire thread is to define what is an athiest and what is a theist.

My calling it the groundwork for polytheism took a step in a direction that I didn't actually vocalize. What I meant by that was, it's reasonable to assume that if a person were to conjure up this wind sprite with so specific a purpose, they might also conjure up other sprites which have other specific purposes, i.e. sun and moon, the earth itself, etc. There's no guarantee that this would happen, but the idea of the wind sprite could certainly prompt it. I did not mean to state that the wind's purview being many aspects of weather implies polytheism.

LarryC, I re-read that conversation and I would still call it supernatural. I get where you're coming from, but it sounds like the wind spirit exists outside of the realm of the laws of nature, and is therefore supernatural by definition. I do understand the concept of shifting for frame of view into a completely different realm of possibility, but for a person who believes in leading a life based on careful observation and logical rationalism, such a concept is as unsatisfying as it is irrelevant--like the idea that we're all actually living in a dream.

KrazyTaco[FO]:

I appreciate the brevity. I had thought that it would be that simple, but I've been contradicted before. However, before we ask, "Do they consider it a god?" we have to ask "Do they even understand what we think a god is?" The Japanese "kami-sama" is often translated in English to "god," but it's notable that the affix -sama is often also attached to people who deserve great respect, and the relationship between a kami and a person is often not that different from the relationship of a person to another person, with the exception that the kami is, well, not a person.

It's also somewhat erroneous to think of the wind sprite as non-corporeal. It is quite corporeal. It is, after all, the wind and we can feel it and see it and it can even pick guys up.

All things considered, I think Oso gets the point best.

NSMike:

In an animist world, everything is a spirit, no exception. Essentially spirit = thing. If you can think of it, it's a spirit. I don't know that that would classify as polytheism, though, so much as it's just a different way of seeing the world. There's no worship implied, for one thing, or even veneration.

Grubber788:

It is important to shift views to understand the concept wholly. A wind sprite in an animist worldview is not supernatural. Conversely, dirt in the same worldview is not natural. They both just are. Subjecting the concepts of animism under Western philosophical concepts doesn't make sense.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

I understand that different people see things differently. That's why I said

KrazyTacoFO wrote:

Do they consider it a god? If so, they are theists. If they do not, and only see it as a non-corporeal being, they are atheists.

I'm not contorting anyone's perspective to meet a Western mindset. The reason I am using a dichotomous language is the entire thread is to define what is an athiest and what is a theist.

Interesting idea: is the test of an atheist subjective or objective?

Grubber788:

I was trying to explain how a wind sprite is not a supernatural concept. You don't have to believe it to understand why, and I'm only explaining because you asked.

LarryC wrote:

Grubber788:

It is important to shift views to understand the concept wholly. A wind sprite in an animist worldview is not supernatural. Conversely, dirt in the same worldview is not natural. They both just are.

Again, to a rationalist/empiricist, this idea is not only unsatisfying, it is revolting. I understand it, and I reject it.

Edit: Just to be clear, I believe this would be revolting simply due to the measure of certainty in the statement. The statement "winds spirits exist simply because they do" is just misguided as saying, "God does not exist." We cannot know anything for certain, so a skeptical outlook would be diametrically opposed to the claim of absolute certainty of any particular event.