Pharyngula

It’s not nice to annoy a fellow atheist, but once again we’ve got someone bound and determined to promote himself by dividing atheists into artificial camps and slamming the side with which he doesn’t identify. Greg Epstein, a “humanist chaplain” (whatever the hell that contradictory concatenation means), decided to disavow those horrible people like Dawkins and Harris as “fundamentalist atheists”. Outrage
ensued.

Ho-hum.

Whenever I see someone jabbering about “fundamentalist atheists”, a combination of terms that makes no sense at all and immediately reveals the speaker’s ignorance of both fundamentalism and atheism, I just write them off out of hand. It means we’re dealing with a moron. Maybe Greg Epstein has some great ideas and goals, but pffft, screw him, he’s not worth listening to. Moron.

However, the Friendly Atheist does ask a good question. We clearly have a division, with some of us being more <ahem> vigorous and uncompromising in our striving towards a consistently godless ideal, and others being a bit more laissez faire. What are we going to call those obnoxious loud-mouthed atheists who won’t sit quietly in the corner?

I have a word.

It’s “uppity.”

You can just call us those damned uppity atheists. Really, I won’t mind. I also won’t dismiss you as a moron, Uncle.

Comments

  1. #1 andyo
    April 5, 2007

    It gets kind of tiring debating these things over and over. I didn’t even feel the need to be an atheist, and in fact I didn’t even know I was one till I came here to the U.S.

    I live now in California, which is pretty lax by other states’ standards, but still.. Bushy-boy, come on! What the hell is wrong with civilization. I came from a rather poor 3rd World country, and if anything, people are religious there, but they are not bat-shit crazy as most religious here. They don’t mind atheists at all. They just wanna get over the hardships of life. Maybe here in the U.S. people have it too easy, and have too much free time?

  2. #2 andyo
    April 5, 2007

    By the way, I don’t really like the very term “atheist” because it’s just too freakin’ pretentious. Pretentious on the part of religious people, who just assume there is something we have to deny.

    Whenever somebody asks me if I’m an atheist (not many people have done that, admittedly, here in CA not many people ask that), I’ll say that I’m an atheist in the same way that I’m an a-unicorniologist and an unastrologer. And if they’re religious I’ll call them a-nought-ologist. (I don’t really, but it’d be fun if they could get the point.)

  3. #3 beepbeepitsme
    April 5, 2007

    People who try and use the word “fundamental” and “atheist” together do so because they have the false idea that the word “atheist” actually describes what someome believes in. In other words, they attribute or presume all sorts of stances with the word when the word itself does not convey any other meaning than one who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god or gods.

    They want to pretend that there are automatic default political, economic, social, cultural and philosophical positions associated with the word “atheist.” In other words, they want to pretend that describing oneself as an atheist is a belief system.

    It’s quite weird the way they attempt to do this, as if someone was an “afairyist”, one wouldn’t attempt to automatically assume that they had certain political or philosophical beliefs as a result. Or that if they didn’t believe in the existence of fairies that this meant by default that they had a belief in gnomes.

    Frankly, I think they need to add some words to their lexicon. Words like apathetist, irreligious, sacreligious, nullifidian and antitheist. When theists have learnt the definitions of these words, they might realize that they no longer need to refer so clumily and inaccurately to individuals as “fundamental atheists.”

  4. #4 Peter McGrath
    April 5, 2007

    Unguls. Short for ungullible.

  5. #5 NJ
    April 5, 2007

    So what should we ornery atheists call ourselves?

    Bob. Just Bob.

  6. #6 argh
    April 5, 2007

    I believe people call atheists fundamentalists for the same reason people try to present creationism and evolution as merely two competing theories (or for that matter, those who seem to have fascist tendencies refer to their enemies as -fascists).

    I think the point is the obliteration of meaning. There are clearly those who would like to see a world in which the meaning of “fundamentalism” is unclear, the meaning of “theory” is unclear and the meaning of “fascist” is unclear.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    The following will be snarky, quite possibly snide, and most probably unbecoming a serious discussion.

    Q. “So what should we ornery atheists call ourselves?”

    A. Correct?

  8. #8 writerdd
    April 5, 2007

    Now you guys know what it’s like to be a woman! We’re supposed to be “nice” all the time and when we speak our mind with conviction or passion, and if we have the nerve to think independently and not follow the rules, we’re called “bitch.”

    So, I for one will be most pleased to be known as a “Bitchy Atheist”. Maybe you guys wouldn’t feel comfortable with that title, but it works for me!

    Of course, in general, if people ask me what religion I am, I just say “none.” But about half the time they feel the need to clarify with the question, “Are you an atheist.” Doh.

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    April 5, 2007

    Ooo, I like Unguls. It sounds like we ought to get black cloaks and winged mounts and a nice ring, and that we’d sail about terrorizing the populace.

  10. #10 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 5, 2007

    Bob. Just Bob.

    To quote Elwood….”Uh, We’ll talk to Bob”

  11. #11 Hank Fox
    April 5, 2007

    This is an echo of something I posted recently over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable – a few new thoughts I had on the subject.

    Say you’re talking about slavery, there are two ways you can look at it. You can see it as a social phenomenon, or you can see it as a personal condition.

    In SOCIAL terms, the opposite of slavery is anti-slavery.

    But in PERSONAL terms, the opposite of slavery is freedom.

    A man freed from slavery is not just a non-slave. He’s a FREE MAN. The one implies a restrictive, walled-in life determined by the will of someone else. The other implies not just a non-slave, but a person faced with infinite possibility, someone who can do anything HE likes with his life. Slavery is a small box; freedom is the universe of self-determined choices outside it.

    Likewise with religion, you can see it as a social phenomenon, or as a personal condition.

    In social terms, the opposite of religion can be called atheism. But in personal terms, the opposite of religion is, again, freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of … everything.

    Just like slavery, religion is a small box. Freeing yourself from that box presents you with infinite possibilities.

    Because they’re the words most people know, I’ll probably still use the terms “atheism” and “atheist” to describe myself and my non-theistic beliefs. But I’m gonna try more often to also define myself and my fellow atheists in these grander terms: We’re free men. Free women. Free thinkers. Free selves. With all the universe of self-willed choices, thoughts and possibilities that implies.

  12. #12 speedwell
    April 5, 2007

    Hank, that’s perfect. Thank you.

    I often wish the word “freethinker” wasn’t so, well, dated. I would like to bring it back into currency. It would be the preferred way I think of myself.

  13. #13 Hank Fox
    April 5, 2007

    Re: fundamentalist atheists

    My reaction to this is the same as to those people who say “Science is just another religion.” Without knowing it, they seem to be saying “Science is every bit as stupid as what *I* believe.”

    Near as I can tell, the word “fundamentalist” was proudly thrust into modern-day speech by people who are not just a little bit religious, but a LOT religious. Those who cry “fundamentalist atheist” seem to be saying “Your beliefs are every bit as ridiculously brainless as mine.”

  14. #14 Ian H Spedding FCD
    April 5, 2007

    What are we going to call those obnoxious loud-mouthed atheists who won’t sit quietly in the corner?

    Wrong?

    Splitters!

    Dawks?

  15. #15 Andrew Staroscik
    April 5, 2007

    Sam Harris is going to be speaking at a local university this month and the ads for the event describe him as an evangelical atheist.

    Has anyone else seen this usage? Seems like even more of a contradiction using the word fundamentalist.

  16. #16 Epistaxis
    April 5, 2007

    Epstein’s views are more complicated than two words taken out of context (and out of his original scare quotes) by a reporter looking to start a fight.

  17. #17 Epistaxis
    April 5, 2007

    Epstein’s views are more complicated than two words taken out of context (and out of his original scare quotes) by a reporter looking to start a fight.

    For some reason, the URL I entered isn’t what got used in the link. I’ll try again.

  18. #18 Miguelito
    April 5, 2007

    If observing religious types has taught me anything, it’s that fundamentalists treat people who don’t follow their religion with disdain and have a nasty streak of intolerance towards others.

    Yes, you can have fundamentalist atheists. The fundamentals are simple. There is no God/Allah/Vishnu etc. If you believe in God/Allah/Vishnu etc. you’re an idiot and never to be treated with any respect.

    Having said that, I’m an atheist. I tend to not care what other people think. I may think it’s silly, but I don’t start defining people by whatever their religion is and use it as a crude litmus test to start judging others in entirety. To a fundamentalist, their religion makes all the difference.

  19. #19 Mike
    April 5, 2007

    “Sam Harris is going to be speaking at a local university this month and the ads for the event describe him as an evangelical atheist. Has anyone else seen this usage? Seems like even more of a contradiction using the word fundamentalist.”

    Not really. Evangelizing is a term that can be used more generally to mean pushing a particular view or belief, though generally with a sense of it being obnoxious to the person using the term. In that sense, ‘evangelical atheist’ makes sense as an atheist for whom it is not enough that they embrace atheism but that everyone else should as well and they try to bring that about. Given its sense, I wouldn’t expect evangelical atheists would want to adopt it of themselves.

  20. #20 Raymond
    April 5, 2007

    For the record, writerdd, I am perfectly comfortable calling myself a “Bitchy Atheist”, and will commence doing so directly!

  21. #21 Mike
    April 5, 2007

    I think Epstein explained his position eloquently and clearly on his blog, and it’s clear that too many bloggers have extrapolated too far from two word featured in a single article.

    I assume, PZ, that you bothered to read Epstein’s blog responses and find out his actual position before you called him ‘a moron’? If anything, your derogatory comments only make you sound dogmatic and close-minded.

    Epstein is certainly not a moron, although I’m beginning to suspect that PZ is.

  22. #22 CalGeorge
    April 5, 2007

    I would like to be an “incidental” or “accidental” atheist.

    I would not concern myself with religion very much if they stopped shoving it in our faces. Unlike fundies, we can stop using the parts of the brain devoted to obsessive compulsions.

    Until fundies go away, I am happy to be uppity, devoted, avid, whatever it takes.

  23. #23 Jeff Alexander
    April 5, 2007

    I’m partial to militant atheist. Atheist missionary doesn’t quite work although it is an improvement over fundamentalist. The focus is more on persuading others to become atheists.

  24. #24 Will E.
    April 5, 2007

    See we atheists are supposed to be polite and quiet in the corner and not upset everyone with our party-pooper skepticism and reliance on evidence. And as soon as we open our mouths, we’re often accused of being the fundamentalists’ best friends, because our unlikable intensity serves only to drive people further into the arms of theism (I believe Dembski has accused Dawkins of this). However, that rhetoric never translates the other way: that tireless godbags will drive people to atheism. Funny, that.

  25. #25 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    Actually, to be perfectly frank, I’m not that fond of the word atheist, at least applied to myself. I mean, it’s true, but it’s awfully uninformative! In terms of how I really live my life, both in my day-to-day affairs and in my metaphysical ponderings, the fact that I don’t believe in any gods — and, more strongly put, that I straight-up believe that Jehovah does not exist — my atheism is less significant than the fact that I am a Dresden Dolls fan.

    Isaac Asimov once wrote:

    I’ve never been particularly careful about what label I placed on my beliefs. I believe in the scientific method and the rule of reason as a way of understanding the natural Universe. I don’t believe in the existence of entities that cannot be reached by such a method and such a rule and are therefore “supernatural.” I certainly don’t believe in the mythologies of our society, in Heaven and Hell, in God and angels, in Satan and demons. I’ve thought of myself as an “atheist,” but that simply described what I didn’t believe in, not what I did.

    Gradually, though, I became aware that there was a movement called “humanism,” which used that name because, to put it most simply, Humanists believe that human beings produced the progressive advance of human society and also the ills that plague it. They believe that if the ills are to be alleviated, it is humanity that will have to do the job. They disbelieve in the influence of the supernatural on either the good or the bad of society, on either its ills or the alleviation of those ills.

    (I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994, p. 508.)

    So, fine, I guess I’m a Humanist. By that definition, anyway. (“Freethinker” is also nice; “bitchy freethinker” even better.) If you talk about human beings being “supreme” in any way or having some transcendent importance beyond what reason can justify (I bet we can screw up our planet more than most species, for example), then no, I’m not in your club. The Randroid “man-worshipers” are down the hall.

  26. #26 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    I do not like to say “I am an atheist”, I much prefer the construct “I am atheist”, emphasis on the first syllable.

    Also, for those cranky atheists, I like the word I invented the other day – antitheists. But then I laugh at my own jokes, too.

  27. #27 SnarlyOldFart
    April 5, 2007

    I was brought up to be religious but took it all too seriously, and of course under scrutiny it all fell apart. Now I am certain all religions are wholly wrong and without redeeming value.

    I think of my self as a moron-in-recovery.

  28. #28 Russell
    April 5, 2007

    I have encountered Objectivists and Marxists who seem to me fundamentalist in their adherence to the writings they take as foundational, in much the same manner as fundamentalist Christians. But neither Dawkins nor Harris strike me as ideological in that sense, and it seems as odd to me to describe an Objectivist as a fundamentalist atheist as it would to describe a Calvinist Christian as a fundamentalist determinist. Atheism and determinism are merely doctrines of Objectivism and Calvinism, respectively, and it is the ideology as a whole that the adherent takes in a fundamentalist fashion.

  29. #29 Proteus454
    April 5, 2007

    I have to ask a question, Miguelito.

    If a 25-year old still passionately believed in Santa Claus or perhaps the Tooth Fairy, you honestly wouldn’t think, even for a moment, there wasn’t something just a LITTLE lacking in their upstairs?

    To an extent, yes, one’s beliefs DO matter. Uncritical acceptance of contradiction and unprovable folderol are character flaws. Surely you’re not suggesting a person’s thoughts – and by extension, invariably, their deeds – are irrelevant to the content of their character?

    Respect for a person AS a person is entirely seperate from respect for their “beliefs” or how smart they are. We “fundamentalist” atheists do not want to shove any nice christian grannies into ovens, nor indeed institute any form of oppression.

    As soon as theists stop saying and doing dumb things, we shall stop calling them on it.

  30. #30 NonyNony
    April 5, 2007

    They’ve got it all wrong anyway. They should be talking about “evangelical atheists” not “fundamentalist atheists”. The latter makes no sense at all – there’s nothing for an atheist to be fundamental about. There’s only one (lack of) belief – that there are no gods. Pretty simple, no need to get anything out to literally interpret what that might mean.

    Evangelical atheists, on the other hand, would be atheists who rabble rouse – who go around spreading their message of disbelief to the masses. Rather than sit silently, content with their own knowledge of the non-existence of gods, an evangelical atheist would feel that it was his/her duty to spread the message that there are no gods. And this would be done through discourse with believers to show them the error of their ways – much as an evangelist missionary interacts in discourse with non-believers to show them the error of THEIR ways, but through rational argument instead of through reading them Bible tracts.

  31. #31 Geral
    April 5, 2007

    I see nothing wrong with atheist, it is what it is.

    Atheist: “a” Greek for without,not. “theist(m)” A believe in god(s), or just god(s)

    Without a belief in gods.

    You can sugarcoat it with another name, but the definition stays the same. It’s really just about changing the connotation.

  32. #32 windy
    April 5, 2007

    Ooo, I like Unguls. It sounds like we ought to get black cloaks and winged mounts

    Or like “ungulate” which might conjure up images of mounts rather than riders. I guess “Hoofed” isn’t an entirely bad thing to be, but it sounds a bit too evo-satanist…

    Hmm… ungula can also mean claw or talon. Atheists with claws? 😉

  33. #33 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    evangelical derives from Greek “good words”, specifically in rerference to the so-called Gospels. I don’t think that works so well for people of no theistic belief. Proselytizing atheist would be better, as the intent is to convert, not preach “gospels”.

  34. #34 Lynn
    April 5, 2007

    writerdd said: “Of course, in general, if people ask me what religion I am, I just say “none.” But about half the time they feel the need to clarify with the question, “Are you an atheist.” Doh.”

    Actually, these are two different issues–atheism and having no religion. The existence of religion doesn’t really have anything to do with whether there are gods or not. No matter whether the universe harbors supernatural beings or not, religion is 100% a human invention, and exists completely independently of any old sky-guys in dirty robes.

    I have to say, on a technicality, that I’m an agnostic when it comes to the god-issue. (I’d like to be able to honestly say I’m an atheist, but I get this guilty feeling because I know it’s just not possible to prove a negative. So call me a wuss if you want **sigh**.) I also have to say that I strongly disapprove of *all* religions, for reasons which have little or nothing to do with my rejection of the existence of gods.

    Lynn

  35. #35 Curt
    April 5, 2007

    I wish the more comprehensive term “naturalist” were more widespread. It defines a positive position, implies a far broader range of nonsense not believed in, and bears little of atheism’s stigma.

  36. #36 windy
    April 5, 2007

    (I’d like to be able to honestly say I’m an atheist, but I get this guilty feeling because I know it’s just not possible to prove a negative. So call me a wuss if you want **sigh**.)

    You are not a wuss, but here’s a word for you: unicorns.

  37. #37 AgnosticOracle
    April 5, 2007

    I occasionally use the term evangelical atheist. It isn’t a perfect term as atheist are generally going door to door to spread the good news of no god. But it comes closer to capturing the distinction between the outspoken advocates and the quieter folks.

  38. #38 SteveM
    April 5, 2007

    I think he is using “fundamentalist” as a euphemism for “intolerant”. Dawkins especially seems to be quite intolerant of creationists and religion in general, just as christian fundamentalists are intolerant of everybody except christian fundamentalists. It seems very common to use a word not so much for its actual definition but to allude to some other characteristic shared by that word. So in this case he is saying Dawkins attitudes towards theists is very similar to fundamentalists attitudes towards atheists.

    So, I gues I’m suggesting “Intolerant Atheist” as the term for you “ornery atheists”. 🙂

  39. #39 Scott Hatfield
    April 5, 2007

    PZ: If memory serves, Douglas Adams described himself as a ‘radical atheist’ not only to make sure that his views were not confused with agnosticism, but to emphasize both the conviction and thoughtfulness with which he held his views.

  40. #40 Markk
    April 5, 2007

    The more friendly variety of atheists have been called “Chamberlain atheists” so maybe you uppity types can call yourselves “Churchill atheists”?

    That way you get to namedrop a highly regarded historical figure – always fun; not to mention the connotations of being on the Right Side against The Agressors.

    We shall fight them on the beaches, etc.

  41. #41 Joshua
    April 5, 2007

    Hm, that’s a shame. I’ve met and conversed with Greg at a couple of events the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy has hosted up here in Boston, and he’s a really great guy. No mush-head, he.

    However, if he’s throwing around the f-word when it comes to other atheists, that seems really irresponsible. There’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist atheist”. The phrase is about as meaningless as “compassionate conservative” or “victory in Iraq”.

  42. #42 SteveM
    April 5, 2007

    Lynn (#34) wrote:

    Actually, these are two different issues–atheism and having no religion. The existence of religion doesn’t really have anything to do with whether there are gods or not.

    Isn’t that the difference between “theism” and “deism”?
    That is, theism is believing in or being a member of a religion, while “deism” just means a belief in a god regardless of religion. Theocracy is government by a religion, theology is the study of religion, etc. a diety is a god. Theism implies deism (or does it, could there be a secular religion?), while deism does not imply theism.
    So, actually, belief that there is no god should be “adeism”?

  43. #43 spencer
    April 5, 2007

    If a 25-year old still passionately believed in Santa Claus or perhaps the Tooth Fairy, you honestly wouldn’t think, even for a moment, there wasn’t something just a LITTLE lacking in their upstairs?

    You didn’t address this question to me, but I’m going to answer it anyway.

    No, I wouldn’t automatically think that. And here’s why:

    Many people close to me, including my lovely and intelligent wife, were brought up by their parents to believe in a particular religious viewpoint. A standard religious upbringing is, in many important ways, similar to a cult indoctrination. What makes the standard religious upbringing worse is the fact that it’s usually inflicted on someone who is far too young to have developed the critical thinking skills needed to see that it’s all bullshit.

    Now, some people eventually figure it out for themselves later in life. But many others do not, for a variety of reasons – often, I suspect it is a desire to avoid questioning one’s tribal identity too much. At any rate, it seems reasonable to suspect that their are deep-seated psychological mechanisms at work in many people’s heads that prevent them from looking too closely at the particulars of what they believe, and then at whether those beliefs make any fucking sense at all.

    I don’t think it’s particularly fair to use that as a judgement of someone’s intellect. However, I’m not generally so understanding when it comes to people who experienced a conversion to some religion as an adult, once their critical thinking abilities should be fully formed. But even then, there are exceptions, especially if their conversion came as the result of some deeply emotional incident in their lives.

    Yes, religion is stupid. But that doesn’t mean everyone who follows it is stupid.

    (And for the record, I do sort of believe that a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. Lucky for me that both my parents were severely lapsed Catholics.)

  44. #44 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    This is really pretty depressing. The intellectual level of some of the responses is low indeed–Flemming’s, for instance. Precisely the sort of thing one might find on a real fundamentalist site, if we just were to switch some of the terms around.

    Atheism, it seems, has gotten more popular maybe, but it has gotten a lot more arrogant and stupid, too. And now, in Sam Harris, we have our own budding televangelist, as well. In a world of 900 cable stations, I suppose we should have expected this to happen.

    By the way, “uppity” african americans stuck up for their basic rights. I don’t think the label applies very well to well-educated, upper middle-class atheists sticking up for their right to ridicule others, do you?

  45. #45 George
    April 5, 2007

    I really don’t think there is much sense to having a name, e.g. atheist. I do not think about what my name is for may lack of believe is astrology or ESP or ghosts or …

  46. #46 spencer
    April 5, 2007

    Upon further review, I should have made clear at the beginning of my previous comment that I was equating belief in Santa Claus with belief in just about any established, “mainstream” religion, and was taking off from that starting point.

    Any 25 year old who believes in Santa Claus is certainly pretty dense. But prolonged Santa belief does not have the same social infrastructure propping it up that prolonged God belief does, so I guess you can’t really equate them.

  47. #47 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    What this fellow (quite clearly to those who can read) means by fundamentalist is “intolerant,” “strident,” “obsessive.” The way, actually, that the word generally gets used (albeit incorrectly).

    I think a good label for Harris and crew might be “monomaniacal” atheists.

  48. #48 Will E.
    April 5, 2007

    “If memory serves, Douglas Adams described himself as a ‘radical atheist’ not only to make sure that his views were not confused with agnosticism, but to emphasize both the conviction and thoughtfulness with which he held his views.”

    Scott, that’s a good point. I know lots of people who are not religious, or sort of agnostics, but don’t really know enough about religion or god belief to reject it consciously and outright. To me, a nontheist is someone who just doesn’t even ever consider the question–and I know folks like that, brought up in completely secular homes, just completely unconcerned about religious belief–but me, I’m an atheist, I was raised in a mildly religious background, and I’ve thought about religion and read about and wrote about it for years and years, and reject it all, so I would classify myself like Adams, as a “radical atheist.”

  49. #49 Tulse
    April 5, 2007

    By the way, “uppity” african americans stuck up for their basic rights. I don’t think the label applies very well to well-educated, upper middle-class atheists sticking up for their right to ridicule others, do you?

    No, it applies to those sticking up for the rights of women to control their bodies without theocratic intervention, the rights of children to be educated and not indoctrinated, the rights of loving consenting adults to be free to conduct their sex lives as they wish, the rights of all committed couples to receive the same state-sanctioned benefits regardless of their sexual orientation, the rights of scientists to examine vitally important issues without worrying about religiously-imposed funding bans, the rights of citizens to expect that their government will make decisions based on scientific evidence and not a book written two thousand years ago…shall I go on?

  50. #50 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    No, it applies to those sticking up for the rights of women to control their bodies without theocratic intervention, the rights of children to be educated and not indoctrinated, the rights of loving consenting adults to be free to conduct their sex lives as they wish, the rights of all committed couples to receive the same state-sanctioned benefits regardless of their sexual orientation, the rights of scientists to examine vitally important issues without worrying about religiously-imposed funding bans, the rights of citizens to expect that their government will make decisions based on scientific evidence and not a book written two thousand years ago…shall I go on?

    Hah! Religious people are probaly WAAAAAY ahead of atheists, and most especially way ahead of self-promoting, clever-schoolboy windbags like Sam Harris, in forwarding most of these agendas, wouldn’t you say? Let’s ask the humanist chaplain guy, he’s probably actually done some work on these things.

    These nice-sounding social agendas have nothing at all to do with televangelist atheism.

  51. #51 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    Oran, writing from Bizarro-land? ONLY religious groups are the ones fighting against all those social agenda items. It seems like maybe you have a particular headache with Dawkins & Harris. concern troll much?

  52. #52 Bunjo
    April 5, 2007

    I’m pretty much convinced that there is no current personal god(s) as proposed by the religious people. That makes me an atheist, I guess. I’m reasonably certain (but not 100% certain) that there is/was no creator or prime cause for the beginning of the universe so I’m agnostic in that sense.

    When asked about my religious convictions I reply ‘none’ on written forms, but ‘god free’ in conversation. I am not ‘a godfrey’ – I am god free in the sense that I do not run my life as if there is some big sky pixie measuring me up for a place in paradise or hell. I choose what social rules I adopt to live my life by.

  53. #53 Howard
    April 5, 2007

    I use the term – “perfect atheist,” to describe those who do not get heart palpitations over religious practices, and do not reflexively devote much time and energy criticizing and complaining about religious practices. Those who do are termed “imperfect atheists.”

    It’s apt and it works.

  54. #54 CalGeorge
    April 5, 2007

    Ridicule works. Bush has been ridiculed relentlessly over the last few years. His popularity plummeted, to the point where the Democrats were able to take control of Congress (thank goodness).

    Religions are ridiculed because they are ridiculous. You can’t expect people not to make fun of them. The Christian – Muslim – Hebrew kinds are based on nutty premises, provoke extremely nutty behavior (ritual chanting, weekly or daily mass indoctrination), and make lots of people bigoted, extremely narrow-minded, and even suicidally dangerous.

    The more ridicule the better.

  55. #55 AgnosticOracle
    April 5, 2007

    “uppity” african americans stuck up for their basic rights. I don’t think the label applies very well to well-educated, upper middle-class atheists sticking up for their right to ridicule others, do you?

    When we look back at the civil rights movement it is easy to see it as just standing up for basic rights. But the idea that basic rights applied to black was alien in much of American culture at the time.

    The civil rights movement was a critic and an attack on the culture of America at the time. An attack it richly deserved but an attack none the less.

    Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, PZ and others are delivering an attack on the culture of today. It is also an attack that is richly deserved.

    As with the civil rights movement various people use different tactics. It is perfectly reasonable to argue which tactics are the best. Though I think we should tone down the rhetoric of our internal debate. That goes both towards calling Harris, et al fundamentalist and calling others Chamberlain. I would argue that the best tactic is a combined arms. Greg Epstein’s soft spoken approach likely helps un-demonize atheist to the religious. Dawkins’s outspoken advocacy gives many of us pride and sets the standard that we shouldn’t need to apologize for defending reason.

    Internal debate is good but concern trolling and internal name calling is not.

  56. #56 Louis
    April 5, 2007

    What do you call an uppity, radical, outspoken person who lack a belief in god or gods the same way he lacks a belief in unicorns and Santa Claus?

    I call me Louis.

    I like the Douglas Adams thing (also mentioned up thread you’ll note), I do say I am a “radical atheist”. I also have no trouble explaining a) what I mean by that and b) any errors or misinterpretations that may come up when I say it. I also make no apology for it either.

    One thing I HATE to my back teeth is when organisations involved in the pseudodebate over evolutionary biology and creationism (we all know there’s no scientific debate. The creationists were shown to be wrong centuries ago, Darwin and subsequent biology was just another series of nails in an already well sealed coffin) play the silly game of “hide the atheists”. When some drivel spewing moron cries “OH! But you are nearly all atheists, it’s an agenda I tells ya!” I reply with a very calm: “So what? What has religion, yours or my lack thereof got to do with this scientific subject? We are talking about science, right? How does my lack of belief in a deity have any relevance to, say for example, how speciation might occur, or the longevity of “junk” DNA in a genome?”. Usually works too.

    Louis

  57. #57 Tulse
    April 5, 2007

    These nice-sounding social agendas have nothing at all to do with televangelist atheism.

    Nonsense. To note just one specific issue, Dawkins is vehemently and famously opposed to creationism, and has done more to bring attention to that issue that folks like Gould ever did (and don’t get me wrong, I think Gould was a great man).

    On a more general level, those “social agendas” are only “agendas” as opposed to unremarkable, mundane, universally accepted aspects of our lives precisely because it is religious groups, and more broadly religiosity, that has fought against them. And it is precisely this religiosity that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, PZ, and others are combatting. You may not like the tactics, but tell me the last time in US history that there was such a vigorous and public debate about atheism. These writers have shifted the Overton window on the issue of religion, to where one can actually talk about atheism not as mere oddity, but as a serious challenge to religion. That is the only way to ensure that those “social agenda” items (like basic human rights for women) will be securely obtained.

  58. #58 Louis
    April 5, 2007

    P.S. I should mention that I am happy with the words, freethinker, sceptic, and indeed atheist. Atheist is a simple word, it does exactly what it says: an a-theist is someone who does not have (i.e. lacks) a theistic belief. If I believed that god or gods did not exist I would not simply be an atheist because I would have a faith in the lack of something rather than a lack of faith in the existence of something. It isn’t hard to grasp the difference yet so many people miss it. Those chaps and chapesses who believe there is no god or gods are “strong” atheists (or one of the many other monikers). Personally I prefer “antitheist” or even better “anterotheist”. But that’s just semantics really.

  59. #59 Carlie
    April 5, 2007

    Ah, I’m always a day behind and a dollar short. I was going to use the African-American reference with “uppity” as a good thing, which Oran brought up badly and Tulse smacked him/her down over. I would never say that atheists are being persecuted today in the same way that African-Americans were in the recent past. If you go back to, say, the Crusades, the comparison would be more apt, but the basic idea of using uppity as a derogatory term is that whoever is being uppity doesn’t “know their place” as inferior to everyone else and refuses to stay there. With that connotation, I think “uppity atheist” is an entirely appropriate way to both call the prejudice as it is and turn around and take back the word at the same time.

  60. #60 spartanrider
    April 5, 2007

    I for one am an angry atheist.Six thousand years of history has made me angry.For most of this time it did not matter if you disbelieved in your local city state god or the local tribal shaman the results were the same.Usually we will kill you or get the hell out of here.Screw them all.Fuck their persecution stories.They all stood together when dealing with unbelievers.Now they have lost the power to kill me they want me to make nice with them.I for one will curse these bastards with my last breath.I don’t give a rat’s ass what they call me.One cannot overcome their angry gods,their gods of war setting around a campfire with them singing kumbaya.They are a bunch of murdering bastards!

  61. #61 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    Russell said:

    I have encountered Objectivists and Marxists who seem to me fundamentalist in their adherence to the writings they take as foundational, in much the same manner as fundamentalist Christians. But neither Dawkins nor Harris strike me as ideological in that sense, and it seems as odd to me to describe an Objectivist as a fundamentalist atheist as it would to describe a Calvinist Christian as a fundamentalist determinist. Atheism and determinism are merely doctrines of Objectivism and Calvinism, respectively, and it is the ideology as a whole that the adherent takes in a fundamentalist fashion.

    Thank you!

    Following Godwin’s sterling example, I would like to propose a Law. I use that word only half in jest, for this will be a Law in both the legal and the scientific senses of that word. First, it is an empirical statement:

    1. In any discussion of atheism (skepticism, etc.), the probability that someone will compare a vocal atheist to religious fundamentalists increases to one.

    Following this statement comes the second half, which is a judgment:

    2. The person who makes this comparison will be considered to have lost the argument.

    I’m not trying to make “fundamentalist” a taboo word. The point is that it’s not logical to stick that word upon somebody when “strident”, “vocal” or “inflexible” are actually the qualities for which you think they need criticism.

    Is “Nazi” an appropriate description of all people who express authoritarian views, who want to see the world march in lockstep? No, because that word refers to a specific (loathsome) historical movement and its modern descendants. If you want to call somebody a Nazi, you have to back it up. Never forget, laws were made for people, not the other way round: if you have an argument and evidence on your side, sensible folk will let you “Godwin the thread”. The ethic behind Godwin’s Law is to make a memetically infectious mechanism to ensure that arguments are well-founded, and the same goes for the Dawkinsian analogue I propose.

    People writing articles for glossy magazines like to look at these post-God Delusion kerfluffles and say, “The atheists are divided into just as many denominations as the Protestants!” In a spectacularly unfunny two-part episode, South Park made a similar jest. To me, the most interesting part of this issue is that the claims made by various “denominations” — New Atheists, New Humanists, the People’s Front of Humanism, the Humanist Popular People’s Front and so forth — are in principle empirically testable. What’s more, this matters to us: in one form or another, we all acknowledge the virtue in real-world data.

    “What on earth is Blake talking about now?”

    OK, put it this way: Dawkins has given examples of evidence which could convince him that a god exists (or at least that there exist tremendously powerful forces as yet unknown to science). Carl Sagan has made similar statements, though more in the context, “This is the evidence which could well have existed, but for some reason doesn’t.” Why, as he asks in The Varieties of Scientific Experience, is God so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?

    Surely, if Atheist Pope Richard I is willing to make such statements, he is also willing to consider evidence that his chosen tactic for effecting change is ineffective! Not morally unjustified, mind you — leveling that judgment leads only to fog and confusion. The critical point is that one could, by psychological and anthropological methods, judge the effects which Dawkins’ book and lecture-circuit career have on different segments of the populace. This is a question not for philosophy, but for science.

    Furthermore, if we phrase the problem as a scientific question, then we can bring our scientific maturity to the issue. We can take a deep breath and pull out the Baloney Detection Kit. We can even hold mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously in mind as alternate working hypotheses. Really. This is part of the training scientists get during their youthful travels in the mysterious Orient.

    What empirical evidence we have on this matter today is probably contaminated by all sorts of selection bias. It is suggestive, though certainly not conclusive, that The God Delusion has sold so astonishingly well — but that’s only a data point, not a theory of human behavior. We cannot with any fidelity judge whether a tactic is good or bad until we have a reliable way of estimating what its effects will be. It’s tough, but that’s the way the world works. Certainly, the Atheism Is The New Black crowd should have little trouble accepting this state of affairs, given that a predetermined moral order to the Universe is just as unsupported by the evidence as a personal, interventionist Creator.

    We’re supposed to be the Reality-Based Community. Let’s act like it. . . .

  62. #62 commissarjs
    April 5, 2007

    Ooo, I like Unguls. It sounds like we ought to get black cloaks and winged mounts and a nice ring, and that we’d sail about terrorizing the populace.

    Your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    I find it intersting that speaking up to say “This is what I believe and why I belive it” is seen as dangerous fundamentalism when you’re an atheist and your right if you are a theist. As if I should hide my opinions on religion because I’m an atheist. I’m not ashamed nor am I afraid. Neither should anyone else.

    I will propose a truce with the theists though. All atheists will agree to completely stop speaking about religion if all theists agree to do the same.

  63. #63 Tulse
    April 5, 2007

    In a spectacularly unfunny two-part episode, South Park made a similar jest.

    I thought it was a pretty hilarious episode myself, but largely because of the outrageousness of showing a naked Richard Dawkins having sex with a transexual. (And, in spite of that, I thought Dawkins was actually presented extremely sympathetically, and far less “uppity” than he actually is.)

    I wonder if Dawkins has seen the episode, and what his reaction was…

  64. #64 Stuart Coleman
    April 5, 2007

    I’d call the non-uppity atheists accommodators, enablers, or even pussies. If you don’t have the guts to call a spade a spade, then you’re not honest.

  65. #65 PZ Myers
    April 5, 2007

    I very much like the simple word “atheist”. It’s clean and direct. It’s why I didn’t care for that “Brights” nonsense at all — it was trying to dress up something in new clothes that we should be proud of naked.

    I’ve also always like the words “freethought” and “freethinker”. It’s a lovely term to unite atheists, agnostics, and deists in the common struggle against oppressive religion.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been informed repeatedly by people I thought were all together on this issue that we “_______ atheists” don’t belong, where some pejorative qualifier is plugged in to disown people like Dawkins or Harris or even li’l ol’ me. There is to be only one tactic in the war against the theocracy and superstition: we are to bow respectfully to all religions, no matter how foolish, and anyone who points out the stupidity of the world’s major religions is to be a pariah. That, apparently, is why we need the new name.

  66. #66 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    Stuart, why so strident? How is it dishonest to not rage against a machine? Why can’t I be a “live and let live” nonbeliever?

    I also don’t understand your equating of “accommodators, enablers” with guts and dishonesty. No grey areas?

    /snark
    Why don’t you call any non-uppity atheist a Quisling atheist?

  67. #67 Steve_C
    April 5, 2007

    I’m a PROUD athiest.

  68. #68 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    Tulse,

    Richard Dawkins had this to say about the South Park episode.

    Finally, I have repeatedly been asked what I think of South Park and of Ted Haggard’s downfall. I won’t say much about either. Schadenfreude is not an appealing emotion so, on Haggard, I’ll say only that if it wasn’t for people of his religious persuasion, people of his sexual persuasion would be free to do what they like without shame and without fear of exposure. I share neither his religious nor his sexual persuasion (that’s an understatement), and I’m buggered if I like being portrayed as a cartoon character buggering a bald transvestite. I wouldn’t have minded so much if only it had been in the service of some serious point, but if there was a serious point in there I couldn’t discern it. And then there’s the matter of the accent they gave me. Now, if only I could be offered a cameo role in The Simpsons, I could show that actor how to do a real British accent.

    On a slightly different track, Carlie said,

    I would never say that atheists are being persecuted today in the same way that African-Americans were in the recent past. If you go back to, say, the Crusades, the comparison would be more apt, but the basic idea of using uppity as a derogatory term is that whoever is being uppity doesn’t “know their place” as inferior to everyone else and refuses to stay there. With that connotation, I think “uppity atheist” is an entirely appropriate way to both call the prejudice as it is and turn around and take back the word at the same time.

    I think it is a pretty fair statement to say that atheists in the United States today are not treated as badly as African-Americans were a half-century ago. Oh, all sorts of unpleasantnesses can and do arise, but like the song says, it could be much worse:

    We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

    However, even taking the difference in degree into consideration, I think the following reaction to pervasive cultural attitudes applies equally well to both situations:

    My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

    At the moment, we “fight” our “struggle” with books and YouTube videos. Perhaps, should that unhappy day come when firehoses are turned on a marching crowd of agnostics, history will repeat itself again and these words will have new relevance:

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    Oddly enough, the Alabama public schools never required me to read Letter from Birmingham Jail. Still, giving credit where credit should be due, they made me aware of its existence; I hope many churchgoers can say the same of their Sunday sermons.

  69. #69 bboucek
    April 5, 2007

    I grew up in the Unitarian Church and some of my Czech ancestors were freethinkers. I come from a long line of agnostics and atheists yet my very extended family has Catholics and Episcopalians as well. My grandfather was a Unitarian minister (of the secular humanist bent which seems to be on the wane at the moment) and one of his favorite quotes, long pinned above the door to the bathroom, was “pray for the success of atheism.” In discussing this post and the general topic with my wife she made a very important point that “someone who can’t imagine a humanist chaplain does not know any history of freethinkers.” Having said that it seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in some of the thinking in the above post, the links provided, and in the comments. Not believing in god is a belief system just as much as believing in god is (and I am not a post-modernist, in fact I’m a materialist – our experience of the world is subjective, whereas our existence is not). All belief systems have varying degrees of adherence and atheists are not exempt from them, regardless of how rational they think they are and how rigorously they apply the scientific method to their observations of the world around them.
    Fundamentalism is the strict adherence to one’s belief system, usually incorporating the literal interpretation of some text (holy book, bible, etc). I agree that it is difficult to point to atheists being strict adherents to the literal interpretation of a specific text but this does not mean that atheists do not behave, or are incapable of behaving, in ways similar to the various types of religious fundamentalists. I have used the words “fundamentalist atheist” in the past. I try to use them sparingly, but I use them together in the same sense that I use the term “Nazi” to describe the behavior of the current fascists in power here in the US. No, Bush and his faithful in the Republican Party are not literally Nazis (in some ways I would argue they are worse but that is a much longer discussion) but I use the terminology to emphasize my distaste for a set of behaviors and beliefs about the way the world works. To me fundamentalists generally exhibit a set of behaviors that I find distasteful, to say the least. Two of the behaviors they exhibit that I find the most distasteful are the need to proselytize and the inability to find common ground with others despite fundamental disagreement – usually with regard to the nature of god. For example, one will often find that despite a fundamental disagreement of this type that both parties agree that murder and rape are wrong. Fundamentalists despite their possible agreement on such things tend to be incapable of using that common ground as a platform for dialogue and compromise. Many vocal atheists (and remember this important point from above, atheists do have a belief system) are so strident and vocal in their non-belief in god that their behavior emulates those religious fundamentalists who do proselytize. Verbally attacking and yelling at people about what one may perceive as their inherent stupidity is not dialogue, and if anything, makes it even more difficult to express and discuss with them one’s ideas (and beliefs) in the future; resulting in the loss of dialogue. Atheists who exhibit the behaviors described here I think can accurately, but perhaps metaphorically, be called “fundamentalist atheists.”

  70. #70 Tulse
    April 5, 2007

    Why can’t I be a “live and let live” nonbeliever?

    You can, but many religious people aren’t giving you the same consideration. In some cases, their actions literally threaten your mortal life (e.g., opposing stem-cell research, opposing AIDS education, opposing HPV vaccination, opposing action on global warming, opposing abortion even in case of risk to mother), and in other cases, they profoundly influence how you can live your life (e.g., opposing gay marriage, opposing evolution, imposing religious morality on media).

    So, if you want to be accommodating to such people, that’s fine. But don’t act surprised when your rights get further and further eroded, and religion is further and further imposed upon you.

  71. #71 Scott Hatfield
    April 5, 2007

    Blake: Your previous comment (#61) merits wide distribution, especially your sly brief about our youthful travels in the Orient. And here to think that only I, Yeshua and Lamont Cranston had ever made that journey!

    In all seriousness, though, well done. I hope people save comment #61 and mull it over…SH

  72. #72 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    Tulse, I agree with you, that organized religions (not all) continue to have detrimental effects upon my life. Me no likey, and I speak out about that stuff. Particularly with this ‘administration’ and their myth-based projects. Big yuk.

    My point was rhetorical, in that Stuart was defining honesty in terms of uppitiness. I find that to be a non-sequitor. I can be honest and silent, I can be dishonest and loud. I found his remarks to be merely divisive and not helpful, and would like to understand the rationale, assuming one exists. Otherwise, he’s just divisive. No shades of grey.

  73. #73 Louis
    April 5, 2007

    PZ,

    This is what AMAZES me about the whole “tactics debate”: it’s just so badly carried out by the “Chamberlain School” (and to be blunt although I use that term I sodding well hate it, it’s not particularly accurate even those some elements of it resonate well).

    I freely admit that not all tactics work with all people, so Dawkins will work for some and not for others. Other methods will also have the same spread of results. I explicitly don’t agree btw that Dawkins and Harris are the “extreme end” of atheist public engagement, I really don’t think that say anything that outrageous. What I DO think is horrendously outrageous is the liberal chucking about of arrant straw versions of their works and arguments. In fact in the whole public and political debate over evolutionary biology/creationism/theism/atheism the one single genuinely controversial topic I can think of is that of tactics.

    In keeping with all genuinely controversial topics, it is generally being mangled beyond all reason. Rather than pathetic infighting what we need to be doing is saying “Yes there are people like Dawkins and Harris and PZ, just like there are different people in all walks of life. If you don’t find their approach to the subject appealing then I am sure there are myriad other ways we could explore any questions you might have”. At the end of the day, that’s what Dawkins et al are saying anyway, people just ain’t listening too good! I think that while the issue of tactics is a good one that needs discussion, there is no “radical atheist” subgroup that needs to be delineated. I think it’s a category error. But hey, anyone can feel free to disagree 😉

    Louis

  74. #74 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    bboucek:

    One belief does not a system make. The atheism of Dawkins, Myers, Sokal, etc., etc. is a consequence, socially significant but logically incidental, of their acceptance of the scientific method as a valid way of understanding the natural world. Atheism, agnosticism, deism and so forth are what results when skeptical inquiry and an aptitude for wonder are combined in a person’s life.

    Many vocal atheists (and remember this important point from above, atheists do have a belief system) are so strident and vocal in their non-belief in god that their behavior emulates those religious fundamentalists who do proselytize.

    In the interests of civil dialogue and rational discourse, please provide evidence of these “many vocal atheists” and their actions. Assertions without evidence do not advance the discussion. Neither silly and juvenile YouTube videos nor uncompromising books equate with the hatred spewed from Focus on the Family or with the Discovery Institute’s blatant lies and propaganda pieces. Never mind the lack of agnostic suicide bombers or roving gangs of deists beating gay men to bloody pulp; even at the level of verbal discourse, the supposed alignment between rationalists and rabid theists is a false equivalence.

  75. #75 Marlon
    April 5, 2007

    I think I’ll be a nullifidian, thank you very much.

    It has always seemed to me that a rational, reasoned, evidence based world view would necessarily entail a rational, reasoned, evidence based style of argumentation.

    Granted, the god crowd is not overly receptive to this and a little ridicule may sometimes seem to score a point, but among ourselves it seems counterproductive to beat each other up with name-calling, etc.

  76. #76 Gerard Harbison
    April 5, 2007

    I rather liked ‘Neville Chamberlain atheists’ as a term for the atheists who are terrified people will hate them if they object to blatant imposition of religious practices on them. That being said, I’m a Winston Churchill atheist.

    An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

  77. #77 bboucek
    April 5, 2007

    Blake Stacy: obviously you didn’t read my post closely enough. I said I had used the term “Atheist Fundamentalist” in the past and sparingly; usually in conversation with friends and colleagues where the topic of atheism is being debated, most of those conversations having occurred when I was a teenager. I did not refer to any specific self-identifying atheists in my comment above. What I did do is describe why and when it might be possible to refer to someone as a “Fundamentalist Atheist” and I was trying to make a distinction for some that what the dictionary defines as a fundamentalist or religious fundamentalist may be applicable to some atheists in the form of a metaphor identifying similar behavioral traits (ie proselytizing and unwavering adherence).

  78. #78 Thony C.
    April 5, 2007

    “If memory serves, Douglas Adams described himself as a ‘radical atheist’ not only to make sure that his views were not confused with agnosticism, but to emphasize both the conviction and thoughtfulness with which he held his views.”

    Memory does indeed serve, he did so in an interview in “The American Atheist 37, No.1” which is reprinted in “The Salmon of Doubt”. I was going to quote Mr. Adams myself but you beat me to it.

  79. #79 C. L. Hanson
    April 5, 2007

    I think the term “fundamentalist atheist” is absurd and is just one more example of the apologist noise machine using the “I know you are, but what am I?” defense, no matter how inappropriate.

    For myself, I don’t see it as a constructive strategy to focus on deconverting people because I’d rather align with religious moderates to try to focus on common goals and foster a separation of church and state. At the same time, I’m fine with Dawkins and Harris speaking their mind about religion; I think it’s a good sign that religion is being subjected to some scrutiny.

    I wish we could avoid this pointless polarization in the secular community, of saying “either you’re fighting to deconvert everyone or you’re telling Dawkins and Harris to shut up.”

  80. #80 Deepsix
    April 5, 2007

    Some call me….Tim.

  81. #81 garth
    April 5, 2007

    shinys? in contrast to brights?

    being able to willingly subject our processes to rigorous debate and scrutiny is a good thing.

  82. #82 Blake Stacey
    April 5, 2007

    Scott Hatfield (#71):

    I’ve now filed comment #61 (with some edits) under Recycled Blake Stacey.

  83. #83 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    Unfortunately, I’ve been informed repeatedly by people I thought were all together on this issue that we “_______ atheists” don’t belong, where some pejorative qualifier is plugged in to disown people like Dawkins or Harris or even li’l ol’ me. There is to be only one tactic in the war against the theocracy and superstition: we are to bow respectfully to all religions, no matter how foolish, and anyone who points out the stupidity of the world’s major religions is to be a pariah. That, apparently, is why we need the new name.

    Seems to be altogether too much self-pity around here. “Concern trolling” is a new one by me, but it seems that when anyone bucks the sycophants, they get accused of being a troll! Woe is me!

    The “Neville Chamberlain atheist” thing is really humorous, because Neville Chamberlain gets dragged into the conversation every time republicans want to do something idiotic. “If you don’t support my idiotic adventure, you are a Chamberlain-esque appeaser! and a snail eating surrender-monkey to boot!” You should be careful who you sound like.

    And I think there is a more “radical” atheistic position out there. One that, say, gets quite worked up when someone suggests that religion might be an adaptation (or the direct result of a cognitive adaptation) rather than a side-effect or malfunction. “We don’t know yet” is apparently not anti-religious enough for some folks, who are absolutely dedicated to the ideas that religion must not be evolutionarily functional, must be seen as pernicious and should be eradicated.

    That position is rather more than mere unbelief, and, I’d say, that position is fundamentally unscientific and ideological, as Scott Atran says in his exchange with Sam Harris.

    This is not a question of appeasing anyone–I have been an unbeliever for a long time, and I don’t feel I have anything to fear from anyone. No reason for self-pity and no reason for paranoia. I am interested in advancing my point of view by understanding religion better, not by making it into a bugaboo.

    Harris and Dawkins seem interested in advancing a disbelief that is characterized by a shallowness, incuriosity and stridency I usually associate with our President.

  84. #84 Hank Fox
    April 5, 2007

    Just a few tiny suggestions for every person who cares about this stuff:

    If you’re an atheist, agnostic, humanist, or any of the other designations you might choose, try to see that, at the very least, everyone around you knows it. Come out of the closet (consider your personal safety, of course) at work, home and school.

    For all those times when people bring up their religion in your presence, practice saying something (in a happy voice, not an apologetic or combative one) like “Oh, I’m an atheist! I don’t trouble myself with all that stuff.” And I mean, seriously, PRACTICE. For many of us, this is a very hard milestone to pass, the first time we actually give backpressure to godders pushing their religion on us. Get somebody you know to throw out the comments to you, and see what kinds of answers you can come up with.

    Talk to young people about it. Young adults in high school and college are probably already having their doubts. You might well find them very interested to meet and talk to an atheist. Don’t push, but plant seeds. Just meeting a sane atheist will be an eye-opener for a lot of them. And never feel bad about it – by the time they’re 20, these kids will be exposed to a thousand times more overt religion than what you’ll give them from your side. Do your bit for Equal Time, and remember, people like them will eventually be running the society you live in.

    Finally, if you meet somebody who you know is not able to listen or understand, who only wants to attack and argue, just move on. Unless you feel you need the practice, you can better spend the time on something else.

  85. #85 Steve_C
    April 5, 2007

    But why is God any more special than Zeus or Thor?

    When you look at it from a view point that belief in God is not a special case,
    just a trait consistently human and easily shed… why are Dawkin’s and Harris
    expected to treat in a deeper more sensitive way?

  86. #86 Bob
    April 5, 2007

    Thanks, Oran. You DO have a particular peeve with Dawkins and Harris.

    Follow up from your remark #50: Do you really truly believe that religious groups push for social advancement? I think they try to sustain status quo at best, or at worst, reversal of progress. I find it incredible that those kind of remarks would come from a non-religio-apologist.

  87. #87 Gerard Harbison
    April 5, 2007

    If you don’t support my idiotic adventure, you are a Chamberlain-esque appeaser! and a snail eating surrender-monkey to boot!

    Cheese eating surrender monkey. Please get the terminology right.

    Please tell me how you distinguish between ‘the direct result of an adaptation’ and a ‘side-effect’.

  88. #88 Mark Davis
    April 5, 2007

    Fundamentalist atheist- A person who believes that EVERYONE should be honest about what he or she KNOWS to be true about the nature of the Universe.

  89. #89 Steven
    April 5, 2007

    Uppity.

    That was great.

    Well done PZ.

  90. #90 CalGeorge
    April 5, 2007

    Many vocal atheists (and remember this important point from above, atheists do have a belief system) are so strident and vocal in their non-belief in god that their behavior emulates those religious fundamentalists who do proselytize.

    When you are 2-4% of the population and the vast bulk of the population believes in an idiotic fairy tale, stridency is called for. In our favor, we don’t go door-to-door selling the fantasy, or build churches, or steal people’s money, or try to inject religion into politics, or prognosticate, or make insane arguments against evolution.

    Atheists mostly make their arguments online, in public forums, in response to a constant flow of creationist or IDist or other religionist stupidity.

    We can’t legitimately be compared to the nuts on the other side.

  91. #91 Richard Carter, FCD
    April 5, 2007

    Ooo, I like Unguls. It sounds like we ought to get black cloaks and winged mounts and a nice ring, and that we’d sail about terrorizing the populace.

    Without wanting to come across as a complete nerd, ungol is also Tolkienesque Elvish for spider.

    Do not ask me how I know this.

  92. #92 SEF
    April 5, 2007

    Unchained atheist?
    Unfettered atheist?
    Unrepressed atheist?
    Emancipated atheist?

  93. #93 mgarelick
    April 5, 2007

    If atheism is a religion, is sobriety a drug?

  94. #94 Steve_C
    April 5, 2007

    I’m sticking to Proud Atheist. Reminds me of the “I’m black and I’m proud!” slogan.

    Uppity just logically follows, for some, from that.

  95. #95 "Q" the Enchanter
    April 5, 2007

    I’m a realitist.

  96. #96 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    Please tell me how you distinguish between ‘the direct result of an adaptation’ and a ‘side-effect’.

    Since religion is a cultural phenomenon, I don’t see how it can be an adaptation. Rather, some sort of cognitive bias might be selected for and as a pretty obvious, direct, related -to-the-selection-pressure reason, religion is the outcome.

    A side-effect argument would be more like “agency detection was selected for as a result of the fact that humans were clever social animals for whom other clever humans were a primary threat. Being able to detect the presence and purposes of other sentient entities was heavily selected for. This also resulted in our seeing sentience and purpose in many other things–like the weather, or our good or bad fortunes, etc. and thence arose religion.

    I would not be caught dead, btw, saying something that could possibly be construed as negative about cheese.

  97. #97 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    Follow up from your remark #50: Do you really truly believe that religious groups push for social advancement? I think they try to sustain status quo at best, or at worst, reversal of progress. I find it incredible that those kind of remarks would come from a non-religio-apologist.

    Well, I don’t know if religion has been good or bad for my favorite causes lately, but the civil rights movement was largely church-driven, both among blacks and whites.

    Religious and church associated folks have also been very important in poverty relief, the advancement of literacy and even (gasp!) intellect among the needy and have done quite a bit to advance enlightenment ideals.

    Mainline Protestants and those to the left of them have a good record (not at all perfect) on feminist issues as well, and have even done some things about it in the communities where I’ve lived.

    At the college I attended, religious groups of various ilks did A LOT of good work for people both in our community and overseas. Secular groups did some, but even in those groups, the people spearheading charitable efforts were religious.

    It’s easy to just pay attention to fringe idiots or to the undoubted doctrinal problems many churches have, but from what I’ve seen a lot of the work alleviating the social ills I despise is done by folks who believe.

    I think it is possible that the best thing that one could do on behalf of women’s rights, minority rights, education and justice would be to invent a new religion with those things in mind, rather than attempting to root out religiosity. It’s at least worth looking into.

    Atheists often don’t seem to believe in either faith or good works. And I include myself in that.

  98. #98 Chris
    April 5, 2007

    #43:

    I don’t think it’s particularly fair to use that as a judgement of someone’s intellect.

    (note: “that” = “not rejecting one’s religious upbringing/indoctrination”)

    I have to agree. Blaming everyone who doesn’t reject their religious upbringing is like blaming every slave who didn’t escape. The fact that a few people *do* escape (either physical or psychological slavery) does not mean it is easy, nor does it entitle anyone (including those who themselves succeeded in escaping) to judge the ones who didn’t.

    In both cases the system itself needs to be smashed, but that doesn’t justify harshness towards its victims on the grounds of their servility. Hell is the ultimate terrorist threat and many, many people live their lives terrorized by it. That doesn’t make them cowards, if the word is to have any meaning at all.

    As for nomenclature – leave it to the believers. The concept that the name or symbol can be more important than the reality it signifies is not one we want to adopt anyway. Fancy naming is just so much smoke and mirrors, and the common tendency to be fooled by such things is precisely one of the things we are fighting against. You don’t advocate killing anyone for their beliefs, the Bible and Quran do; there’s the real difference, no matter what labels anyone chooses to put on it.

  99. #99 speedwell
    April 5, 2007

    Richard Carter, comment #91: Do not ask me how I know this.

    I don’t have to ask. I’m pretty sure you learned it the same way I did. But I wasn’t going to be the first one to admit it. (heh)

  100. #100 stogoe, uppity atheist
    April 5, 2007

    I’ll consider your “let’s all hold hands and sing and be nice” strategy when you give me evidence it even works.

  101. #101 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    I’ll consider your “let’s all hold hands and sing and be nice” strategy when you give me evidence it even works.

    “works” meaning what?

  102. #102 Baratos
    April 5, 2007

    I think it is possible that the best thing that one could do on behalf of women’s rights, minority rights, education and justice would be to invent a new religion with those things in mind, rather than attempting to root out religiosity. It’s at least worth looking into.

    You cant control religion. No matter how nice, no matter how loving the belief system, it will be used to endorse crimes against humanity.

  103. #103 poke
    April 5, 2007

    I use “atheist” for the Dawkins of this world and “self-hating atheist” for anyone who thinks we should be quiet.

  104. #104 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    “works” meaning what?

    Causes people to abandon religion and superstition and embrace science and reason.

    Pretending that nonsense deserves respect to avoid hurting the feelings of people who are emotionally invested in believing that nonsense is not conducive to human welfare or progress.

  105. #105 Coin
    April 5, 2007

    Personally, I’m going to take the opposite tack: The problem with the term “fundamentalist atheist” for people like PZ Myers is that it grants the idea that these people are atheists, which I find questionable at best. As far as I’m concerned, when you become as indistinguishable from a religionist as PZ has, you lose the right to call yourself an atheist.

    After all, atheism isn’t a religion. This implies that when people start practicing atheism like a religion, then the thing they’re practicing isn’t atheism anymore.

    *shrug*

  106. #106 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    It’s easy to just pay attention to fringe idiots or to the undoubted doctrinal problems many churches have,

    The problem with religion isn’t just “fringe idiots” or particular “doctrinal problems,” it’s the fundamental nature of religion itself, and specifically the idea that faith, revelation, prophets and other religious sources are a legitimate basis for belief. There’s no good religion and bad religion. There’s just bad and worse.

  107. #107 PZ Myers
    April 5, 2007

    Cool. So you’re saying that I am No True Atheist?

    I like it. Especially since you’re almost certainly oblivious to the irony.

  108. #108 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    “works” meaning what?

    Causes people to abandon religion and superstition and embrace science and reason.

    Pretending that nonsense deserves respect to avoid hurting the feelings of people who are emotionally invested in believing that nonsense is not conducive to human welfare or progress.

    Hmmm. I find I don’t really care very much what other people believe. Much as I don’t care much whom other people find to be sexually attractive (so long as, praise dog!, those that I find to be sexually attractive also find me to be so!)

    Can other people’s beliefs be an inconvenience? Sure, sometimes. Would it be nice if people didn’t believe really stupid stuff: yes, indeed! But I still can’t find it in me to care as much as some people seem to.

    I don’t think anything “works” in your sense.

  109. #109 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    Oran Kelley,

    Hmmm. I find I don’t really care very much what other people believe.

    Huh? Then what was the point of all that guff about the supposed importance of religion to the civil rights movement? If you don’t care what people believe about civil rights, why does it matter? Your claim that you don’t care what other people believe is transparently false. Of course you care about what other people believe. Everyone cares about what other people believe.

  110. #110 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    Cool. So you’re saying that I am No True Atheist?

    I like it. Especially since you’re almost certainly oblivious to the irony.

    Though perhaps not expressed as well as might be hoped, Coin’s point may not be altogether off-the-mark.

    Perhaps part of the religious impulse is the insistence that other people believe as you do on general principle. If we think of religion as a structure arising out of certain evolved cognitive biases, rather than as a set of propositions, then it would be possible that certain atheists who disbelieve the proposition “God” may still invest their disbelief (or their belief in disbelief) with the same functions as the religious do with their beliefs.

    Mind, I’m speaking in terms of psychological function here, no epistemologically.

    So if religion is not most importantly about believing a certain proposition, but rather about behaving socially in a particular way, I think saying that militant atheists are religious zealots without God is entertainable.

  111. #111 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    Huh? Then what was the point of all that guff about the supposed importance of religion to the civil rights movement? If you don’t care what people believe about civil rights, why does it matter? Your claim that you don’t care what other people believe is transparently false. Of course you care about what other people believe. Everyone cares about what other people believe.

    You’re right, of course, I should have added “about God.” And even that isn’t complete indifference. If you believe God wants you to cut my tire stems, I DO care.

  112. #112 SN
    April 5, 2007

    Does Greg Epstein feel the atheist cause is so advanced that he has nothing left to worry about than what sub-classification someone may belong to? Then again, that may be right up your alley PZ. You biologists, always having to classify everything 😉

  113. #113 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    You’re right, of course, I should have added “about God.” And even that isn’t complete indifference. If you believe God wants you to cut my tire stems, I DO care.

    And presumably you also care a lot what people believe about God’s will regarding, to use your own example once again, civil rights. During the big civil rights battles of the 50s and early 60s, the South was full of churches whose pastors preached the message that racial segregation was God’s will. Some Christians still do preach that. So, again, it seems pretty clear that even this more restricted claim of indifference is false.

    Perhaps what you meant to say is that you don’t care very much what people believe about God as long as those beliefs have no real effect on anything else they believe (their beliefs about evolution, say) or on how they behave. Do you seriously think more than a tiny fraction of theists, if any, fall into that category?

  114. #114 Oran Kelley
    April 5, 2007

    And presumably you also care a lot what people believe about God’s will regarding, to use your own example once again, civil rights. During the big civil rights battles of the 50s and early 60s, the South was full of churches whose pastors preached the message that racial segregation was God’s will. Some Christians still do preach that. So, again, it seems pretty clear that even this more restricted claim of indifference is false.

    But the struggle was led by whom? You remember him don’t you?

    He and the many congregations he led in that struggle, to all appearances, believed in God. So I am largely indifferent as to whether or not people believe God exists–it doesn’t in itself seem to determine their other views (that I do care about) in any sense that would motivate me to determine that religion is the thing I ought to be fretting about, rather than civil rights or my tire stems.

  115. #115 Brendan
    April 5, 2007

    I’m not sure I agree with the child abuse argument, having been raised Catholic, having gone to a Catholic school, and coming out none the worse for wear. I think opressive indoctrination may be abusive, but that’s an issue of degree and style.

    Perhaps what you meant to say is that you don’t care very much what people believe about God as long as those beliefs have no real effect on anything else they believe (their beliefs about evolution, say) or on how they behave. Do you seriously think more than a tiny fraction of theists, if any, fall into that category?

    Actually, I think this might be the case. Certainly, none of the vocal ones are in this category, but my parents, both of whom are practicing Catholics, and the older of my two sisters fall into this category. Almost everyone I went to school with fits here. This includes, and is specifically in reference to my years in a Catholic school. Upon reflection, it’s possible that this is more reflective of my town than Catholicism, but on most issues, I think the people I grew up with fit here.

  116. #116 AgnosticOracle
    April 5, 2007

    re: Oran Kelley

    If you are curious what some of us mean by concern troll, here is a description from wiki. As with wiki in general it isn’t perfect but give the general feel.

    Concern troll
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_sock_puppet#Concern_troll

    A concern troll is also a fictitious online identity whose proclaimed beliefs are not those its creator really believes and is trying to push. [3]

    The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view (for example, Democrats or fans of the Prius), and attempts to sway the group’s actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals but with some “concerns”.

    For example, in 2006 a top staffer for Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) was caught posing as a “concerned” supporter of Bass’s opponent Democrat Paul Hodes on several liberal NH blogs, using the pseudonyms “IndieNH” or “IndyNH.” “IndyNH” was “concerned” that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable. [4]

    Suspicion of concern trolls is hard to verify without clearcut information about the IP number from which their posts originate, as there are people who naturally behave in such a manner.

  117. #117 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    Oran Kelley,

    You seem to have missed the point. Do you or do you not care a lot about whether people believe that racial segregation is God’s will? I assume the answer is that you do care a lot. And of course, racial segregation is just one example. Theists hold, and have always held, all sorts of beliefs about God’s nature and will that have social and political implications you undoubtedly consider odious and harmful–from supporting slavery and the subjugation of women to opposing the teaching of evolution. So your previous claim that you are largely indifferent to what people believe about God just doesn’t wash.

    You now say:

    So I am largely indifferent as to whether or not people believe God exists–it doesn’t in itself seem to determine their other views

    But what you’re describing here is philosophical deism, not theism as represented by any of the world’s theistic religions, all of which come with a lot of doctrinal baggage regarding the nature and will of God that most definitely influences the views of their adherents about all sorts of other matters.

  118. #118 Gerard Harbison
    April 5, 2007

    Since religion is a cultural phenomenon, I don’t see how it can be an adaptation. Rather, some sort of cognitive bias might be selected for and as a pretty obvious, direct, related -to-the-selection-pressure reason, religion is the outcome.

    Begging the question. Selection pressure for what?

    A side-effect argument would be more like “agency detection was selected for as a result of the fact that humans were clever social animals for whom other clever humans were a primary threat. Being able to detect the presence and purposes of other sentient entities was heavily selected for. This also resulted in our seeing sentience and purpose in many other things–like the weather, or our good or bad fortunes, etc. and thence arose religion.

    So, in this case, religion is a side-effect of the intentional stance, to use Dennett’s term? In what sense is that then not a direct result of the intentional stance? Or in other words; you apparently believe religion itself isn’t selected for – and in the genetic sense, I agree, it’s hard to see how we could have a religion gene – but you seem to have some hierarchy in mind, whereby some inherited traits that might dispose people to be religious are qualitatively different from other inherited traits.

    Perhaps you might benefit by familiarizing yourself with the biological debates about adaptationism.

  119. #119 Gerard Harbison
    April 5, 2007

    I’m not sure what is gained from anecdote. I was raised in a Catholic family, by parents who cared about me deeply, and I feel considerably the worse for wear. In fact, my upbringing brings to mind Weinberg’s statement that to get good people to do bad things, you need a religion.

  120. #120 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    Brendan,

    … my parents, both of whom are practicing Catholics, and the older of my two sisters fall into this category.

    I am not sure how your parents could possibly qualify as “practising Catholics,” by any reasonable definition of that term, if their beliefs about God have no real impact on their behavior. The Catholic Catechism is chock full of rules and principles describing how Catholics should and should not behave, in accordance with God’s will.

  121. #121 Chelsea
    April 5, 2007

    I say for a few days we call ourselves theists, just to mess with everyone’s heads.

  122. #122 Mike Haubrich
    April 5, 2007

    I say for a few days we call ourselves theists, just to mess with everyone’s heads.

    I like the idea, just like the idea I had about getting kids to stop “sagging.” If a bunch of middle-age guys were to suddenly start walking around with our underwear and asses showing, the fad would disappear in a snap.

    [facetiousness]I have some concerns, though.[/facetiousness]

    If any atheists write anything during a period of pretending to be “theists” it opens up the whole Quote-Mining problem:

    “Former Atheist PZ Myers wrote…..”

    As an uppity atheist, I also think that it would be a good idea to march in Pride Parades with gays and lesbians and transgenders. It would be a great consciousness raising tool.

    “We Think
    It’s Odd
    Folks Still
    Believe in God.”

    Has a great march-chant ring to it, doesn’t it?

  123. #123 Carlie
    April 5, 2007

    Can other people’s beliefs be an inconvenience? Sure, sometimes.

    That’s the problem – they are often much, much more than an inconvenience. An inconvenience is when you have to find a headscarf to enter the historic mosque that you wanted to stop by on your vacation. Police in Texas arresting a couple of adults in their own home for having sex in their own bedroom, that’s a bit more than an inconvenience. Trying to pass a bill in South Dakota that wouldn’t allow a woman to have an abortion to prevent an ectopic pregnancy from bursting and killing her, that’s more than an inconvenience. There are very good reasons to be not just annoyed, but damned mad at what people do with their religious beliefs.

  124. #124 Kent Kauffman
    April 5, 2007

    I prefer the term ‘memetically aware,’ or just ‘aware.’ The conversation goes something like this:

    “What religion are you?”

    “I’m memetically aware.”

    “What the hell does that mean?”

    “Well, it relates to the replication of information. You see, certain types of information are good at copying themselves, and they tend to stick around, while those that aren’t, well, that information is lost. Now, even though these bits of information are good at copying themselves, it doesn’t mean they want to make copies of themselves, it just means they are good at replication…(pause)…”

    And that’s usually when the person goes away.

    But, if they stay on for more, my memes will slowly eat away at whatever religious beliefs they have, long after the conversation ends. And then there’s one more ‘aware’ person walking around.

  125. #125 Kent Kauffman
    April 5, 2007

    I prefer the term ‘memetically aware,’ or just ‘aware.’ The conversation goes something like this:

    “What religion are you?”

    “I’m memetically aware.”

    “What the hell does that mean?”

    “Well, it relates to the replication of information. You see, certain types of information are good at copying themselves, and they tend to stick around, while those that aren’t, well, that information is lost. Now, even though these bits of information are good at copying themselves, it doesn’t mean they want to make copies of themselves, it just means they are good at replication…(pause)…”

    And that’s usually when the person goes away.

    But, if they stay on for more, my memes will slowly eat away at whatever religious beliefs they have, long after the conversation ends. And then there’s one more ‘aware’ person walking around.

  126. #126 Hank Roberts
    April 6, 2007
  127. #127 wrymouth
    April 6, 2007

    When I think of the uppity atheist prototype, I think of Penn Gillette. No points for originality there; I know.

    What’s wrong with “cheerful” atheist? It’s not as ironic as it first appears, I don’t think.

    You’d quickly find out I’m on the other side of the theistic belief fence, but I find a cheerfully obnoxious loud-mouthed atheist refreshing. Gillette’s magic act in Las Vegas is hilariously irreverent.

    I appreciate persons who have applied serious thought to fundamental issues — even if they are vehement in their opposition to my particular beliefs.

    It probably has something to do with my peculiarly American attitude that grown-ups have to do their own thinking and decision-making, and that, in a free society, not everyone’s going to fall into line with my worldview(s).

    Does that make me “cheerfully unevangelical?” I dunno; I hope not. I just … respect, I guess? I respect the views of other, serious-minded adults who have looked around at the cosmos and reached a different conclusion.

    And as for science? Well — scientific inquiry is what it is, and it doesn’t seem to matter too deeply whether the scientific texts/ideas I am studying come from the atheist or the deist camp. Good science is good science, and flawed science is just that.

    I was glad to read the recent post about hagfish, for example.

  128. #128 raindogzilla
    April 6, 2007

    I’ll stick with “posttheist”– as in evolved psychologically beyond the need for a scapegoat/patriarch/benefactor and mentally beyond the gullibility required to fall for one. You know, grown up.

  129. #129 Matt
    April 6, 2007

    I agree that it’s important to not hide one’s disbelief. But if every time a parent at my child’s school went on and on about astrology I made a stink about it, I’d be rightly thought of as rude. (Granted, the stakes are higher since religion is more dangerous than astrology, but still…)

    People say lots of stupid things. In general, it’s simply antisocial to point that out on every occasion. It’s not being a “Chamberlain atheist” to resist he urge to deliver a lecture on foolish beliefs when someone spouts religious nonsense. It’s being a respectful member of a community, with diverse (if mostly wrong) views. You can quietly make it known that you don’t buy that crap without being self-righteous about it.

    As a term, I’m partial to “infidel”, since it really is FAITH–firmly held belief without evidence–that I mostly lack, and aspire to rid myself of completely.

  130. #130 JoeB
    April 6, 2007

    Yesterday, two of my friends were discussing their requests for The God Delusion from our Hawaii State Library System. They were commiserating with each other over their lowly positions in the request queue. I was able to gloat: I got my request in quite early, I was number 11 initially. I picked up my silver-jacketed copy about five weeks ago, enjoyed it immensely, and returned it.
    I just put in another request; I am number 75! There are 15 copies listed on the library web-site, at 15 different branch libraries, all listed as checked-out, in transit, or being held.
    Feeling pretty good about all this, I decided I needed a reality check. I typed “Deepak Chopra”: 107 titles! The most recent, “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind”, 1993, 50 copies! Only two currently checked out; maybe we are seeing a sea-change.

  131. #131 SEF
    April 6, 2007

    More people are likely to take “posttheist” to mean “formerly theist” though – and not every atheist ever was theist (regardless of how vocal they may or may not be). It also has unfortunate “postmodernism” connotations.

  132. #132 Carlie
    April 6, 2007

    raindogzilla has a good idea – why not just use “grown up”?

    Theist: “What religion are you?”

    Atheist: [quizzical look] “I’m grown up.”

    Theist: “Right, but what are your religious beliefs?”

    Atheist: [now giving a look as to a 4 year-old] “Sorry, I’m grown up.”

    Repeat ad nauseum.

  133. #133 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    Begging the question. Selection pressure for what?

    All of this talk is of course just fishing for a good hypothesis. No one has the answer to that question yet.

    Or in other words; you apparently believe religion itself isn’t selected for – and in the genetic sense, I agree, it’s hard to see how we could have a religion gene – but you seem to have some hierarchy in mind, whereby some inherited traits that might dispose people to be religious are qualitatively different from other inherited traits.

    Perhaps you might benefit by familiarizing yourself with the biological debates about adaptationism.

    What I believe is that we don’t know yet, you see. I am just talking about two interesting sorts of hypotheses.

    When you say its hard to believe that we have a religion gene more along the lines that I first outlined (where religion would be a more direct result of selection), I wonder what evidence leads you to rule out this possibility. It may not please those that are dedicated to presenting religion as pernicious start-to-finish, but I haven’t seen anything that rules it out.

    I am very familiar with the popular literature on adaption, and have even read a few conference papers on the topic, so I am not altogether ignorant.

    This isn’t a hierarchy, just differences in how selection may influence the rise of particular cultural phenomenon.

    I would say the quote from Weinberg strikes me as terribly naive and contrary to much of the evidence the last century provided us.

  134. #134 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    “I’m memetically aware.”

    You don’t believe in God, but you do believe in memes.

    Perhaps the best name here would be “selectively credulous.”

  135. #135 Louis
    April 6, 2007

    Oran:

    DING DING DING DING!

    Thank you! You are today’s “Most Egregious Straw Man” winner. Please collect your prize from the front desk.

    We “fundamentalist”/”radical”/”uppity”/whatever atheists like Dawkins, Myers etc are NOT (get this) expressedly NOT advocating, implying, insisting or saying that “everyone should (not) believe as we do”. The very inaccurate, and very annoying, canard that “Those evil bastards are trying to destroy all religion and burn churches and kill christians the fundamentalist totalitarian evil bastards” is a total myth, unfortunately a common one. Even extreme expressions of anti religious sentiment (which I happen to disagree with btw) like “we’d be better off without religion” are vastly distant and different from the standard religious expressions in similar vein, and we don’t have to go to the “fundamentalists religious” to find them.

    What we ARE advocating is that religious ideas and claims are not automatically privileged and socially protected. These are two very, very different things. As someone said elsewhere: an idea, a belief is “respected” for many reasons, not least amongst them is it’s accuracy and truth. Many religious ideas are privileged in the public sphere to a degree that is beyond what their accuracy and truth could earn them. It is THAT which we are openly countering. This is not the same thing as trying to convert people to atheism (a fool’s bargain if there ever was one) or destroy religion (same). It is merely the comment (usually mildly expressed by comparison to religious counterparts) that these ideas lack the substance they claim and as such they are unjustly privileged.

    Not really that fundamentalist now is it?

    Louis

  136. #136 Steve LaBonne
    April 6, 2007

    Atrios has just put up a very nice post that also explains what Louis just said: http://tinyurl.com/2vjdb8
    AND Michael Berube has just held forth on atheism at TPM cafe- why, it’s an atheist jamboree on the Intertubes! http://tinyurl.com/2ekr4h

  137. #137 Monado
    April 6, 2007

    You mean like the way you slam other working scientists, educators, or bloggers, who believe the evidence for evolution and promote science, because they admit to a vaguely Deistic notion that there might be an unprovable God who either started things rolling or hovers, hands-off, over the material world?

  138. #138 Steve LaBonne
    April 6, 2007

    You mean like the way you slam other working scientists, educators, or bloggers, who believe the evidence for evolution and promote science, because they admit to a vaguely Deistic notion that there might be an unprovable God who either started things rolling or hovers, hands-off, over the material world?

    People, in particular people whose professions commit them to reason, who believe patently irrational things are supposed to be immune from criticism,according to you? Can you explain the intellectual and/or ethical principles from which you derive this claim of immunity?

  139. #139 raindogzilla
    April 6, 2007

    Grown-Up? That’s cool. Makes this a hymn- with props to Tom Waits…

  140. #140 Vik D.
    April 6, 2007

    i tell people that i’m “between religons” kinda like people are between jobs or girlfriends

  141. #141 speedwell
    April 6, 2007

    I don’t know if I can call myself one thing or the other. I am a “strong atheist” online, but IRL all of the people I deal with on a regular basis are family (who no longer talk to me about religion) or colleagues at work (with whom I am forbidden to talk about religion unless we meet socially, and even then…).

    Occasionally I am invited to attend church in someone’s company. I always respond, “Only if I get to sing the solo during the offertory.” This almost always stops them in their tracks. One time somebody actually took me up on it, but that turned out to be fun. After church, at the pot luck, the preacher complimented me and asked me where I usually went to church. His shocked look when I told him, point-blank and smiling, that I was an atheist, will sit in my mind’s eye gallery for quite a while yet. 🙂

  142. #142 Michael Brub
    April 6, 2007

    No one has suggested “ornitheists” yet? And what about those of us who worship Charlie Parker, huh?

  143. #143 Michael Brub
    April 6, 2007

    No one has suggested “ornitheists” yet? And what about those of us who worship Charlie Parker, huh?

  144. #144 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    And where did I say that? Or anything remotely like it. Can’t see how I could possibly compete in the strawman building/burning contest around here!

  145. #145 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    So your previous claim that you are largely indifferent to what people believe about God just doesn’t wash.

    You now say:

    So I am largely indifferent as to whether or not people believe God exists–it doesn’t in itself seem to determine their other views

    But what you’re describing here is philosophical deism, not theism as represented by any of the world’s theistic religions, all of which come with a lot of doctrinal baggage regarding the nature and will of God that most definitely influences the views of their adherents about all sorts of other matters.

    Right, religion comes along with doctrinal baggage, but on the one side the doctrinal baggage is that blacks are inherently inferior to whites, on the other side it figures blacks as God’s people who must be let go by Pharaoh.

    So when someone’s religious doctrine says that racial segregation is God’s will, I read that as “I strongly approve of racial segregation and am fearful that any alternative to this situation will destroy my way of life/culture/self-esteem, whatever.”

    It being God’s will is just rhetorical gravy. Belief in God didn’t cause this belief system, it’s just part of the way people use rhetoric to motivate and harden themselves in a belief and to solidify groups in conflict. And as Hitler and Stalin and others have shown, there are other ways of achieving this sort of rhetoric.

    On the other side is an oppressed people who are trying to create great social and political change and improve their lot. To oppose and win against the first lot they too will have to be solid in their beliefs, act collectively and show solidarity. And in achieving these things religion is their ally as well. Here again, the goal doesn’t exist because of religion, it is more or less motivated by self-interest and a sense of justice. (But those things existed in 1875 as well as in 1965.)

    Religion, though–religious faith and religious institutions, in the north and the south–were hugely instrumental in making the civil rights movement succeed where formerly it had failed.

    Years later, far fewer white southerners believe in segregation and discrimintation than in 1955, say. Is this because atheism is more common? No, it is because people have changed their minds and, as a result, changed their God.

    If you want to stop the oppression of women or homosexuals, change people’s minds about women and homosexuals. When you change their minds about those things, God will change his mind, too.

    The Soviet Union had rampant anti-Semitism, even when it had significantly reduced the theism of the population. Why? Because people DON’T need God to be evil or stupid. He’s just a useful organizational tool–for both good and evil from what I can see.

    Therefore, whether a person believes in God is not as big an issue with me as whether they believe in justice, fairness, the life of the mind, art, and basic human decency.

  146. #146 s9
    April 6, 2007

    I get why ‘uppity’ appeals to you, but it’s got some “second-hand baggage” of which I’d be wary of assuming ownership. I’m not sure I want to pick a fight with some of the people who think they already own that word.

    I think “ornery” is archaic. Words like “militant,” “activist,” and “strident” are obvious bad choices. A word like “evangelistic,” while accurate, would only freak the mundanes even more.

    Personally, I kinda like “unapologetic,” for the sheer irony.

  147. #147 s9
    April 6, 2007

    Watch. My perfectly good suggestion above will get lost in the noise.

  148. #148 Steve_C
    April 6, 2007

    I’m still sticking to Proud Athiest.

  149. #149 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    We “fundamentalist”/”radical”/”uppity”/whatever atheists like Dawkins, Myers etc are NOT (get this) expressedly NOT advocating, implying, insisting or saying that “everyone should (not) believe as we do”.

    I am not alone, I don’t think, in believing that Dawkins and Harris are on a “Mission to Convert” as Orr put it–a lot of positive reviews of their books express this understanding. That was certainly my feeling reading Dawkins: that one of his missions was to win some readers over to atheism. RichardDawkins.net has a “Conversion Corner” for crying out loud!

    And in fact at least a few of the people posting here pro-Myers/Dawkins/Harris seem to be under the impression that the goal is to eradicate religion (how could that not be the goal if it is as pernicious as advertised?). Admittedly eradication takes it a step further, but it would seem that not everyone thinks conversion is a fool’s bargain.

  150. #150 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    Watch. My perfectly good suggestion above will get lost in the noise.

    The naming this is the noise. As if.

  151. #151 Coris Borloff
    April 6, 2007

    “Whenever I see someone jabbering about ‘fundamentalist atheists’, a combination of terms that makes no sense at all and immediately reveals the speaker’s ignorance of both fundamentalism and atheism,…”

    Wrong. In the usage, “fundamentalist atheist,” the term “fundamentalist” isn’t intended to modify the belief system, but to describe the person exposing the belief system as dogmatic, close-minded and generally deficient in normal social skills.

    Using “fundamentalist” in this context is a way of saying, “we can talk about [religion, atheism, whatever] like normal people; you don’t have to be an asshole about it.”

  152. #152 Coris Borloff
    April 6, 2007

    “…but to describe the person *exposing* the belief system as…”

    Whoops, that should read “espousing.”

  153. #153 Oran Kelley
    April 6, 2007

    143 should read:

    Those evil bastards are trying to destroy all religion and burn churches and kill christians the fundamentalist totalitarian evil bastards

    And where did I say that? Or anything remotely like it. Can’t see how I could possibly compete in the strawman building/burning contest around here!

  154. #154 godd
    April 6, 2007

    The Nazguls became the Unguls after Todd Rundgren left.

  155. #155 Splash
    April 6, 2007

    Strategically speaking, I think it is desirable to separate politics from all this. Philosophical questions will persist indefinitely in society, but political questions will not.

    I agree with the comments above about the importance of liberal religious groups in the progressive coalition. Harris may have some good points but he is being strategically stupid and he also appears to misunderstand the function of pluralism. Harris criticizes religious moderates for their pluralism as if pluralism is some kind of “feel-good” bias toward tolerance just for its own sake. Nothing could be further from the truth about pluralism.

    The founders did not provide the religion clauses in the very 1st amendment by accident. They realized that a pluralistic society, with guarantees of religious liberty, was the best hope in the long run to guard against religious tyranny. Pluralism, then, is an institutional, structural bulwark against the agenda of the fundamentalist right in the US. (See, eg, Madison, Federalist Papers 10 and 47.)

    I can understand why scientists are frustrated. I am not a scientist but I am just as appalled at the attack on the enlightenment as anyone. But let’s be strategic, please. Let’s try not to react in ways that cut off opportunities for coalitioning with powerful moderate religious groups in the struggle against fundamentalism. Scientists should be looking to expand their political coalitions, not contract them.

    It feels like, instead, scientists are getting baited into fruitless debates that take us nowhere and end up inflaming and, frankly, empowering the opposition. Potentially, this could resemble the effect, eg, the Earth Liberation Front has had on the credibility of the environmental movement.

    I think it can clearly be seen that the power of fundamentalists in the US is a *political* problem that requires a *political* solution.

  156. #156 FrancestheCockatoo
    April 6, 2007

    Here’s my label. Not religious.

    Lets label the people who think that there is a sky wizard insane. Why? Fantasy is fantasy, reality is reality. A make believe being in the sky is the stuff of children’s minds. Grow up folks. The bar scene from Star Wars doesn’t really exist, and neither does your sky wizard. Open your own eyes and stop listening to those who would control you through your weak mind. Why do you think that you are expected to “worship” every week? You need to be constantly retrained. Otherwise your untethered mind might realize what a crock of shit your religion is. You are not enlightened. You fantasy freaks can call me whatever you want, but don’t call me religious. Religion is a man-made control system put in place centuries ago by men who would control you through brainwashing. Simple as that. No god. Wake up.

  157. #157 s9
    April 6, 2007

    “The naming this is the noise. As if.”

    I got not argument against that. Still, the conflict is already joined. The way to counter arguments you don’t like is not to shut up and pretend it will go away.

  158. #158 Bilbo
    April 6, 2007

    I think “ornery atheist” is the perfect title. Much better than “fundamentalist atheist.”

  159. #159 Bilbo
    April 6, 2007

    But Krauze says:

    “PZ’s complaints about the incorrect usage of “fundamentalist” in “fundamentalist atheists” is ironic, considering that the New Ateists have worked hard to empty the word “fundamentalist” of its original meaning, turning it into a term of derision. Guess they didn’t expect it to come back and bite them.”

    Maybe he has a point. But “ornery” has such a nice sound to it. Maybe we could call you “ornery fundamentalist atheists.” Naw. Too long. Oh, I hate making these sorts of decisions.

  160. #160 Jason
    April 6, 2007

    Oran Kelley,

    You can’t have it both ways. Either religion influences beliefs and behavior on matters of morality and ethics or it doesn’t. You can’t claim that religion deserves credit for, say, advancing civil rights, but doesn’t deserve blame for anti-semitism, witch burning, the Inquisition, the subjugation of women, the persecution of homosexuals, and so on.

    And as I suggested earlier, the overall influence of religion on the civil rights movement is far from clear. There were certainly lots of southern Christians who believed and preached that racial segregation was God’s will. Just as there were plenty of Christians who, a century earlier, preached that slavery was God’s will.

    In any case, as we “fundamentalist” atheists seem to have to continually point out, the social effects of religion are independent of the truth of its factual claims. Even if believing in God tends to make people happier or better behaved (an assumption I strongly dispute) that is obviously not evidence that God really does exist. Religion is bad first and foremost because it is a lie. Because it makes unjustified claims of truth.

  161. #161 Monado
    April 6, 2007

    Steve LaBonne, I’m not saying that anyone should be immune from criticism–just that it’s a waste of energy attacking your allies instead of the people trying to destroy science and education so they can install a theocratic state.

  162. #162 Jason
    April 6, 2007

    Monado,

    They may be my allies in the specific battle of the teaching of evolution vs. creationism in public schools, but they are my enemies in the larger war of reason vs. faith, naturalism vs. supernaturalism, scientific thinking vs. magical thinking. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to the fundamental dispute I have with them just because they happen to agree with me on a particular issue. The real problem isn’t merely creationism, or “fundamentalism” or “literalism,” it’s religion as a whole. Believing something on the basis of religious faith is stupid, whether it’s “The Earth is 6,000 years old” or “Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven” or “God wants me to hijack airliners and fly them into buildings” or whatever else it may be.

  163. #163 Splash
    April 7, 2007

    I agree with monado. It may feel good to say “religion is stupid” etc – which I agree with (I mean how sad and tragic is it that people actually believe all that garbage?) – but what’s the purpose here, just lashing out or changing things? You’re not going to change a damn thing if you cant work with tactical allies who may not agree on every detail of the big picture. That’s because we live in a pluralistic society. You can pound your fist on the table all you want, but isnt it really faith-based to think that this kind of head-banging will have any beneficial effect on the opponents? Scientifically speaking, the evidence indicates that refusing to work with moderate religious groups because of doctrinal differences is politically counterproductive. Really, people, change is not going to happen overnight. Check your ego and get a political clue, or please STFU because you are hurting the cause of science, not helping.

    WTF is the problem with people holding ridiculous beliefs if they have no political power? that’s the problem here, not the beliefs themselves. Superstition can never be defeated by rational argument. It is a political problem we face, not a scientific problem, not a religious problem, but a political problem reflecting deep cultural biases of a powerful sub-segment of the conservative movement.

    So before you provoke the other side into a rage that results in more school boards passing creationist requirements, and more censorship of government scientists, have a peak at Sun-tsu OK? PLEASE.

  164. #164 Oran Kelley
    April 7, 2007

    Oran Kelley,

    You can’t have it both ways. Either religion influences beliefs and behavior on matters of morality and ethics or it doesn’t. You can’t claim that religion deserves credit for, say, advancing civil rights, but doesn’t deserve blame for anti-semitism, witch burning, the Inquisition, the subjugation of women, the persecution of homosexuals, and so on.

    Oh come on it isn’t a very subtle argument. It’s essentially the “guns don’t kill people” argument which you must have seen before.

    I am saying religion is a tool one might use in activating and solidifying social movements, and that the content of said movements can be, in my opinion, either good or bad.

    Please find for me the place where I say religion has no influence over people. I’m afraid you can’t choose my arguments for me, I like my own better.

  165. #165 eye of horus
    April 7, 2007

    In about 180 CE, Celsus posed a question to early Xians in his “On the True Doctrine” which would never occur to America’s unlettered, myopic faithful — “. . . who are we to believe a rabble of mistaken prophets, or the philosophers?”

    Here’s the clue: align yourself with a traditional philosophy if only for the sake of amusement or combativeness. Pre-Xian Western philosophy is the foundation of rationality in this culture. What a choice menu:

    Xenophanes/Anaxagoros
    Socrates/Plato/Aristotle
    Heraclitus/the Stoics
    the Cynics/the Skeptics

    Depending on my mood swings, I reply that I’m
    an Epicurean or a Plotinist.

    Not an Xian among them since all but Plotinus died BCE.

    Zeus is dead. But ancient Greek philosophy is alive and well.

  166. #166 Nescio
    April 7, 2007

    A Plotinist? I don’t see how Neoplatonism is any more philosophically defensible than Christianity.

  167. #167 chase
    April 7, 2007

    From #163

    I am saying religion is a tool one might use in activating and solidifying social movements, and that the content of said movements can be, in my opinion, either good or bad.

    But it’s not even a neutral tool, it is a bad tool, because in the long run it encourages obedience on the basis of faith or social authority, rather than independent thought relying on reason and skepticism. In other words, it’s essentially anti-democratic.

  168. #168 Oran Kelley
    April 9, 2007

    I am saying religion is a tool one might use in activating and solidifying social movements, and that the content of said movements can be, in my opinion, either good or bad.

    But it’s not even a neutral tool, it is a bad tool, because in the long run it encourages obedience on the basis of faith or social authority, rather than independent thought relying on reason and skepticism. In other words, it’s essentially anti-democratic.

    So we really ought to condemn the folks who followed MLK as a bunch of weak-minded sheep?

  169. #169 Andy Cunningham
    April 10, 2007

    I always use Douglas Adams’ term to describe my viewpoint: I’m a committed atheist.

  170. #170 Keith Douglas
    April 10, 2007

    eye of horus: A plotinist or an epicurean? Those must be some mood swings! Are you perchance bipolar? 🙂

    As for my labels, I always list a few: atheist, areligious, humanist, rationalist, empiricist, democrat (not Democrat!), republican (not Republican!), skeptic, meliorist, fallibilist, etc, etc. This is because one label doesn’t have enough descriptive oompf.

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