What's an Atheist? Catch-All

This is a basic concept of linguistics: every word that we use is an arbitrary descriptor. There is nothing logically, soundly, objectively chair-ish about a chair that would justify our use of that word for it.

Someone's been reading old Ludwig.

Robear wrote:
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.

I think you're missing the point. You keep anthropomorphizing. The males are not the ranking cats in the pride, nor do they do most of the hunting or pride defense, nor do they control most of the food. They *do* have to leave the pride and go solo at some point, and may not be accepted into another pride. It's the females who are social; the males are in a sense hangers-on.

It's very, very different from a hierarchical human society.

Different enough that if you saw the same similarities between humans and primates, you wouldn't jump on it as further proof of the theory?

I'm not looking for a perfect correspondence, and I do feel that jumping from some basic animal behaviors to a complicated social structure like monarchy or Libertarianism is very much like the creationist demand to show the exact path from a small fish to a human being. Your objections all seem to start with "assume the lions are just like humans...". :-)

Humans vary a whole lot more in their beliefs on morality than they do in their anatomy. It's not a good analogy.

Nor is telling someone "you sound like a creationist!" as part of a discussion: I mean, the same thing is running through my head for why you seem to me to have a different standard of proof for things that agree with your theory than things that don't, but I'm not actually going to *say* it to you!

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

I think you'll get a better idea of the difference between the evolution of cultures and the evolution of ideas. They are not related in the way you seem to understand, unless of course I'm just missing the sarcasm and you do get it. If we were totally congruent with bonobos, we'd *be* bonobos. The interesting question is, I think, why we have *anything* in common with other species.

How does anything I said depend on total congruency?

Robear wrote:
This is a basic concept of linguistics: every word that we use is an arbitrary descriptor. There is nothing logically, soundly, objectively chair-ish about a chair that would justify our use of that word for it.

Someone's been reading old Ludwig. :-)

Actually, that's almost a direct quote from my college linguistics prof, except he used the example of a tree rather than a chair.

Larry, that comment wasn't even addressed to you or anything you said.

NSMike:

Sorry. I thought it was part of the general discussion of what a "god" is, so I felt free to expound. Feel free to ignore it, if you like.

Robear wrote:

I think you're missing the point. You keep anthropomorphizing. The males are not the ranking cats in the pride, nor do they do most of the hunting or pride defense, nor do they control most of the food. They *do* have to leave the pride and go solo at some point, and may not be accepted into another pride. It's the females who are social; the males are in a sense hangers-on.

It's very, very different from a hierarchical human society. I'm not looking for a perfect correspondence, and I do feel that jumping from some basic animal behaviors to a complicated social structure like monarchy or Libertarianism is very much like the creationist demand to show the exact path from a small fish to a human being. Your objections all seem to start with "assume the lions are just like humans...". :-)

I would like to put in a plug here for the [em]Chanur[/em] series by C.J. Cherryh, in which the protagonists are members of a species (Hani) descended from the cat-like apex predators of their homeworld. (Said protagonists happen across a lone strange almost-hairless critter on a multi-species space station and discover that he's sentient, leading to much space opera. Unlike books involving "cat people" from most authors, this series is not fixated on sex. It does, however, include some interesting bits about the place of males in Hani culture.)

Hypatian wrote:

I would like to put in a plug here for the [em]Chanur[/em] series by C.J. Cherryh, in which the protagonists are members of a species (Hani) descended from the cat-like apex predators of their homeworld. (Said protagonists happen across a lone strange almost-hairless critter on a multi-species space station and discover that he's sentient, leading to much space opera. Unlike books involving "cat people" from most authors, this series is not fixated on sex. It does, however, include some interesting bits about the place of males in Hani culture.)

Plus the series explores some very different ways to organise society (and ideas of morality) in the other alien species.

Different enough that if you saw the same similarities between humans and primates, you wouldn't jump on it as further proof of the theory?

The theory posits that morality and social evolution are shaped by the behaviors found in the species, instead of being universal across species. So I'd expect to find more similarities between closely related species than ones that differ more. But I'd look at the evidence to define the theory, not the other way around. That's what I'm doing here - you gave an example that was flawed, and I tried to point that out, and now we're off on a train to somewhere else.

Humans vary a whole lot more in their beliefs on morality than they do in their anatomy. It's not a good analogy.

Nor is telling someone "you sound like a creationist!" as part of a discussion: I mean, the same thing is running through my head for why you seem to me to have a different standard of proof for things that agree with your theory than things that don't, but I'm not actually going to *say* it to you!

That was not my intent at all. Nor do I have a different standard of proof as you seem to think. However, you *are* misunderstanding the theory; I must have presented it badly, and so I recommended that you go get it at the source.

I'm saying "no, you're wrong when you compare lions to monarchies, that does not follow from the theory or from observation" and you're not hearing me. I'm not saying you're a creationist, or dismissing counter-examples because I don't like them. I'm dismissing them because they don't fit observed facts.

How does anything I said depend on total congruency?

It doesn't. Take a deep breath. You're reading into this much more than I intended to say.

Robear wrote:
Different enough that if you saw the same similarities between humans and primates, you wouldn't jump on it as further proof of the theory?

The theory posits that morality and social evolution are shaped by the behaviors found in the species, instead of being universal across species. So I'd expect to find more similarities between closely related species than ones that differ more. But I'd look at the evidence to define the theory, not the other way around. That's what I'm doing here - you gave an example that was flawed, and I tried to point that out, and now we're off on a train to somewhere else.

I think we stepped on board that train when you went beyond "no--dogs don't understand the Golden Rule: bad example" and tried to prove something about all Natural Law, much of which does not rely on being universal across species for support.

That was not my intent at all. Nor do I have a different standard of proof as you seem to think. However, you *are* misunderstanding the theory; I must have presented it badly, and so I recommended that you go get it at the source.

I'm saying "no, you're wrong when you compare lions to monarchies, that does not follow from the theory or from observation" and you're not hearing me. I'm not saying you're a creationist, or dismissing counter-examples because I don't like them. I'm dismissing them because they don't fit observed facts.

Robear, do you get the difference between someone not hearing you, and someone disagreeing with you on whether observed facts fit? Just because we disagree on whether the comparison follows from the theory and observation, that does not mean you're not being heard: that just means you're being disagreed with on whether the comparison follows.

I think we stepped on board that train when you went beyond "no--dogs don't understand the Golden Rule: bad example" and tried to prove something about all Natural Law, much of which does not rely on being universal across species for support.

Natural law is not universal? Then how is it "natural"? The whole idea of natural law is that it is universal; that is, it derives from "nature", of which all species are a part.

Robear, do you get the difference between someone not hearing you, and someone disagreeing with you on whether observed facts fit? Just because we disagree on whether the comparison follows from the theory and observation, that does not mean you're not being heard: that just means you're being disagreed with on whether the comparison follows.

And I'm saying "go read the theory", because you don't understand *why* it doesn't fit. Obviously I didn't explain it well enough. But the idea that human social structures or morality would apply in any way to animals as unlike us as lions is not supported by the evidence. Certainly it would not extend to a form of government, which is an abstraction several times removed from basic social rules.

You are welcome of course to show that lions have some proclivity towards human-like morals or government. But you have not done so.

Robear wrote:
I think we stepped on board that train when you went beyond "no--dogs don't understand the Golden Rule: bad example" and tried to prove something about all Natural Law, much of which does not rely on being universal across species for support.

Natural law is not universal? Then how is it "natural"?

Don't look at me--I didn't come up with the name! : D

There's no egg in an egg cream either: sometimes things don't exactly do what they say on the tin.

Even though we have already confined ‘natural law theory’ to its use as a term that marks off a certain class of ethical theories, we still have a confusing variety of meanings to contend with. Some writers use the term with such a broad meaning that any moral theory that is a version of moral realism — that is, any moral theory that holds that some positive moral claims are literally true (for this conception of moral realism, see Sayre-McCord 1988)— counts as a natural law view. Some use it so narrowly that no moral theory that is not grounded in a very specific form of Aristotelian teleology could count as a natural law view. It might be thought that there is nothing that can be done to begin a discussion of natural law theory in ethics other than to stipulate a meaning for ‘natural law theory’ and to proceed from there.

there's a reason KingGorilla was all like "you don't want this man!"

But the idea that human social structures or morality would apply in any way to animals as unlike us as lions is not supported by the evidence.

I'll just say that's not what I was trying to communicate.

NSMike:

The consideration of what a god is doesn't have to go to quite that fundamental of a linguistics question. A "kami-sama" in Japanese Shinto Buddhism is essentially nothing more than a non-human person. The kami-sama of the sun is an extremely potent and powerful personage, but his or her power is not something that is beyond the aspiration of a normal human, unlike how it is in Greek mythology where gods are undisputably of a different (and superior) nature. In fact, some normal humans could already be considered kami if their accomplishments or temporal powers were great enough to merit it, even while living.

It is not without basis that the translation of "kami" into English as "deity" is often considered something of a mistranslation or a very loose one. In scifi/fantasy literature, the closest conceptual analogue would probably be the concept of "deity" in Piers Anthony's Incarnations series, where God, the Devil, Nature, Fate, and other such traditionally supreme beings are revealed to be nothing more than humans assuming an office, each in his or her own fashion.

In traditional Confucian supernatural beliefs, the Emperor himself is a "god" in the sense that as a human, he is part of the Celestial Bureaucracy, which governs the celestial world to which most (all?) humans transfer after death. That said, "Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away," clearly stipulates human limitations even on the most powerful celestial beings. They can't be everywhere and do everything.

Given all these things, it strikes me as inappropriate to use the term "god" for these Eastern concepts in the same way "god" is used for personages like Odin or Thor or Jesus or Jupiter. The key difference is that the Eastern concept of "god" is inclusive of the concept of "human," with "god" being more like "a non-human person" rather than "a superior or more powerful being." "Fairies" or "fey" are probably more appropriate analogues.

I'll just say that's not what I was trying to communicate.

Clearly, then, I'm lost. That's exactly how I read your assertion; that lions would be likely to evolve into monarchies and thus - somehow - the idea that humans are cooperative by natural selection is refuted. (I will admit this was puzzling me.)

Robear wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
But the idea that human social structures or morality would apply in any way to animals as unlike us as lions is not supported by the evidence.

I'll just say that's not what I was trying to communicate.

Clearly, then, I'm lost. That's exactly how I read your assertion; that lions would be likely to evolve into monarchies and thus - somehow - the idea that humans are cooperative by natural selection is refuted. (I will admit this was puzzling me.)

All I can say to that is I even see a difference between those two bolded statements. I thought I knew what you were asking when you said:

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".

I guess I didn't understand what you were asking us to think about.

Nomad wrote:

I find it interesting that Occam's Razor is brought up so often in opposition to the existence of God considering:

Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Standford wrote:

William of Ockham himself was a theist.

(snip)

To get away from lions for a bit, I've never understood why some theists find it ironic or interesting when an atheist cites a theist. Is it equally interesting when a Christian uses zero?
I wouldn't attach such significance to the religious beliefs of historical scholars either. A good deal of them lived in a time when not being Christian meant exile or worse. How many of them do you really think would still self-identify as Christian if they lived in a culture that didn't have a church as the ultimate authority on scientific matters, or if they had access to what we know about the universe now?

All I can say to that is I even see a difference between those two bolded statements. I thought I knew what you were asking when you said:

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".

I guess I didn't understand what you were asking us to think about.

You stated that you thought that lions would end up with a morality that supported monarchy and that that refuted the idea that humans are cooperative. I mean, you explicitly made both claims. I argued that monarchy is pretty far removed from social standards and morality, and thus is not so much evolved as conceived (that is, monarchy can coexist with cooperative social structures). I also argued that lions social structure is not anything like monarchy or the hierarchical human behaviors that lead to it.

Does that make it more clear? After that you insisted I was mis-taking your argument somehow.

How many of them do you really think would still self-identify as Christian if they lived in a culture that didn't have a church as the ultimate authority on scientific matters, or if they had access to what we know about the universe now?

Heck, we *know* how that turned out. It was called "the Enlightenment", and indeed, many Naturalists (later scientists) became Deists, agnostics or atheists for the reasons you cite.

Robear wrote:

You stated that you thought that lions would end up with a morality that supported monarchy and that that refuted the idea that humans are cooperative. I mean, you explicitly made both claims. I argued that monarchy is pretty far removed from social standards and morality, and thus is not so much evolved as conceived (that is, monarchy can coexist with cooperative social structures). I also argued that lions social structure is not anything like monarchy or the hierarchical human behaviors that lead to it.

Does that make it more clear? After that you insisted I was mis-taking your argument somehow.

No, it really doesn't. PM me if you can find where I explicitly claimed humans are not cooperative. While natural law has something to do with the topic of atheism, sentient man-lions and related discussions--while totally awesome--past this point do not.

I was trying to explain how a wind sprite is not a supernatural concept.

I think you're going to have an uphill fight there. I don't see any way that a wind sprite isn't a supernatural concept unless you can actually demonstrate evidence that wind sprites exist. And then it's not supernatural anymore... you have evidence.

As far as theism goes, I'd take a stab at it: I think it requires imagining an entity that has motives and the ability to influence the world in some way, but for which you have no concrete evidence. Believing in a person isn't theism, because people are real. If the person is imaginary, then it might be theism if the person knows that there is no evidence that the person exists (like, say, praying to a saint), but if he/she is simply being fooled (a la the Great and Powerful Oz), then it's just being mistaken, not theism.

Worship, trying to get the entity to do things on your behalf if you do things that please it, is optional. I believe there have been gods that were not propitiated in any way, but were nonetheless feared.

Malor wrote:
I was trying to explain how a wind sprite is not a supernatural concept.

I think you're going to have an uphill fight there. I don't see any way that a wind sprite isn't a supernatural concept unless you can actually demonstrate evidence that wind sprites exist. And then it's not supernatural anymore... you have evidence.

True: when you add enough evidence to something that is supernatural it becomes...just plain old 'natural'. Weird maybe, but natural to everyone but the Insane Clown Posse.

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:


The ancient Greeks told stories of giants, describing them as flesh-and-blood creatures who lived and died—and whose bones could be found coming out of the ground where they were buried long ago. Indeed, even today large and surprisingly humanlike bones can be found in Greece. Modern scientists understand such bones to be the remains of mammoths, mastodons and wooly rhinoceroses that once lived in the region.

But ancient Greeks were largely unfamiliar with these massive animals, and many believed that the enormous bones they found were the remains of humanlike giants. Any nonhuman traits in the bones were thought to be due to the grotesque anatomical features of giants.

Also, while I haven't read it, seems worth mentioning:

http://scienceblogs.com/afarensis/20...

CheezePavilion wrote:

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:

Dividing line?... It's a Pie chart. Title of the chart: Imperfect and/or bad science. Label on a decent sized wedge: Belief in the supernatural.

Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:

Dividing line?... It's a Pie chart. Title of the chart: Imperfect and/or bad science. Label on a decent sized wedge: Belief in the supernatural.

So it's a v-shaped line.

CheezePavilion wrote:
Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:

Dividing line?... It's a Pie chart. Title of the chart: Imperfect and/or bad science. Label on a decent sized wedge: Belief in the supernatural.

So it's a v-shaped line.

The title of the chart is Imperfect and/or bad science. Belief in the supernatural is a chunk of the chart. He's saying that all belief in the supernatural is imperfect and/or bad science, that there is no belief in the supernatural that is not imperfect and/or bad science. All A are B, but not all B are A.

Stengah wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:

Dividing line?... It's a Pie chart. Title of the chart: Imperfect and/or bad science. Label on a decent sized wedge: Belief in the supernatural.

So it's a v-shaped line.

The title of the chart is Imperfect and/or bad science. Belief in the supernatural is a chunk of the chart. He's saying that all belief in the supernatural is imperfect and/or bad science, that there is no belief in the supernatural that is not imperfect and/or bad science. All A are B, but not all B are A.

Ah, I get you now. That's why I said "just imperfect and/or bad science." I should have been moar cleer.

CheezePavilion wrote:
Stengah wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
Rezzy wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

Might be the time to ask the question of where the dividing line is between belief in the supernatural and just imperfect and/or bad science:

Dividing line?... It's a Pie chart. Title of the chart: Imperfect and/or bad science. Label on a decent sized wedge: Belief in the supernatural.

So it's a v-shaped line.

The title of the chart is Imperfect and/or bad science. Belief in the supernatural is a chunk of the chart. He's saying that all belief in the supernatural is imperfect and/or bad science, that there is no belief in the supernatural that is not imperfect and/or bad science. All A are B, but not all B are A.

Ah, I get you now. That's why I said "just imperfect and/or bad science." I should have been moar cleer.

Eet probeably wood haev halped.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I should have been moar cleer.

I can haz clarification?

Do not want!

Robear wrote:
Personally I deem atheism to be a religion, just not a deistic one.

Atheism is a lack of religious belief. In my case, that includes a lack of belief in any religion that defines itself as atheistic. You can define it differently, but your Wikipedia cite is second order - it assumes that people are atheistic *because* of a belief about humanity's place in the universe, when in fact, atheism is at core a disbelief in religion. Anything beyond that is based on adding criteria, like inferences about what atheism *means*.

Atheism can't be a religion, because it literally is a lack of belief in any religion.

So what's the word for someone who believes god does not exist?

Jeff-66 wrote:

Robear nailed it. This drawing emphasizes this point a bit further:

IMAGE(http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g81/ziffel66/not-an-atheist.gif)

A problem in these discussions is often rooted in how people define words. Atheism isn't a religion, or a belief structure. We do not have these conversations about Santa Claus, fairies, or other imagined beings, so assuming that a god/God is something that divides or defines belief structures strikes me as special pleading.

I think Jeff-66 is right about the problem here being one of how people define words. So what should we call people who believe god does not exist?

It's not special pleading, it's mere simplicity. We can of course go around saying "people who believe god does not exist" but that doesn't change the fact that when a lot of people say "atheist" they do NOT mean just "people who don't believe in god."

People say I argue semantics, but anything I've ever said pales in comparison to trying to split the difference between "I do not believe in god" and "I believe god does not exist." I'm not saying it's a distinction without a difference, but what I AM saying is that in context the difference between the two hardly matters: there are very few people walking around who lack belief BOTH in god's existence AND non-existence, and most of those are agnostics anyways.

edit: also, um guys? scrolling back through the thread I found this:

Jeff-66 wrote:
Robear wrote:

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

+1

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/1...

One of the things that makes this discussion difficult is this kind of back-and-forth is that people defending atheism will often characterize it as being whatever would make that particular argument more powerful, without realizing (I'm not trying to be a dick by bringing this up--we can all fall into this especially on navel-gazing topics like this) they sometimes say the opposite in a different argument when that's the more powerful way to describe atheism.

So what's the word for someone who believes god does not exist?

Atheist. No god, no religion. So how is that a religion? The initial comment was that "atheism is itself a religion". It's not. It's a disbelief in gods and all observances, rituals, beliefs and the like that come with them.

Atheists don't believe in God. Whether they don't see evidence for a god, or "have faith" that gods don't exist, the disbelief in something is not a religion. Disbelief in god is not a statement on the nature, beginning or meaning of the universe; it involves no supernatural beings, and no devotional or appeasing rituals, practices, or moral codes; and it says nothing about the purpose of the universe. It is not a religion, no matter whether one has not seen evidence, or is convinced that there is no god even without good evidence. Doesn't matter. Religions involve belief in supernatural entities and practices intended to appease them (like following a moral code, killing animals, burning things, reciting magical words or making wishes). Atheism does none of that.

Why is this not obvious? Yes, I believe in one less God than Christians do. That does not mean I believe in any god, or follow any religion, nor is that disbelief a religion in itself. Geez. It's not hard to understand this.

Robear wrote:
So what's the word for someone who believes god does not exist?

Atheist. No god, no religion. So how is that a religion? The initial comment was that "atheism is itself a religion". It's not. It's a disbelief in gods and all observances, rituals, beliefs and the like that come with them.

Atheists don't believe in God. Whether they don't see evidence for a god, or "have faith" that gods don't exist, the disbelief in something is not a religion. Disbelief in god is not a statement on the nature, beginning or meaning of the universe; it involves no supernatural beings, and no devotional or appeasing rituals, practices, or moral codes; and it says nothing about the purpose of the universe. It is not a religion, no matter whether one has not seen evidence, or is convinced that there is no god even without good evidence. Doesn't matter. Religions involve belief in supernatural entities and practices intended to appease them (like following a moral code, killing animals, burning things, reciting magical words or making wishes). Atheism does none of that.

Why is this not obvious? Yes, I believe in one less God than Christians do. That does not mean I believe in any god, or follow any religion, nor is that disbelief a religion in itself. Geez. It's not hard to understand this.

Note that disbelief = lack of belief, not belief w/o proof in a contrary position. If someone could show measurable proof of divine intervention, many atheists would become theists.

Regarding the belief in one less god thing: it is not quite correct (at least for agnostic atheists), since gnostic theists generally actively disbelieve in the deities of other religions.