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Nobody Loves You When You're Godless And Out
March 22, 2006 2:02 PM   Subscribe

A recent poll ranks atheists as America's most distrusted minority. Despite some inroads into American's acceptance of religious diversity, distrust of the godless appears to have held steady. Should atheists evangelize, or perhaps follow in the footsteps of certain Christian fundamentalists and seek an Atheist Homeland? The sticks and stones seem endless, after all. via
posted by maryh (305 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think they should wear colored patches on their clothing so we can know who they are without having to interact with them. Next come the liberals.
posted by psmealey at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2006


Oh, climb off your damn cross.
posted by keswick at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2006


An athiest homeland, eh?

+Lots of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
-Have to listen to people talk about Ayn Rand.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2006


Columbia, MO as an "atheist homeland"??

Sounds lame... do they have an In-N-Out Burger there?
posted by BobFrapples at 2:07 PM on March 22, 2006


No one wants to see only a man behind the curtain. Life is too hard, and too unfair, for there not to be another world. Sadly, this emotional need is exploited to great effect by leaders everywhere. The death of religion is our only salvation.

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
- Denis Diderot
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:10 PM on March 22, 2006


Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

So what religion should I choose if I want to marry a child?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:11 PM on March 22, 2006


THE ATHEISTS KILLED CHRIST!


Wait, let me check my notes...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:11 PM on March 22, 2006


Atheists already have homelands. They're called "cities."
posted by MaxVonCretin at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2006


Wow. Stuff like this always amazes me. Our (atheists) lack of belief in a supreme being is of no danger to ANYONE in ANY capacity. There may be atheists who are terrorists, or communists, or otherwise dangerous/evil/immoral/etc, but their atheism is not the danger or the cause.
posted by davidmsc at 2:13 PM on March 22, 2006


I thought NYC was the atheist homeland.
posted by bshort at 2:15 PM on March 22, 2006


From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below..... Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

I'll bet the answers would be different if the poll was anonymous. As this report reads, this was a poll conducted by telephone. So the interviewee knows that his name/address are known to the poller. Further, it is most likely that the interviewee answering these sensitive questions does not know his caller's race, sexual orientations, etc. ....And since atheists come in all ethnicities, classes, races and sexual orientations, mistrusting atheists is the safest and most polite answer.

But is it an honest answer? I don't know.
posted by applemeat at 2:15 PM on March 22, 2006


Bigots are my most distrusted majority, so we can call this mutual admiration.
posted by VulcanMike at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2006


But wait - what about us antitheists?
posted by MaxVonCretin at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2006


Athy, athier, athiest.
posted by grobstein at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's all about framing, baby. "Atheist" has negative connotations and sounds harsh. "Intelligent Design" is just creationism in a sexier wrapper, after all. How can atheists pretty up that name and image?
posted by blefr at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2006


I think atheism as a whole - as it is seen - has similar problems as evangelical religions - it’s the hangers on and the fans causing all the trouble.
There’s this whole sort of Mensa “I’m smarter than you” vibe going on in some of those areas.
As neither (theist, or atheist), I tend to catch it from both sides. But I think the athiests (again - certain vocal minority members) are more resistant to any form of criticism or even self-evaluation of principles. Mostly because they are too busy on the offensive.
/to be fair I get the sense the theistic folks are more likely to mass up and stone me or something. Polytheists just killed a guy for smashing a statue, so go figure (further down on mefi)

But those are the exceptions on both sides and the resulting perceptions.

Certainly atheists can and do have certain principles - but there lies the problem.
In some respects I don’t see - and some atheists I’ve spoken with have agreed - any principle inherent in atheism other than the whole “No God(s)” thing.

So I would have to ask if it is fair to classify “atheists” in the same way we would a group with an ethos or philosophy?

Classifying them that way seems to lend itself to thinking of them as unprincipled or nihilistic, so of course they won’t be trusted.

But in fact many atheists are secular humanists or objectivists or eupraxsophists or what have you.

So (my initial anecdotal/social response aside) I think the classification elicits the response in the survey.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2006


I think they should wear colored patches on their clothing so we can know who they are without having to interact with them.

Paranoia 1
Tolerance 0

Let's hope tolerance can make some half-time adjustments and step up in the second half. Back up to the booth, Jim.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2006


I can't believe atheists would be less trusted than the filthy Irish. Then again, I wouldn't want either of them to date my sister.
posted by Gamblor at 2:21 PM on March 22, 2006


How can atheists pretty up that name and image?

Here's one suggestion, although I'd prefer a label that wasn't quite so smug.
posted by bshort at 2:21 PM on March 22, 2006


I've always thought atheism was kind of hypocritical. Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

Agnosticism is the way to go.
posted by 517 at 2:23 PM on March 22, 2006


Take that Jews! We're #1! We're #1!
posted by unsupervised at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2006


From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households

2000 households across the nation? 2000 households in Minnessota? 2000 households in the towns surrounding UMN?
posted by batou_ at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2006


Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

hahahaha
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2006


This is funny. In a scary, horrifying, sad, stupid way.
posted by docpops at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2006


How can atheists pretty up that name and image?

How about changing the name of the term from "Atheist" to "People who don't believe in the giant, invisible wizard who lives in the sky". Too long, you think?
posted by Gamblor at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2006


How can atheists pretty up that name and image?

How about non-delusional. "He's one of them non-delusionals. Those bastards are always using facts and logic to make decisions, I don't trust them one bit."
posted by Mr_Zero at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2006


I've noticed that atheists seem to get much less flack when referred to instead as "folks who don't believe in God". Unwieldy, of course, but free of a lot of the baggage that "atheist" carries.
posted by Bugbread at 2:28 PM on March 22, 2006


Love it, Gamblor!
posted by applemeat at 2:29 PM on March 22, 2006


Also, for a lot of USians atheist == communist.
posted by bshort at 2:30 PM on March 22, 2006


I bet the poll didn't have Objectivists or Scientologists on there. Or Satanists. Or felons. Or people in emo bands.

Still, the atheists in this thread aren't making any great strides for acceptence.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM on March 22, 2006


Agree with Smedleyman about atheist extremists giving the rest of us a bad name. Until recently I've identified as an agnostic precisely because I really dislike the smarter-than-thou (since not holier) that many atheists exude (including my own dear husband, on occasion). I agree somewhat about the smarminess inherent in "brights" (although it is kind of cheerful, like "gay") and have always hated "freethinker" because I resent the implication that religious people are incapable of free thought (I know too many very smart ones to believe this, but I grew up around Jesuits).

I still swear by my bumper sticker: "MILITANT AGNOSTIC: I don't know and you don't either." I think that might be the least offensive way to go; too bad neither atheists or religious folk often don't appreciate it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2006


Gamblor : "How about changing the name of the term from 'Atheist' to 'People who don't believe in the giant, invisible wizard who lives in the sky'."

So, what, Hindus and Buddhists are atheists, then?
posted by Bugbread at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2006


So what religion should I choose if I want to marry a child?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:11 PM PST on March 22


Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I've always thought atheism was kind of hypocritical. Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

No.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2006


I guess the ultimate irony of all this is that in my travels and discussions with folks far and wide, in university, at work, in my church group and elsewhere, most people who consider themselves to be "of faith" have extremely poor understanding of their own faith. They seem more likely to cobble together various elements of religions and myths and fantasy and proclaim that they believe in God, yet is clear to anyone with even the most pedestrian background in theology that they don't have the slightest fucking idea what it is that they believe in... other than a loose assemblage of superstitions.

At a some level, if I can generalize once again, I would say that most American atheists I know have a much stronger grasp on what it means to believe in something than most religious Americans I know do.
posted by psmealey at 2:34 PM on March 22, 2006


Do y'all think there's still some hangover from Madalyn Murray O'Hair? She was pretty ruinious to the public image of atheists in America...
posted by mr_roboto at 2:35 PM on March 22, 2006


MILITANT AGNOSTIC: I don't know and you don't either.

A-fucking-men, dlugoczaj. That's the most cogent thing I've read all day.
posted by Gamblor at 2:36 PM on March 22, 2006


mtr_roboto, I doubt most Americans even know who she was!
posted by applemeat at 2:36 PM on March 22, 2006


The same people who say the word "atheist" has too much baggage are the same who prefer not to use the word "liberal" - namely, the chickenshits who acquiesce to America's vocal minority of fascist jesus freaks who demonize all that is rational. That's the master plan - once you get weak-willed people to stop using the real word for an ideology, you're well on the road to eliminating it.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 2:37 PM on March 22, 2006


There may be atheists who are terrorists, or communists, or otherwise dangerous/evil/immoral/etc, but their atheism is not the danger or the cause.

You equated communism with terrorism, davidmsc. There's so much I want to say, but frankly, what's the point? I don't want to resort to personal attack, but you either need to a) edit your posts beforehand or b) read a few books. Let's not be beastly to us commies, huh?
posted by ford and the prefects at 2:37 PM on March 22, 2006


“folks who don't believe in God”

Exactly. But still the question is - what do athiests believe?
(bit of a loaded term ‘believe’ but it’s meant to reflect a question someone might ask informally rather than an invitation to a philosophical discussion)

And the response is ‘nothing’.
There should be a different classification. Some sort of ethos or framework that exists - except without a deity in it. (listed several above)
Otherwise an “athiest” is merely a nihilist.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 PM on March 22, 2006


Why do people think you need god to know what is right and wrong and have morals? That's so bizarre. They think they would just go off the deep end and be "bad" if they didnt read the bible or something? Sooooo strange.
posted by aacheson at 2:38 PM on March 22, 2006


The problem with the label "atheist" is that it doesn't connote anything other than the lack of a belief in God. It's as meaningful for the purposes of grouping people in the real world as "theist" is, which is to say none whatsoever.

Since atheists by definition aren't religious, they don't have the cultural markers that peg them as a member of an organized community. Thus their ethics and their group memberships aren't definable in that way.

By the way, I don't believe there's anything hypocritical in the least about atheism, though I myself am not an atheist. There are no inherently contradictions in atheism. It's more of an intellectual stance that insists there isn't any point in believing things for which there is no evidence. If it were a belief system, then on Judgment Day all the atheists would take up their guns against Jesus and the angels, demanding that they cease to exist. Instead, I think most would probably tell God deferentially, in the words of Bertrand Russell, "You didn't provide sufficient evidence!"
posted by vraxoin at 2:38 PM on March 22, 2006


I visited Columbia, MO recently. There has to be a nicer place we can all go hang out.
posted by PhatLobley at 2:38 PM on March 22, 2006


Optimus:
You have less evidence to support the fact that god does not exist than you do to support the fact that it does. After all, all of this must have come from somewhere, and that somewhere could be considered god. If there is no god, then where did all the things around you come from?

(I'm not limiting my thought to the idea of biblical/ koranic/... god, which are only charming little stories.
posted by 517 at 2:39 PM on March 22, 2006


athiest is to atheist as nucular is to nuclear.

posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM on March 22, 2006


Having been an athiest as long as I have, this is hardly surprising.

I think this attitude stems from two things: confusing athiesm with antitheism and the mistaken belief that religion is a necessary component of morality.

517: I personally don't see belief as a matter of faith in the first place. Try for a moment to believe in something you're disinclined to believe in--say, that the world is actually a flat disc which rides on the back of a turtle. It's damned hard, isn't it? Furthermore, let's say that I give you all sorts of evidence--sattelite imagery, basic lessons in cosmological science, etc.--to indicate that the world, in fact, is a sphere which orbits the sun. And let's say that you find this evidence incredibly plausibe. Now try believing in the flat disc. Impossible, right? That's the position I find myself in.

Simply put, I don't belive in god because I don't. To say that I have faith in the inexistance of god assumes a level of effort which I am simply not exerting. The difference between my convictions and that of a fundamentalist religious type is that I willfully acknowledge that I might be wrong about the whole thing. Maybe the world really is a disk riding on the back of a cosmic turtle. I just don't believe it.
posted by joedan at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2006


Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

No. It doesn't.

As I always say, until proven to my satisfaction otherwise, I also don't believe pigs fly. I am not undecided on the matter simply because I can't prove a negative. Why have different standards on this matter? Isn't that, in fact, hypocritical.
posted by drpynchon at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2006


MaxVonCretin : "The same people who say the word 'atheist' has too much baggage are the same who prefer not to use the word 'liberal' - namely, the chickenshits who acquiesce to America's vocal minority of fascist jesus freaks who demonize all that is rational."

Huh? I say it has too much baggage (as an atheist myself, I don't like that it has too much baggage, and that it shouldn't have any at all, but it does, and it has more than it should, so it has too much), but I don't prefer not to use the word liberal. So unless I'm some kind of weird exception, I doubt what you say is true.
posted by Bugbread at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2006


I've always thought atheism was kind of hypocritical. Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

Why more?

You're headed for a stupid semantic argument there where people starting linking to wikipedia entries for the words agnostic, atheist, and maybe even antitheist.

Regardless, I think there are very few people out there who fit the particular description you seem to have to have in your head for atheist.
posted by malphigian at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2006


Still, the atheists in this thread aren't making any great strides for acceptence.
posted by klangklangston at 5:31 PM EST on March 22 [!]


Acceptance by who? The people whose religions damn us in the first place? Why exactly do we need to be accepted when our fault in their eyes is that we don't believe in something? Start believing what you'd like us to? Stop making fun of you for what you believe? Isn't that kind of hypocritical since you've already branded us as evil?

Oh, and by "you", I don't necessarily mean you, just the hypothetical people whose acceptance you've mentioned we should be seeking.

And by "we" I don't claim to speak for atheists as a whole because the only thing that unites them is a lack of a belief. It would be like trying to speak for a bunch of people that don't like asparagus. There's not a lot that binds them together as a group beyond that.
posted by unsupervised at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2006


After all, all of this must have come from somewhere

Does it? Why? Maybe it has always just been.
posted by psmealey at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2006


I wouldn't want my daughter to debate one.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2006


applemeat writes "I doubt most Americans even know who she was!"

Those who lived through the 60s and 70s do. And I would bet respondants to a phone poll tend to skew older....
posted by mr_roboto at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2006


Still, the atheists in this thread aren't making any great strides for acceptence.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM PST on March 22


We shouldn't have to.

Atheists have one and only one thing in common: we lack belief in a god or gods. There are no well-funded organizations that look out for our interests at the expense of others. We don't bomb doctors' offices or cut the throats of journalists or bulldoze people's homes in the name of some selfish deity. Oh, sure, we get blamed for cults of personality like Stalin's or Mao's when the lack of belief in gods had nothing to do with it, but how many of us are trying to kill theists or go door-to-door with pamphlets and magazines and threats of eternal torture?

What I want, and what every atheist I know wants, is to be left alone to not practice religion and to not have our pocketbooks rummaged through to fund your god's little projects. We want equality and tolerance, and we fight for yours as well. What's so wrong about that?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2006


So, what, Hindus and Buddhists are atheists, then?

As far as the fundamentalists I've known are concerned, they might as well be. The same goes for Catholics, I was a little surprised to hear. You not only have to be Christian, you have to be precisely the right kind of Christian, otherwise you're just wasting your time.

(And technically, Buddhists don't believe in god. At least Mahayana-style)
posted by Gamblor at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2006


Exactly. But still the question is - what do athiests believe?
<snip>
And the response is ‘nothing’.
<snip>
Otherwise an “athiest” is merely a nihilist.


And once again you prove that you have no clue about atheists or atheism.
posted by bshort at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2006


bugbread: Yes. I guess.
posted by unsupervised at 2:43 PM on March 22, 2006


Gamblor : "And technically, Buddhists don't believe in god. At least Mahayana-style"

I think you got that backwards. The Mahayanists do, the Therevadists don't. But, yeah, perhaps Buddhism was a bad choice. I was just going for mainstream religions that don't believe in a wizard in the sky, and it's one that popped to mind.

unsupervised : "Why exactly do we need to be accepted when our fault in their eyes is that we don't believe in something?"

Uh, because they outnumber us, and they have voting power?
posted by Bugbread at 2:46 PM on March 22, 2006


I *am* very shifty, you can see it my eyes.

Regarding naming and framing, I wish I could refer to myself by what I do think & believe rather than what I don't. Positive: rational, pro-science, think the universe and nature are glorious and miraculous, see that this earth and life are sacred because of their finite nature, etc. What ever happened to the (in my opinion) poorly named "bright" thing, I wonder.
posted by tula at 2:46 PM on March 22, 2006


athiest is to atheist as nucular is to nuclear.

posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM PST on March 22 [!]


Oh. No.
I really need to get over my spellcheck issues.

Jessamyn? Any chance for a fix?
(oh hell, "americans'...." so much shame....)
posted by maryh at 2:46 PM on March 22, 2006


I prefer the term "humanist" personally.
posted by xthlc at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2006


What ever happened to the (in my opinion) poorly named "bright" thing, I wonder.

It was obnoxious.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2006


unsupervised : "Yes. I guess."

Oops. OK, so Hinduism and Buddhism are down as partially atheist.

Ok, Roman Godism (whatever the religion is that believes in Mars and Zeus) and Norse Godism (the whole Valhalla thing). Those are non-atheistic, but don't have wizards in the sky, right?
posted by Bugbread at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2006


bugbread: So unless I'm some kind of weird exception, I doubt what you say is true.

Yes, I believe you are. Sorry, my bad for not including the requisite qualifier "most of." I stand by the point though that allowing perfectly good words to be demonized is a form of retreat.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2006


Our (atheists) lack of belief in a supreme being is of no danger to ANYONE in ANY capacity.

I would like to suggest that, perhaps, those less-than-sincere religions figureheads who rely on the blind faith of the masses to be obedient might view Athiests as loose cannons of a sort, and therefore a threat to their way of life and their control (or perceived control) over their flock.

Does perception of harm == actual harm? I suppose it depends on the person doing the perceiving. However, If one athiest convinces a christian to question their beliefs, or change them, that likely is harmful to the congregation as a whole. So there's that.
posted by davejay at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2006


Exactly. But still the question is - what do athiests believe?
(bit of a loaded term ‘believe’ but it’s meant to reflect a question someone might ask informally rather than an invitation to a philosophical discussion)


That is a very valid question.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:49 PM on March 22, 2006


You have less evidence to support the fact that god does not exist than you do to support the fact that it does. After all, all of this must have come from somewhere, and that somewhere could be considered god. If there is no god, then where did all the things around you come from?

Why does it have to be considered god? An unknown process that may be completely mindless? If that's your definition of god, then I submit a counter-definition of god: n. A squibidy entity that flaorgs and horimets and that also vosroofgtrifu. Both are equally lucid.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:50 PM on March 22, 2006


Funny story: I once told a kid I was an athiest (although I was actually agnostic at the time, but didn't understand the difference, being a kid myself). He picked up a rock and threw it at me. And he was a friend of mine. It was like a reflex.

FWIW, later in life he turned into a schmuck who did things like drink heavily, lie to cover up his mistakes and attempt to commit insurance fraud, while I've lived an honest, clean and stable life. So I guess there's a lesson* there.

*don't throw rocks.
posted by davejay at 2:51 PM on March 22, 2006


Why does it have to be considered god?

Good point here: why should the potentially mindless birth of the universe be shoehorned into a word that is generally interpreted to mean a conscious and benevolent entity?

Anyway, all the things around me came from Herman Miller. But that's just because I'm at work.
posted by davejay at 2:52 PM on March 22, 2006


I think the problem a lot of atheist have is that they consider the biblical concept of a god, rule it out because it is ridiculous, and then consider themselves an atheist because they don't belive in the standard concept of god.

They don't consider that the concept of god is much larger.

They decide to believe in the big bang because there is evidence of it. The big bang is something real that happened but that, also, had to either come from somewhere or be created. Both of which involve a concept that could easily be considered god.

That's why I say that it requires more faith to rule out the existence of god than it does to rule in the existence of god. The only thing that doesn't require any faith is the acknowledgment that we haven't go a clue at the moment.
posted by 517 at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2006


But still the question is - what do athiests believe?

I considered asking the clarifying question: believe in, as in "put their faith in", or believe, as in "think the origin of the universe is" -- and realized they're the same question. :)
posted by davejay at 2:54 PM on March 22, 2006


I prefer the term "humanist" personally.

I was going to suggest this, too. It's positive (we believe in people, man!) rather than negative, and it's got a nice long tradition. "Brights" is both silly and obnoxious and makes atheists sound like that geeky kid in high school who can't get a date so he quotes Nietzsche to everyone and tries to act superior to all that. Yes, that geeky kid was me!
posted by languagehat at 2:55 PM on March 22, 2006


517: The big bang is something real that happened but that, also, had to either come from somewhere or be created.

Who created God? We could play this game all night.
posted by unsupervised at 2:56 PM on March 22, 2006


I think you're conflating two different propositions there, 517: not beliving in god and ruling out its existence. I don't believe in god. I don't rule out the possibility of one existing.
posted by joedan at 2:56 PM on March 22, 2006


MaxVonCretin : "I stand by the point though that allowing perfectly good words to be demonized is a form of retreat."

Ok. I understand where you're coming from. And I generally agree with that. The only reason I find dropping "atheism" to not feel like a retreat is because the baggage I'm talking about is the baggage generated by atheists themselves. That is, if someone tries to demonize a perfectly good word (and I'm talking in general now, not about "atheism"), it annoys the hell out of me, and I generally try to bring the word back. If, however, a perfectly good word gets tainted from within, I don't have much of a problem with dropping the word. Atheism has had both happen. The baggage that I was talking about was of the latter sort.

But what do I know, my dad runs a humanist organization with "humanist" in the title. I've very likely been unintentionally and subconsciously swayed.
posted by Bugbread at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006


Both of which involve a concept that could easily be considered god.

Could be, but doesn't have to be. It could also be considered science, or nature, or chance, or chaos, or luck. It depends on your point of view, I should think.

That's why I say that it requires more faith to rule out the existence of god than it does to rule in the existence of god. The only thing that doesn't require any faith is the acknowledgment that we haven't go a clue at the moment.

I respectfully disagree. I think it take an equal amount of faith to say "god" or "no god" -- and the acknowledgement that we haven't a clue (but that some possibilities are more reasonable than others) requires faith in your ability to reason.
posted by davejay at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006


that geeky kid in high school who can't get a date so he quotes Nietzsche to everyone and tries to act superior to all that

*smiles* I suspect a majority of MeFi members have been here - I certainly have...
posted by greycap at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006


god created god.
posted by 517 at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006


The main problem is that typical American Christians hold to the triple fallacies (a) that atheism means lack of religion, rather than lack of theism (b) that their own religion is entitled to sole credit for all the good values it endorses and (c) that rejection of his/her religion means rejection of all the values it claims credit for.

Obviously on this reasoning anyone would consider atheists immoral. And this nonsense is widely assumed without question, and forms the premises of judgments of people.
posted by jam_pony at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006


Ignostic?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:58 PM on March 22, 2006


Smedleyman: In some respects I don’t see - and some atheists I’ve spoken with have agreed - any principle inherent in atheism other than the whole “No God(s)” thing.

Exactly. But still the question is - what do athiests believe? ...

And the response is ‘nothing’.


What do theists believe? Do Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims, Astaru, and Wiccans all believe the same thing? I've done a fair amount of reading of religion, and I don't see any principle inherent in theism other than the whole "God" thing.

So why is there this concept that atheism must mean some monolithic "nothing?

Optimus Chyme: What I want, and what every atheist I know wants, is to be left alone to not practice religion and to not have our pocketbooks rummaged through to fund your god's little projects. We want equality and tolerance, and we fight for yours as well. What's so wrong about that?

Well said! Well said!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:58 PM on March 22, 2006


god created god.
posted by 517 at 2:57 PM PST on March 22


I want you to go home and think about what you just said, and get back to us when you're sober.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2006


joedan:

Think of god like time, space or matter. The fact that you exists requires all of them, they all had to come from somewhere. Even if they just magically appeared.
posted by 517 at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2006


bugbrad: I think you got that backwards.

It's possible. But Zen is Mahayana, and there's definitely no god there, just Mu void nothingness. Mu!
posted by Gamblor at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2006


"think you're conflating two different propositions there, 517: not beliving in god and ruling out its existence. I don't believe in god. I don't rule out the possibility of one existing." - joedan

Right, 517 mistakes atheism for anti-theism. It's a terminology problem - people define the term differently.
posted by jam_pony at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2006


The "atheist homeland" link is satire, m'kay? Unless you believe there is a Richard (Dick) E. Normus or a Billy Thornton saying "these atheists don’t even attend church regularly."
posted by F Mackenzie at 3:01 PM on March 22, 2006


I considered asking the clarifying question: believe in, as in "put their faith in", or believe, as in "think the origin of the universe is" -- and realized they're the same question. :)

You know, there is a difference between believing in something that has literally no evidence to back it up and believing in something that evolved from the process of trying to uinderstand observable, verifiable phenomenon, and can be revised at any point if the evidence points another way. There is no equivalency to believing in God, which is based on a sort of faith that sometimes requires people to completely ignore verifiable facts, and believing in science, which is rooted in actual observation.

But, other than that, yeah, they're the same question.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:02 PM on March 22, 2006


Think of god like time, space or matter. The fact that you exists requires all of them, they all had to come from somewhere. Even if they just magically appeared.
posted by 517 at 3:00 PM PST on March 22


*smokes a shitload of weed*
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:02 PM on March 22, 2006


I really wish we could permanently put to rest the whole "atheism requires as much blind faith as theism" argument. The old "invisible pink unicorn" construct is useful here -- I can't prove that there's not an invisible pink unicorn in the room with me right now, and if given the slightest shred of evidence for her existence I'd be happy to leave some carrots for her when I go home. Technically, I'm an agnostic on the subject of invisible pink unicorns. But that doesn't mean that I think her presence is likely, or that I behave as though I believe in her just to be on the safe side, or that I lie awake at night wondering just what shade of rose her mane might be.

As for the "the universe must have come from somewhere, so we'll just call that God" argument -- first of all, it's not really what most people mean by God, is it? Most people at least assume God to be sentient, and to have free will, but that's not really required by the argument from first cause. And then, of course, there's the fact that it doesn't really answer the question of where the universe came from -- it just displaces it. Everything came from God, great. where did God come from, then? And if God was just "always here," then why couldn't the same be true of everything he supposedly created?
posted by Acetylene at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2006


Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

It depends on your definition of atheism.
Is an atheist someone who believes there isn't a god?
Or is an atheist someone who doesn't believe there is a god?

The dictionary seems to lean toward the first, while most atheists in this thread are leaning toward the second.
posted by the jam at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2006


Zen is kind of an exception within Mahayana. For the most part, Therevada (Hinayana if you disagree with it) is godless, and Mahayana has the multiple incarnations of Buddha, boddhisatvas, etc.
posted by Bugbread at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2006


517: god created god.

I bet he rested a hell of a lot longer than 7 days after that one.
posted by unsupervised at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2006


jam_pony, you're being entirely too intelligent and well-reasoned. Shouldn't you be...oh, flinging jam or something?
posted by davejay at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2006


Do any of you Christians go to one of those cool churches where the pastor shaves his head and plays bass?
posted by fleetmouse at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2006


As neither (theist, or atheist), I tend to catch it from both sides. But I think the athiests (again - certain vocal minority members) are more resistant to any form of criticism or even self-evaluation of principles.

Duh, you can't be "neither" Atheists are people without religion, literally "a-" theist. That's like being neither political nor apolitical.
posted by delmoi at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2006


jam_pony:

Atheism, disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity

Anti-theism, ; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to belief in any deity, while in theistic ones, it sometimes refers to opposition to the actual entity God.

I undertand the difference and it isn't what I am talking about.
posted by 517 at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2006


:D

I'm usually too serious in the threads that are by consensus snarky, and v-v.
posted by jam_pony at 3:06 PM on March 22, 2006


517: god created god.
517: Think of god like time, space or matter. The fact that you exists requires all of them, they all had to come from somewhere. Even if they just magically appeared.

517, please change your name to 420. I want to hang with you sometime, and I'll even bring the Little Debbie snackcakes.
posted by Gamblor at 3:06 PM on March 22, 2006


If time, space, and matter magically appeared, 517, can they really be said to have come from somewhere?
posted by joedan at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2006


517, you were addressing one and others were defending the other. That was a misunderstanding.

As for a defense of anti-theism, Acetylene has disposed of it well enough for me.
posted by jam_pony at 3:08 PM on March 22, 2006


I meant: waht acetylene said.
posted by jam_pony at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2006


joedan, if they magically appeared something must have willed them into existence.

If anything, I think atheism is kind of a lack of imagination. I can't figure out how it works, so it must not work in a complete and total manner without possible exception and it requires no faith on my part to conclude that. I'm hungry, where are my crackers.
posted by 517 at 3:14 PM on March 22, 2006


Ok, Roman Godism (whatever the religion is that believes in Mars and Zeus) and Norse Godism (the whole Valhalla thing). Those are non-atheistic, but don't have wizards in the sky, right?

Huh? Zeus is as much a 'wizard' as Jehova...
posted by delmoi at 3:15 PM on March 22, 2006


if they magically appeared something must have willed them into existence.

I bow before your superior understanding of magic.
posted by boaz at 3:16 PM on March 22, 2006


If anything, I think atheism is kind of a lack of imagination. I can't figure out how it works, so it must not work in a complete and total manner without possible exception and it requires no faith on my part to conclude that.

what
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2006


517: They don't consider that the concept of god is much larger.

They decide to believe in the big bang because there is evidence of it. The big bang is something real that happened but that, also, had to either come from somewhere or be created. Both of which involve a concept that could easily be considered god.


Well ok, certainly "god did it" is a reasonable hypothesis in the absence of evidence. But so is brane theory. So is quantum foam. So is theories of multiple dimensions. "God did it" is a subset of the multitude of possible theories. Why should I privilege "god did it" over any other, lacking any hard evidence either way?

Another point in question is whether it is worthwhile to use a term that is traditionally used for entities that are somewhat potent, aware, and concerned with human affairs, to describe an entity that is impotent on human scales, not aware of what we do, and unconcerned with human affairs. I certainly can't say that Einstein was wrong in his impersonal pantheistic vision of god. I can only say that I can experience the same wonder without calling it "god." By the way, I find this, "something that could be considered god" to be a bit of a cop out. Because when the chips are down, you can just propose a different "something that could be considered god."

That's why I say that it requires more faith to rule out the existence of god than it does to rule in the existence of god. The only thing that doesn't require any faith is the acknowledgment that we haven't go a clue at the moment.

Well, OK I don't know that my birth date and my SSN will be the next set of Superball lottery numbers. I don't know that it won't be the next set of Superball lottery numbers. Not knowing either way, I have a profound lack of faith that it would be better for me to buy a lottery ticket rather than cup of coffee.

Likewise, I don't know that "something that could be considered god" caused the big bang. I don't know that "something that could be considered god" didn't cause the big bang. Not knowing either way, I have a profound lack of faith that it would be better for me to spend my time worshiping or contemplating that "something that could be considered god." In the absence of evidence, it is prudent to exercise a lack of belief, and move on to more productive pursuits. That is atheism is a nutshell.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


delmoi : "Huh? Zeus is as much a 'wizard' as Jehova..."

Yeah, but he's a wizard on a mountain, not a wizard in the sky.
posted by Bugbread at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2006


I don't see why something would have had to will them into existence, but that might be my lack of imagination. :)

Interestingly enough, I always thought that theists suffered from an overactive imagination.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" -Douglas Adams
posted by joedan at 3:18 PM on March 22, 2006


No, man, Jehovah is twice the wizard Zeus is. Jehovah could totally kick Zeus's ass. In fact, he did...
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on March 22, 2006


In grad school, a lot of militant Christian evangelizers used to show up and do their thing on campus. The older guys just handed out free bibles and said hello, which I thought was entirely within their rights, and only a bit annoying. The younger ones around my age were real assholes though--their pastor had obviously given them a quota or something on how many people they had to witness that day. I tried to do the polite, Habermasian thing--just smile and say no thank you, but these guys would hound you and keep asking the same annoying questions over and over. It got to the point where, if I wasn't in too much of a hurry, I would ask them questions. It started with what age they lost their virginity, and progressed into intentional vulgarities--How often do you masturbate? Have you ever watched a bukkake video? Who's you favorite pornstar?

So yeah, I was one of those cranky, smarter-than-though atheists. But I reformed--questions of personal faith and belief, or in my case a lack thereof, are serious ones. But in defense of my younger self, they started it. Because it's really fucking rude to ask those things of a total stranger, to make so many assumptions about them, and to proselytize in order to make yourself feel better, not to actually help someone else. It's positively un-Christlike, and it's funny that "Christiantiy" is an institutional scam that has nothing to do with the person after whom it's named. If Jesus was alive today, he certainly wouldn't call himself a Christian.
posted by bardic at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2006


Well said, KirkJobSluder.
posted by joedan at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2006


Mountains are in the sky.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2006


languagehat : "Jehovah could totally kick Zeus's ass."

You sure about that? Hold on, let me find my copy of Dieties & Demigods...
posted by Bugbread at 3:21 PM on March 22, 2006


Astro Zombie : "Mountains are in the sky."

Ok, ok, ok...So is the correlating lesson to be drawn from this that religions which don't put their deities in the sky (like Hinduism and Buddhism) generally include atheistic components, whereas religions which put their deities in the sky (like Roman Godism and Christianity) generally don't include atheistic components? Because that would be kind of a neat, novel discovery.
posted by Bugbread at 3:24 PM on March 22, 2006


I think I am failing to explain my point so I am going to give it one last shot, in two sentences.

The fact that anything exists becomes evidence of god when you consider why it is here at all.

god does exist, it just doesn't care about you in the same way it doesn't care if something is created or destroyed; there is not value judgement.
posted by 517 at 3:25 PM on March 22, 2006


517 : "The fact that anything exists becomes evidence of god when you consider why it is here at all."

This just indicates a lack of imagination. There could be any number of reasons why existence is.
posted by Bugbread at 3:27 PM on March 22, 2006


The fact that anything exists becomes evidence of god when you consider why it is here at all.

I think we can all rest better on this subject if you do us a favor, 517: define "God".

I'm not kidding, either. How do you, personally, define "God". What does that word mean to you?
posted by davejay at 3:29 PM on March 22, 2006


Fare enough bugbread, I tried, it doesn't mean I actually know the answer.
posted by 517 at 3:29 PM on March 22, 2006


not trying to be argumentative or anything like that -- I understand that some deifne "God" as an entity, others as a force, and so on and so forth. Without a clear understanding of what the word "God" means to the person talking, it's impossible to agree/disagree with them, except using our own personal definition of "God", which is likely different.
posted by davejay at 3:31 PM on March 22, 2006


The progenitor of all existence.
posted by 517 at 3:31 PM on March 22, 2006


517: OK, God is shorthand for the progenitor of all existence, meaning God could be quantum foam or multiple universes or any of the other theories for the existence of the universe that Kirk put forward and your belief would be unchanged?

If not, that's not a complete definition.
posted by revgeorge at 3:34 PM on March 22, 2006


Crap, I promised myself I wouldn't get involved, no one is going to win this thread.
posted by revgeorge at 3:35 PM on March 22, 2006


Sounds like the ontological argument, 517. I was never very persuaded by it but, hey, to each his own.

I find it interesting that you don't see god making value judgements. In your view, is god simply the creator? An invisible force that unifies the world? The first cause?
posted by joedan at 3:36 PM on March 22, 2006


Good point here: why should the potentially mindless birth of the universe be shoehorned into a word that is generally interpreted to mean a conscious and benevolent entity?

It's true that that's the popular conception, but a lot of philosophy and theology is talking about a 'first cause', and the 'intelligence' of that first cause is usually the beauty & order of nature, rather than a reflective consciousness. This is more obvious when you consider the atheistic philosophers: Hume believed that we can't be sure natural laws will still be true tomorrow, for instance -the consistency, unity, order/etc of the universe is the 'intelligence' of the universe, or god. Or Sartre, who says that Being is "absurd", that it can't be made sense of - his world feels fractured and insecure; if you think Being is stable and makes sense, then by many philosopher's views, you are amenable to the concept of god.

Of course, many people have personified & laid claim to god as something specific to them, and hence the whole conversation is a mess because no one knows what they're agreeing to or disagreeing with... but 'the divine' has been equated with Truth, Logos (reason or the Word - this was not just xtianity), the Good, the All, the One/etc - so to diminish it to only sky-wizards is an unfortunate modern interpretation, not a historical absolute.
posted by mdn at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2006


The fact that anything exists becomes evidence of god when you consider why it is here at all.

god does exist, it just doesn't care about you in the same way it doesn't care if something is created or destroyed; there is not value judgement.


Well, I think this calls for the Epicurus argument:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2006


To be fair, 517, I know where you're coming from in relation to your definition/feelings of god (but not on your "atheism requires faith" argument). I used to believe essentially the same: that god was the name of that which generated existence, not some guy with wizard robes. One day, when I was talking to a non-militant atheist friend, in our discussion this exchange came up:

Him: "So you believe that there must be a generative force which caused that which is the big bang to exist, but not that it had to be sentient or anthropomorphic."
Me: "Yeah, basically."
Him: "Why do you take that extra step, then? Why couldn't the big bang itself be the generative force that caused existence?"
Me: "..."

And since then, I don't really believe in the generative force beyond the big bang which generated existence.
posted by Bugbread at 3:38 PM on March 22, 2006


The notion that a Supreme Being is witnessing the horrors down here on earth is the most blasphemous idea that any God could expect to tolerate. The angry, lonely God comes from this belief. He is in charge, therefore obviously enraged. While this persona may have made sense under paganism, a Supreme Being cannot be jealous, nor enjoy flattery from common stupidity. Only a fraud would demand faith in his presence when a real God could have made robots for that job. Honor remains the only human quality worth testing for. I am proud to fail an exam from a jealous fraud who authors sectarian confusion but yet issues his followers all of the correct answers.
posted by Brian B. at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2006


(And, to be fair, I don't really have "faith" in the big bang as the generative force, either. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the generative force. If evidence came up that the big bang theory was incorrect, and the universe started some other way, I'd readily switch over)
posted by Bugbread at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2006


No, it isn't the ontological arguement, I'm not saying god can be reasoned into existence. I am saying existence is evidence of god.

I think it is a complete definition, I can't see what could be added to it. At a certain point there is something beyond the Quantum foam(?).
posted by 517 at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2006


mdn: Certainly, but in most of modern society, when I'm forced to address the question of theism it's almost always in relation to a personal god that shapes history and makes law, and not the premise that the universe is stable and makes sense.

My personal belief is that it's possible to talk about the universe as stable and sensible without athropomorphizing it. And using "god" language tends to be an open door to anthropomorphism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:43 PM on March 22, 2006


At a certain point there is something beyond the Quantum foam(?)

How do you know?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:43 PM on March 22, 2006


Why is the foam there? It had to come from somewhere.
posted by 517 at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2006



I think it is a complete definition, I can't see what could be added to it. At a certain point there is something beyond the Quantum foam(?).


Replace "Quantum foam" with "God" and say that sentence again. All you're saying is that something self-existent exists, that's not being disputed.
posted by signalnine at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2006


How do you know?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2006


I've read most of the above posts, and skimmed through the rest, but have yet to see anyone prop up the fundamental absolute truth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - the unifying pastatheist we can all chew on.
posted by tzelig at 3:46 PM on March 22, 2006


517: Could time, space, and matter have always existed? In fact, our current understanding of physics has some laws about conservation. Things don't get created or destroyed, they merely change state. If you believe God has always existed, isn't it just as rational to suspect the physical world has always existed?
posted by knave at 3:47 PM on March 22, 2006


Wtf is "eupraxsophism"? The internet seems to be rather short on this subject.
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:47 PM on March 22, 2006


517,

signalnine puts it well. If there must be something beyond quantum foam (yes, that's new to me too), then there must be something beyond god, and it's turtles all the way down. If, on the other hand, you're willing to give god a free pass for existence, why is it unreasonable to give the free pass to quantum foam instead?
posted by Bugbread at 3:48 PM on March 22, 2006


Because that's where it came from/turtles all the way down/I don't really know, it's just my argument. If you are asking for eye witness testimony, I can't provide because I just don't know.
posted by 517 at 3:50 PM on March 22, 2006


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
posted by fungible at 3:51 PM on March 22, 2006


517: Why is the foam there? It had to come from somewhere.

Well, this is getting to the fundamental point of disagreement. You think it's reasonable to call that "somewhere" god. Fair enough but the bottom line is I'm not convinced.

I'm not convinced therefore, I lack faith, I don't believe therefore, I'm an atheist.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:51 PM on March 22, 2006


That's the god aspect the answer bugbread but I think stopping short of it is a false conclusion.
posted by 517 at 3:52 PM on March 22, 2006


atheist, no. Agnostic is the next logical step. Not complete and total disbelief. Complete and total disbelief, without evidence, requires faith.
posted by 517 at 3:55 PM on March 22, 2006


Your argument is not an "argument," it is an insistance. We say "infinity," you say "infinity times infinity." Only for you, "infinity times infinity" has to equal God, because... well, just because. For us, there's no reason to make that leap.

This is a pointless discussion, because it involves a fundamental disconnect: attempting to use logic to argue points of faith respects neither logic nor faith.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:55 PM on March 22, 2006


Complete and total disbelief, without evidence, requires faith.
posted by 517 Moments ago


You don't know anything about atheism or atheists then. Most of us think "yeah, I guess there could be a god," but we wouldn't be any more surprised if it turned out to be a giant Keebler Elf rather than Jesus or some shit. There's no evidence for either, therefore we lack belief. Few atheists will say that all gods are impossible.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2006


517: You're confusing atheism with anti-theism. Atheism is the absence of belief, anti-theism is the belief of absence.
posted by revgeorge at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2006


517 : "That's the god aspect the answer bugbread but I think stopping short of it is a false conclusion."

And why do you think so? (Not a counterargument, just a question).

By the way, kudos to those involved for not being the spastics these conversations tend to devolve to. First the "anticipatory warrant" thread progressing sanely, and now this. There's hope for MeFi yet!
posted by Bugbread at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2006


Ah, the ever present Athiesm Thread of the Week. What would mefi be without it.
posted by unreason at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2006


I guess not, remain as before/ Florence's answer.
posted by 517 at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2006


I think I'm jealous of anyone (and it usually feels like everyone) who is so completely, totally and unshakably certain of whatever standpoint or viewpoint they have, whether they are completely sure there is a God, or completely sure there isn't a God. It must be nice to be so utterly certain about whatever you're utterly certain about. Frankly, I'm uncertain about just about everything and I seem to grow even more uncertain the older I get.

I need a church or a meeting hall or wherever where I can sit around with other people who know fuck-all for sure, and we can sit there and scratch our heads for a half-hour a week, and then wobble home, knowing just as little as we did when we got there. I think we'd be the true minority.
posted by notmydesk at 4:01 PM on March 22, 2006


Optimus Chyme : "Few atheists will say that all gods are impossible."

Unfortunately, that few tends to be the most vocal (especially on the internet).
posted by Bugbread at 4:01 PM on March 22, 2006


Atheism, disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity
posted by 517 at 4:02 PM on March 22, 2006


Ah, the ever present Athiesm Thread of the Week. What would mefi be without it.
posted by unreason at 4:00 PM PST on March 22


And it's posts like yours that make them great. Thanks for contributing.

Atheism, disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity
posted by 517 at 4:02 PM PST on March 22


Webster's defines excellence as 'the state or condition of being excellent.'
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2006


Atheism
posted by 517 at 4:06 PM on March 22, 2006


517: "I guess not, remain as before/ Florence's answer."

I don't understand this comment. There was nothing disrespectful in my comment. I'm just stating my opinion that faith and logic are inherently - by definition - incompatible. That's not a judgement on logic or faith - just a statement of incompatibility.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on March 22, 2006


Bread
posted by 517 at 4:07 PM on March 22, 2006


Atheism
posted by 517 at 4:06 PM PST on March 22


Here's a rule of thumb, little nublet: if you're linking to online dictionaries in a discussion, you're arguing over semantics and not anything substantive.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:08 PM on March 22, 2006


I was agreeing with you It's Raining Florence Henderson. Take something out far enough and you've got nothing.
posted by 517 at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2006


Okay I lol'd at bread.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2006


There's also a problem with the way "belief" is used by different people on both sides of the issue. If I say, "I believe I turned the light off when I left the house", it is parsed as "suspicion that something is true, but without absolute certainty". When people say "I believe in God", they mean "certainty that something is true". So if an atheist "believes" there is no god, and a theist "believes" there is a god, you have to consider which definitions of "belief" are in use. Some atheists "believe" (that is, suspect, reckon, figure) that there is no god. Some atheists "believe" (are certain, convinced) that there is no god.
posted by Bugbread at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2006


What was the bread link? My @@%^#$*%!!! employer blocks Google images.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:10 PM on March 22, 2006


Mountains are in the sky.

No, no, no!!! Mountains come out of the sky, and they stand there.
posted by LionIndex at 4:11 PM on March 22, 2006


OT: Why does a French site about Eniac pop up when I G.I.S. "bugbread"?
posted by Bugbread at 4:12 PM on March 22, 2006


It's Raining Florence Henderson : "My @@%^#$*%!!! employer blocks Google images."

Try GIS with other countries. My employer blocks images.google.com, but not images.google.co.jp.
posted by Bugbread at 4:13 PM on March 22, 2006


One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2006


god created god

Turtles all the way down?
posted by scottreynen at 4:16 PM on March 22, 2006


Exactly. I am going to watch tv now.
posted by 517 at 4:16 PM on March 22, 2006


Since when is Zeus Roman?
posted by cookie-k at 4:17 PM on March 22, 2006


To paraphrase Robert Anton Wilson, I try not to believe in anything. But this doesn't ususally work--I have to believe that the pieces of paper in my wallet have value. They don't--they're just pieces of paper--but because everyone else has to believe the same thing, it's not a big deal.

Religious folk believe in God, athiests believe there is no God (and don't get all semantic and shit, I know you can switch it to "athiests don't believe in God" but I think it balances out to the same thing.) Both stances are rigid and inhibit critical thinking. Which I guess makes me an agnostic--I want to be able to make an informed conclusion based on experiences, observations, and plain ol' information. I haven't come to any conclusion yet, and may never. But I like to think I can think critically about the Big Question(s).
posted by zardoz at 4:18 PM on March 22, 2006


Mountains come out of the sky, and they stand there.

One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you.


You bastards. It'll take weeks to get that out of my head.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2006


The foam? It abides, dude. (and I mean that completely seriously).

mdn: ...'the divine' has been equated with Truth, eLogos (reason or the Word - this was not just xtianity), the Good, the All, the One/etc - so to diminish it to only sky-wizards is an unfortunate modern interpretation....

But these are all elaborations on the concept of volition, of will, of some Prime Mobile. Since magic is, at it's essence, the imposition of personal will in the cosmos, it seems not too far wrong to me to, if only in jest, draw the line between the concept of the divine and magic. That was the criticism of the church, when such things mattered, was it not? The practice of magic was the personal assumption of godhead, lése majestè of the worst kind.
posted by bonehead at 4:23 PM on March 22, 2006


Try not to speak for those you admit you do not represent, zardoz. My atheism is not a rigid belief inhibiting critical thinking. It is a direct result of examining my beliefs while applying critical thinking.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:23 PM on March 22, 2006


Yes! now here is a portrait gallery
posted by hortense at 4:23 PM on March 22, 2006


cookie-k : "Since when is Zeus Roman?"

Yikes!! Since it's 9 am at the end of a night shift. And, for that matter, since when does Zeus hang out with Mars, and not Ares?? Sorry about that.
posted by Bugbread at 4:27 PM on March 22, 2006


Religious folk believe in God, athiests believe there is no God (and don't get all semantic and shit, I know you can switch it to "athiests don't believe in God" but I think it balances out to the same thing.) Both stances are rigid and inhibit critical thinking.

I also don't believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny. Do these stances inhibit my critical thinking, or are they so trifling as to be not worth concern? Why is thinking or worrying about whether god exists worth my time? It's not just an issue of "semantics".
posted by LionIndex at 4:34 PM on March 22, 2006


Most of us think "yeah, I guess there could be a god," but we wouldn't be any more surprised if it turned out to be a giant Keebler Elf rather than Jesus or some shit. There's no evidence for either, therefore we lack belief. Few atheists will say that all gods are impossible.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:58 PM PST on March 22 [!]


This sums up my positon pretty well, although in my experience, many people seem assume (right or wrong) this is agnosticism.
I grew up around Catholics who, without exception, demonized Madalyn Murray O'Hair and found in her the ultimate expression of (non-communist) atheism. That is, some one who not only denies 'belief', but actively strives to deny the expressions of belief of others. This may not be true, but for a lot of Catholics in the '60's and '70's, O'Hair (and by extension, all atheists) were portrayed as monsters of intolerance out to destroy the social fabric. Even if O'Hair herself isn't remembered much (she certainly is by some), I wonder how much of her legacy colors perceptions in religious communities. I have a feeling that there are probably a lot of non-religious people going to church when the family demands it, who lack belief but would never imagine themselves atheist.
posted by maryh at 4:41 PM on March 22, 2006


I need a church or a meeting hall or wherever where I can sit around with other people who know fuck-all for sure, and we can sit there and scratch our heads for a half-hour a week, and then wobble home, knowing just as little as we did when we got there. I think we'd be the true minority.

Find a congregation near you.
posted by designbot at 4:41 PM on March 22, 2006


I think the problem a lot of atheist have is that they consider the biblical concept of a god, rule it out because it is ridiculous, and then consider themselves an atheist because they don't belive in the standard concept of god.

They don't consider that the concept of god is much larger.


I don't know that I have met an atheist who bases his status as an atheist solely on the biblical concept of God. The atheists that I know personally are all very educated in religious matters - not just in the god of the scriptures, but of most world religions.

They decide to believe in the big bang because there is evidence of it. The big bang is something real that happened but that, also, had to either come from somewhere or be created. Both of which involve a concept that could easily be considered god.

Or not.


That's why I say that it requires more faith to rule out the existence of god than it does to rule in the existence of god. The only thing that doesn't require any faith is the acknowledgment that we haven't go a clue at the moment.

there is no "faith required," actually. I don't have "faith" that a giant purple elephant is standing beside me. Why? Because it's not there. On the other hand, if you want to try and convince me that there really IS a giant purple elephant standing there - but I can't see it.... you better have a good argument. And if you believe that the elephant exists, it will require a large amount of faith on your part.

Me? There is no elephant there. I can see that. No faith required.
posted by bradth27 at 4:45 PM on March 22, 2006


Upside: If we keep this thread going to 100,000 posts I think we will at last hammer this thing out and come to a consensus.

Downside. And as a by-product we will then know all the various names of God. And then if you look out the window you will see the stars will wink out... one... by... one.

Keep it going!
posted by tkchrist at 4:47 PM on March 22, 2006


Compassionate Naturalism?
posted by cytherea at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2006


"It proves you exists, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

*proves that black is white; gets killed on the next zebra crossing*
posted by keswick at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2006


"A recent poll ranks atheists as America's most distrusted minority."

"a 1999 Gallup poll found that only 49 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for president. "

I don't know. I think an anarchist would have a harder time getting elected president.
posted by Eideteker at 4:53 PM on March 22, 2006


517 syas:

Existance; therefore God

to which I counter

eXistenZ; therefore no God.

And with this, I win, and humanity enters a peaceful era of maturity and intellectual reponsibility, with none of that infantile approval-seeking from blood-thirsty, father-shaped holes in the mental depiction of the universe.

Phew, that was a close one.
posted by Sparx at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2006


Me? There is no elephant there. I can see that. No faith required.

Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
posted by davejay at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2006


Round up theists of all stripes, worldwide, build a mile-high wall around America, and dump them all in. Put a giant pile of weapons in the middle of Kansas somewhere, and let them have their godly bloodletting fun and leave the rest of us (the majority in most western countries, at least, other than America itself) out of it.

Televise the carnage for our amusement. Pay-per-view, profits to go towards worldwide education and healthcare.

Wait for a while until they've massacred each other in the names of their personal deities, then plow the corpses under and plant forests.

Done.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:03 PM on March 22, 2006


A squibidy entity that flaorgs and horimets and that also vosroofgtrifu.

Sounds hot.

No, wait. Wrong meme.

Metafilter: A squibidy entity that flaorgs and horimets and that also vosroofgtrifu.
posted by weston at 5:04 PM on March 22, 2006


This is a pointless discussion, because it involves a fundamental disconnect: attempting to use logic to argue points of faith respects neither logic nor faith.

What's the alternative to reasoned discussion? Gunplay? Sullen silence? Interpretive dance?

Articles of faith are not immune to analysis and discussion. Does the AoF contradict itself? Does it contradict well established evidence? Does it have any evidence to back it up? Is it self-evident to all or is it apparent only to those who hold it? Is some flavor of solipsism its major defense?
posted by fleetmouse at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2006



I also don't believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny. Do these stances inhibit my critical thinking, or are they so trifling as to be not worth concern? Why is thinking or worrying about whether god exists worth my time? It's not just an issue of "semantics".


You'll notice I said "Big Questions"--your examples aren't representative of that. I guess what keeps me on the fence could be boiled down to "the supernatural", for lack of a better, all-inclusive term. It's all well and good to base your belief system on science, which I think I do, but I recognize the fact that our science isn't perfect, and we don't understand everything about the universe, but perhaps in my lifetime we'll have a better understanding. Maybe even a paradigm shift. So I'll stay on the fence.
posted by zardoz at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2006


These discussions always bonk me on the head in (at least) a couple of ways:

(1) I've always thought atheism was kind of hypocritical. Doesn't it require more blind faith to believe there is no god than it does to believe there is one?

Maybe we need to define the word "belief." As I use the word, belief can't be hypocritical. One's ACTIONS can be hypocritical -- as in not practicing what one preaches. But beliefs? A belief can be a fantasy (it doesn't correspond to physical reality); it can conflict with (or contradict) another belief. But it can't be hypocritical.

A belief is similar to a feeling. I may have come to believe in something via a rational argument, but now I simply believe. And I don't have much choice in the matter. For instance, I believe I am 40 years old. That may be false. It may be true. But it's simply my belief.

I'm an atheist. If someone ever gives me a plausible argument for God, I HOPE I will become a theist -- I'd like to think my beliefs can be affected by rational argument. But it's possible I'll still disbelieve. I'm have about as much control over my beliefs as I do over whether I'm happy or sad.

(2) Question: How did the universe get here?
Answer: I don't know.

I don't get the argument (517's) that the universe's existence is evidence that there's a God. And I think people here are overcomplicating counter arguments.

There's a bunch of stuff all over the place. How did it get there? That's not evidence of God's existence. That's a MYSTERY.

Saying "I don't know if there's a God" makes one agonistic.

Saying "I don't know how the universe was created" DOESN'T' make one agnostic (or atheistic or theistic). It just makes one unsure how the universe was created. Which seems like a sensible stance, given the total lack of evidence for (or against) ANY sort of creator -- God or whatever.

Sometimes it seems like people are embarrassed by saying "I don't know." It's as if they're saying, "Well, we're not sure how everything got here, but some wise men suggest that it might have all been created by God, so until someone comes up with a better explanation, lets run with that."

But one DOESN'T have to settle for the best explanation currently on the market. "I don't know" IS an option.

What if you came home and discovered a minivan in your living room? If I asked you how it got there, what would you say? "I don't know." Okay, what if I then suggested that maybe space aliens beamed it there. My suggestion doesn't change anything. You STILL don't know.

Imagine the following absurd conversation:

You: I don't believe that space aliens beamed the minivan into my living room.

Me: You're being hypocritical -- CLEARLY there's a minivan in your livingroom.

You: No, no, no. I see it. I just don't believe that aliens put it there.

Me. The proof that aliens put it there is the fact that it's THERE. If not aliens, then what?

My suggestion is that you simply reply, "I don't know."

Being an atheist doesn't have to mean being arrogantly sure of everything. There are TONS of things I don't know. I don't believe in a God (no one has ever given me reason to believe in Him). I also don't believe in dragons. But there are TONS of things I am unsure about. I'm also willing to admit that there might be a God. Maybe my disbelief is a fantasy. But I STILL disbelieve.
posted by grumblebee at 5:22 PM on March 22, 2006


Interesting.

About a month ago I asked God about maybe taking a Spin certification. I told Him if I did it I would like it to be free. At the time I had no knowledge that there would be any certification classes held locally any time soon.

Two weeks later a gal I know (who had no knowledge whatsoever of my prayer) called me and asked me whether, if money was no object, I would get certified. I said, sure.

Long story short, there's a class next month, and I was offered a scholarship.

There is a God. He is interested in the very details of my life. I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea.

Don't tell ME He doesn't exist.
posted by konolia at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea.

He sure lowered his standards after Joan of Arc.
The all-powerful Creator gives a shit about your piddling little aerobics class? Meanwhile, millions starve to death. Give me a fucking break.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:30 PM on March 22, 2006


You'll notice I said "Big Questions"--your examples aren't representative of that.

I really don't see the need for a distinction there. A bunch of people have (to put it bluntly) an imaginary friend. How is that different from kids believing in Santa Claus?

I guess what keeps me on the fence could be boiled down to "the supernatural", for lack of a better, all-inclusive term. It's all well and good to base your belief system on science, which I think I do, but I recognize the fact that our science isn't perfect, and we don't understand everything about the universe, but perhaps in my lifetime we'll have a better understanding. Maybe even a paradigm shift. So I'll stay on the fence.

My view is basically exactly the same as yours, and I don't really care if we figure out the big mysteries during my lifetime, if ever. However, I think that questioning whether there's a god or not is on the same level as questioning whether there's a tooth fairy, i.e. of extremely minimal importance, so I call myself an atheist instead of agnostic. To me, calling yourself "agnostic" puts not believing in god on some special pedestal that I don't think it deserves.
posted by LionIndex at 5:36 PM on March 22, 2006


Dammit, I wish I'd been early to this party. A long time ago I posted the following links, that could be interesting to those who wish to understand atheism:

A Blunt Atheist FAQ

An Introduction To Atheism

If you're truly interested in the subject, I strongly suggest you check these out! These are not just googled up randomness, they're the best descriptions of atheism that I've found on the net.
posted by I Love Tacos at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2006


517: Could time, space, and matter have always existed? In fact, our current understanding of physics has some laws about conservation. Things don't get created or destroyed, they merely change state. If you believe God has always existed, isn't it just as rational to suspect the physical world has always existed?
posted by knave at 5:47 PM CST on March 22 [!]


Exactly! We (human kind) look for a beginning and an end because that is all we know in the limited scope of our lives. We tend to fall into believing that everything was created because we create. But that is imposing our world view on the universe, and frankly, the universe doesn't care. Just because everything we see has a beginning and and end, doesn't mean that everything has a beginning and an end. (that doesn't mean it doesn't either)

It's all about framing, baby. "Atheist" has negative connotations and sounds harsh. "Intelligent Design" is just creationism in a sexier wrapper, after all. How can atheists pretty up that name and image?
posted by blefr at 4:18 PM CST on March 22 [!]


I always like heretic myself.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:55 PM on March 22, 2006


About a month ago I asked God about maybe taking a Spin certification. I told Him if I did it I would like it to be free. At the time I had no knowledge that there would be any certification classes held locally any time soon.

Two weeks later a gal I know (who had no knowledge whatsoever of my prayer) called me and asked me whether, if money was no object, I would get certified. I said, sure.

Long story short, there's a class next month, and I was offered a scholarship.

There is a God. He is interested in the very details of my life. I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea.


Is that a joke? Because it's awfully funny. If not, here's my own story.

As a child, I often prayed to god that he protect my family from harm, and help all of us make it through the day until that blessed time when we would be all reunited once again in the arms of the lord.

And then one day while in church, a man with a gun came in and blew my great-grandmother's head off. she fell into my lap, and her blood and brains stained my new suit pants. I was nine.

I guess god wasn't interested in my prayer. Perhaps I should have asked for some sort of certification support.
posted by bradth27 at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2006


The all-powerful Creator gives a shit about your piddling little aerobics class? Meanwhile, millions starve to death. Give me a fucking break.

I don't believe in Him, but if God exists, He's an alien being. So why should an alien being share common human priorities? I'd EXPECT God to move in mysterious ways.

My problem with the aerobics story is that it's pointless as an argument for God. Konolia, it was personally meaningful to you and I respect that -- but anything can be personally meaningful. For instance, I might have a dream that my wife is cheating on me. The dream might give me an overpowering feeling that I've been cuckolded. But it would be pretty unfair of me to then accuse my wife of being unfaithful. (It would also be uncaring of my wife to pooh-pooh my dream -- something needn't be real to invoke powerful feeling. The feeling themselves ARE real -- even if they may be unconnected to physical reality.)

So -- without meaning any condescension -- I submit that the aerobics story boils down to "I believe in God because I feel like He exists." Great, but hardly worth discussing, unless we're just sharing our feelings.

If, on the other hand, you're claiming the aerobics story is EVIDENCE, it's not. The test tube is WAY too dirty. Pray for 100 things to happen. Write them all down. If a large number of them happen, I will be impressed. Of course, you could claim that God only answers the prayers He wants to come true. But that further weakens the argument. If some prayers are answered and others aren't, that could just be coincidence/luck/chance.

This is why many of us trust science. What if a scientist said, "I know time travel exists, because I just blinked and it was next week"? That's just like saying, "I know time travel exists because I believe it exists." Rightly, the scientific community would ignore the statement until the time travel was repeated by many different experiments and experimenters.

I hope you believe me when I say I'm glad you experienced God -- I envy your experience. You believe it's based in some kind of reality. I don't. But we'd both agree that your experience is important (to you) -- real or not.
posted by grumblebee at 6:09 PM on March 22, 2006


I don't believe in Him, but if God exists, He's an alien being. So why should an alien being share common human priorities? I'd EXPECT God to move in mysterious ways.

In this case, His indifference to all but the pettiest of human affairs would make him unworthy of worship.

Also, holy shit, bradth27 - if true, that's awful and I'm deeply sorry you had to experience it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:12 PM on March 22, 2006


I don't give a fuck what some superstitious nincompoop thinks about my beliefs, just as I don't care if a monkey likes my shoes.

"I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea. "

See what I'm talking about? How do you even approach having a rational discussion with these people? You can smile and nod, but there's nobody home worth talking to.
posted by 2sheets at 6:17 PM on March 22, 2006


His indifference to all but the pettiest of human affairs would make him unworthy of worship.

(Just to play devil's advocate...) Not if he can see the Big Picture that we can't see. It sure SEEMS like stopping 9/11 would have been a better expenditure of divine energy then helping Konolia spin. But maybe we're confused because we can't see all the pieces of the puzzle.
posted by grumblebee at 6:20 PM on March 22, 2006


Just when I start to feel that my contempt for Christians is unwarranted, and that radical atheism shares many of the nastier traits of religious fundamentalism, along comes konolia. You, my dear, are like kryptonite to intelligence and integrity. Well played. I'm off to my pilates-for-Jesus class.
posted by bardic at 6:21 PM on March 22, 2006


That blunt atheist FAQ was pretty good, I Love Tacos. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Sparx at 6:25 PM on March 22, 2006


Well, I just was offered an unsolicited job interview from an unexpected quarter. It looks to be quite promising with, at a minimum, a few short-term contracts to get through the summer. My 18-year-old van got totaled, just as the "check engine" light started to blink, and the insurance company offered a generous settlement due to the .06 BAC of the other driver. A publisher just sent me great book on freelancing, gratis. Blessings from Apollo seem to be overflowing this month, (although I wish Hermes had not sent a tipsy driver my way.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:37 PM on March 22, 2006


science is not the opposite of faith. lack of faith (or skepticism) is the opposite of faith. lack of science is the opposite of science.
posted by signal at 6:42 PM on March 22, 2006


How do you even approach having a rational discussion with these people?

You could examine several angles, not limited to grumblebee's summary of the argument, and several alternative explanations of the connection between konolia's prayers and the outcome.

Implying that people who make the meaning konolia did out of her experience are only worthy of contempt, however, isn't really a good start. Either at engaging the topic rationally, or contributing to the kind of society most of us aspire to.
posted by weston at 6:43 PM on March 22, 2006


I agree, weston.

Sadly, one thing that many (not all) atheists and theists AGREE about is contempt for the subjective. Atheists tell theists that God is all in their heads -- as if something in one's head lacks profundity. Meanwhile, theists expend buckets of energy trying to prove that their feelings map onto reality.

No one ever convinces anyone else, so -- in the end -- these "God exists/no He doesn't" arguments are about as productive as arguments about Macs and PCs.

What's clear is that the religious experience is -- for many people -- a profound one (whether or not it maps onto anything external). And THAT is interesting, important and worthy of study. Smart theists and atheists should be interested in this -- and they should pool their energy to study it.

No result could possibly cast light on whether or not God exists. Say we find a "religious area" of the brain. That would prove NOTHING about God's status. Maybe such an area evolved via an accident of Natural Selection. Maybe God implanted it. But such a finding WOULD teach us volumes about ourselves.

I would also like to know why I've never had the God feeling -- not even slightly. Why do I lack what so many other people have? My wife's an atheist too, but she's experienced "God." She just doesn't believe that the feeling means that God exists. But I've never even had the feeling. Am I brain damaged? Am I a mutant?

The endless cats vs. dogs argument hinders us from forward momentum into the REALLY interesting questions.

(I'm not implying that "Does God exist?" is a boring question. I AM implying that we're not working to answer that question. Instead, most of us have already answered it to our satisfaction (or are forever "on the fence"). Now we're just hurling bricks at each other.)

I've also been in loooong arguments with both theists and atheists who, in the end, revealed that their real agenda was anger at their dads (moms, etc.). The fact that your dad forced you to go to church -- or told you you are a sinner because you're gay -- or whatever has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists. The fact that your older brother made you feel stupid because he caught you praying has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists.

The fact that Christians (Jews, Muslims) have killed in the name of faith has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists.

The fact that Christians (Jews, Muslims) have done good deeds has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists.

The fact that there are contradictions in the Bible has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists.

All of these topics are important. They are all worth discussing. But I wish we could push them aside for just a little while.
posted by grumblebee at 7:29 PM on March 22, 2006


I need a church or a meeting hall or wherever where I can sit around with other people who know fuck-all for sure, and we can sit there and scratch our heads for a half-hour a week, and then wobble home, knowing just as little as we did when we got there. I think we'd be the true minority.

A lot of Internet-based religions (or quasi-religions) have sprung up lately to meet this need:
Universist Movement
Yoism
The Church of Reality
posted by Creosote at 7:35 PM on March 22, 2006


Interesting.

About a month ago I asked God about maybe taking a Spin certification. I told Him if I did it I would like it to be free. At the time I had no knowledge that there would be any certification classes held locally any time soon.

Two weeks later a gal I know (who had no knowledge whatsoever of my prayer) called me and asked me whether, if money was no object, I would get certified. I said, sure.

Long story short, there's a class next month, and I was offered a scholarship.

There is a God. He is interested in the very details of my life. I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea.

Don't tell ME He doesn't exist.
posted by konolia at 5:25 PM PST on March 22 [!]
that's the funniest thing i've read in months.

konolia's tongue is in his (her?) cheek, dear readers.

laugh and move along...
posted by narwhal at 7:53 PM on March 22, 2006


THE NATURAL RELIGION
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."
~Albert Einstein
posted by ScrewDriver at 7:54 PM on March 22, 2006


"I’ve even heard tell that some of them don’t even believe in God."

This thread is lacking in mockery of that statement.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:01 PM on March 22, 2006


I'm an Apathist.
If there is, if there ain't, makes no difference to me.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:15 PM on March 22, 2006


or perhaps i made a terrible mistake.

my argument is such:
if (god) {
  stuff();
} else {
  stuff();
}
i defy anyone to prove that stuff(); occurs because or despite god.

consider these scenarios:

i pray for divineIntervention();

now. divineIntervention(); occurs or doesn't occur. if it does occur, god got my message and saw fit to grant my request. if it doesn't occur, god got my message (how could god not get my message?) and saw fit to deny my request.

how convenient!

suppose divineIntervention(); occurs when i didn't even ask!?

surely god doesn't need an invitation to interfere help me out. sometimes god knows better than me what i need and doesn't wait for me to come around.

thanks, god!

or maybe:

life happens. life is subject to an unfathomable amount of variable data. sometimes, life happens to happen just as we'd hoped. sometimes, life happens against our best wishes. to attribute a discriminating, conscious entity to the ins and outs of our daily lives is to (editorial: foolishly) disown the few aspects of our existence that are left to us.

your life (at best) is what you make of it. pray all you want that god will make things happen for you but be ready to make them happen for yourself in case he decides not to place success in your lap. maybe his will is that you live your own life?

i can imagine nothing worse than a control-freak god who would create a universe of splendor and mystery only to spend the rest of eternity micro-managing each and every one of his sentient creations' daily experiences.

what a waste.

i don't know that i'm an atheist or agnostic or anti-theist or anything else. i'll go with grumblebee and say instead: i don't know.

but i do know that no god of mine better intervene with my life.

but then, nick cave said it better than me...

minus the central wish of the song that the interventionist god does in fact intervene... oh well.
posted by narwhal at 8:18 PM on March 22, 2006


It's all about framing, baby. "Atheist" has negative connotations and sounds harsh. "Intelligent Design" is just creationism in a sexier wrapper, after all. How can atheists pretty up that name and image?

See, 'bright' is the wrong approach. No one likes stuck-ups. If people are already convinced atheists are evil, I say, go in that direction. Gays have redeemed the name 'queer', black people the word 'nigger', and Jews the word 'hebe'.

I want to be known as 'The Damned'.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:19 PM on March 22, 2006


There is a God. He is interested in the very details of my life. I have no idea at all why He wants me Spin certified, but apparently He likes the idea.

If I didn't know her posting history I would certainly assume this was sarcastic. As it is I'm just kind of flabbergasted. Do you really believe divine intervention is responsible for some moderately good luck? How do you explain times when things go horribly, tragically wrong? How can the criteria for the two be so radically different (either we can't understand and hence All is Good - whether or not you get the spin class is equally evident of god; or we can understand, and hence the balance of good to bad luck in the world provides the probability of the existence of god, which - well, you know how most people read the evidence on that one, since he's meant to be omnipotent).

Anyway - beliefs like that are why I continue to refer to myself in general as atheistic even though on a philosophical level I think I'm probably agnostic - but that is when "god" is the immanent order and integrity of the universe, the alpha & omega, Truth itself, the Absolute, yadda yadda. konolia's presentation of god is totally comparable to all those purple elephants & whatnot. (and to someone who asked about the difference between talking of 'god' vs just 'the first moment' or whatever, the idea is kind of like the unification of being - the idea that the cause was necessary, teleological, rational, and whole unto itself, rather than a random, absurd ripple that accidentally happened. 'the alpha & omega' gets at the idea that it is the unity above time, and the end is contained in the beginning, etc)

I think Hegel's theory that religion fucked itself when it responded to the enlightenment's attack is pretty spot on - a lot of religion lost touch with what it was originally about, which is the divine logos, not a two bit superhero who boosts certain members when he feels like it, when it defended itself against claims which were couched in biased terms.

Ignosticism, as mentioned above, is a good start. Define your terms; then we'll talk.
posted by mdn at 8:20 PM on March 22, 2006


A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.~ Carl Sagan
posted by ScrewDriver at 8:28 PM on March 22, 2006


What do athiests believe?
Should atheists evangelize?


I've come to this thread really late, haven't read it all, but I must answer these questions, as they are very important aspects of my Church. (self link) I encourage all right thinking Liberal Democrats to come hear the Good News.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:36 PM on March 22, 2006


fleetmouse: "Articles of faith are not immune to analysis and discussion."

Sure they are. That's the entire point of faith. Faith is devotion to a system of beliefs in the absence of - or in the face of contradictory - proof. Faith is unnecessary without doubt. And in many religious traditions, faith is, in itself, the ultimate proof of one's devotion to the divine. This is considered the primary reason God does not reveal Himself directly. It is the point of "free will." So that our choice to love and worship will be meaningful. The greater the act of faith, the greater the proof of devotion. Faith in defiance of all "established evidence" is an act of pure love.

"Does the AoF contradict itself? Does it contradict well established evidence? Does it have any evidence to back it up? Is it self-evident to all or is it apparent only to those who hold it? Is some flavor of solipsism its major defense?"

Have you ever converted a person of faith to atheism - or an atheist to faith - using such arguments? I haven't. When I was young and foolish I used to believe that if I could win every point in such discussions that I would have won the argument. What I discovered, instead, was that even when I could get a person of faith to concede every single point I made - which happened more often than you'd think - they thanked me for "testing their faith," and walked away even more determined to cling to their beliefs than when we started.

Which doesn't mean that I believe there is no value to be had in discussing religion and atheism. My point was that trying to use the tools of logic to argue points of faith is essentially nonsensical, as the underlying assumptions of the systems of belief are inherently - and deliberately - at odds.

"What's the alternative to reasoned discussion? Gunplay? Sullen silence? Interpretive dance?"

Apparently. (Coincidentally, I used to belong to a religious interpretive dance troup as a child. True story. Never heard of an interpretive spin class, before, though.)
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:39 PM on March 22, 2006


Why is the foam there? It had to come from somewhere.
posted by 517 at 6:45 PM EST on March 22 [!]


Are you parodying Trevor Goodchild, but without the innuendo?
posted by juiceCake at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2006


My point was that trying to use the tools of logic to argue points of faith is essentially nonsensical, as the underlying assumptions of the systems of belief are inherently - and deliberately - at odds.

That should not be the case. Modern theologians -- many of them, anyway -- are well-schooled in logic, as the church (well, the one I'm familiar with) realized some time ago that they needed more than Bible quotes to sway the increasingly skeptical masses. It is arguments about evidence which are at odds with arguments about faith, not logic. If you can't devise (or, ahem, divinely intuit) a system that is at least internally consistent, then I'm sorry, your theology doesn't stand up, faith or no. It's just that many people will settle for it regardless.
posted by dreamsign at 9:23 PM on March 22, 2006


Personally, I'm not at all interested in trying to convince others that they shouldn't believe.

I'm just interested in trying to create a space in which I can talk about my beliefs without others trying to tell me what I believe, whether it is yanking out a Merriam-Webster in some sort of a sophomoric attempt at authority (as with 517) or saying atheism is a belief in nothing (ala Smedleyman). It's really hard to get to talking beyond the superficial details when you have people who don't identify as atheist, who apparently have not even casually read any atheist writing over the 20th century, insisting on defining atheism for atheists.

In terms of trying to get discussion going between people of different philosophies or "faiths" it would be nice if we could get away from the god/not-god idea along with the accusations that one is arrogant for having faith or not having faith. But I suspect the well is too strongly poisoned.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2006


Bah. The atheists have it fucking easy. And most atheists, when pressed, show their Christian colors and give you some shit about life not being "totally meaningless" etc. Try being a real nihilist. Go on, try it.

Seriously. Try it.
posted by nixerman at 9:54 PM on March 22, 2006


Man, I'm one sick puppy. I have read every word of every comment in this thread.
I have to get a life.

And by the way. The wife has this shit all figured out.

She's a religionist of sorts. She believes she is going to some kind of heaven where there will be seventy two studs just waiting for her arrival there.
She says if it turns out she's wrong she'll never know anyway.
And if she is correct........there's that dreamy look again.
posted by notreally at 11:01 PM on March 22, 2006


What a great thread. The quantum foam digression way up there is particularly interesting; is god still just shorthand for whatever is past our current scientific understanding? People used to think evaporation was the work of hungry ghosts.

Calling the unknown 'god' is exactly what that first charlatan of a shaman wanted us to do, because he could then control us with the power of his bullshit, spinning it as he went. He didn't know anything divine. He just knew how to talk his way out of a fight and into a meal. How many thousands of years are we going to continue to put ourselves in thrall to shameless, manipulative liars? The gods of humans are not about the big questions. They're only about power. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Saying that god created the quantum foam or farted out the big bang is no different than assuming that it's hungry ghosts that drink up the puddles on a hot day. Someday, I hope that we'll be able to look back on this phase and laugh, provided that we don't kill ourselves first, arguing over our preferred flavor of bullshit.

In the meantime, 'We don't know yet' is the most reasonable answer to those big questions.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:02 PM on March 22, 2006


konolia's tongue is in his (her?) cheek, dear readers.

How can you tell?? 5 years of reading her comments, since she was bunnyfire, and I'm inclined to take that comment as quite earnest.
posted by zarah at 1:30 AM on March 23, 2006


There is a God. He is interested in the very details of my life.

self centered, huge ego, unintelligent idiot.

And Konolia needs his/her head checked if s/he isn't being sarcastic.
posted by twistedonion at 2:20 AM on March 23, 2006


Whatever happened to sheer mindless chaos? Why not think that this is all just an unimportant eyeblink eddy of space-time that just so happened to congeal into some beings that are able to--such as they can--contemplate themselves and their narrow perceptions of the universe?

Shit smashing into each other for billions of years, people. We may as well have turned out to be a sentient hiveminded molecules or methane clouds with feelings.

The fact that the dust that condensed into Earth just so happened to have the right chemical cocktail to start a chain reaction that to date has resulted in fleshy bags of organic molecules with grey mush in their heads doesn't mean God did it. It means that out of the utter incomprehensible vastness of space, this is how it turned out in this tiny little pocket.

Anything beyond that is just vanity. God damned hairless monkeys, besides.
posted by quite unimportant at 2:31 AM on March 23, 2006


ulotrichous writes "Calling the unknown 'god' is exactly what that first charlatan of a shaman wanted us to do, because he could then control us with the power of his bullshit, spinning it as he went. He didn't know anything divine. He just knew how to talk his way out of a fight and into a meal."

Any evidence for that?
posted by Bugbread at 3:09 AM on March 23, 2006


I guess god wasn't interested in my prayer.

Or perhaps, unlike Konolia, you just aren't one of the elect?

You remember the old hymn, right?

"The rich woman at her spin certification classes,
The poor kid with his grandmother's brains in his lap,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate."

All Things Bright and Beautiful indeed.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:13 AM on March 23, 2006


She believes she is going to some kind of heaven where there will be seventy two studs just waiting for her arrival there.

But they'll be seventy two virgin studs, and therefore all prone to premature ejaculation.

She'll be repeatedly brought to the verge of climax, only to be cruelly robbed of satisfaction every time -- which actually sounds remarkably close to my old parish priest's definition of hell.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:24 AM on March 23, 2006


earnest or not, it sounded more like new age magic thinking than christian... it wasn't just a coincidence, dude, the spirit of the universe listened to me! visualize it and it'll happen!

but there is a problem there... say, if I pray for a 100 m2 loft in the Latin Quarter in Paris for 100 euro a month instead of 4,000, and I believe it hard enough (yeah yeah I know there's people dying in Africa and all but that's not my fault!), and it doesn't come true, does that mean that:

A) God doesn't exist, or
B) God exists, but hates me?
C) God exists, doesn't really hate me, but still doesn't think I deserve to get what I pray for until I step inside a church again other than as a tourist and put a few coins in the collection bin?

I'm sticking with A purely for self-esteem reasons... but I'd also like to believe in a God that isn't playing estate agent or personal trainer. An indifferent God is much more respectable than one who's supposedly behind every little or big thing, good or bad, that happens to people out of luck or their own doing or both. If God exists, I think it/she/he would kind of resent taking responsibility for all sorts of crap humans do.
posted by funambulist at 3:26 AM on March 23, 2006


Just once, I wish someone would prove (or disprove) the existence of God on one of these damn threads so we can all be done with it.
posted by psmealey at 3:28 AM on March 23, 2006


Well I'd rather wish someone would prove the existance of a 100m2 flat in Paris for 100 euro a month... And no, I'm not sorry for being such a materialist.
posted by funambulist at 3:33 AM on March 23, 2006


or also 400, or 600... I'll willing to have more realistic expectations. Maybe that's the key? I bet a free computer class for senior citizens is easier for God to materialise than a free stay in a five star hotel. God exists, and is very stingy.
posted by funambulist at 3:40 AM on March 23, 2006


Apathetic agnosticism: I don't know, neither do you, but at least I don't care.
posted by spazzm at 4:32 AM on March 23, 2006


Isn't one real world enough?
posted by Zendogg at 5:29 AM on March 23, 2006


Florence: Have you ever converted a person of faith to atheism - or an atheist to faith - using such arguments? I haven't. When I was young and foolish I used to believe that if I could win every point in such discussions that I would have won the argument. What I discovered, instead, was that even when I could get a person of faith to concede every single point I made - which happened more often than you'd think - they thanked me for "testing their faith," and walked away even more determined to cling to their beliefs than when we started.

Every deconversion story I've ever read involves the author's faith breaking under the weight of evidence causing cognitive dissonance - the religious person is no longer able to suspend disbelief. You may not get results immediately - that may not even be your goal. It isn't mine. But fostering an environment in which it's acceptable and even commendable to call people on their bullshit is a Good Thing IMHO.

Which doesn't mean that I believe there is no value to be had in discussing religion and atheism. My point was that trying to use the tools of logic to argue points of faith is essentially nonsensical, as the underlying assumptions of the systems of belief are inherently - and deliberately - at odds.

At odds with logic? At odds with self-evident truths? At odds with well established facts and even at odds with itself? Yes, some systems of belief are like that. And if the holder of those beliefs has the capacity to recognize that, s/he also has the capacity, finally, to change.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:53 AM on March 23, 2006


Nixerman, why do you think that seeing value in life is exclusively Christian? I see value in my life without needing some big sky daddy to tell me my life has value.

also,

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
posted by fleetmouse at 6:56 AM on March 23, 2006


I'd ask the "Moral Majority" to give us a chance if I wasn't so broken up. I can barely see the monitor through my tears.
posted by Devils Slide at 8:36 AM on March 23, 2006


"...some sort of a sophomoric attempt at authority..."

Fuck you.

Stop whining that you can't have the argument you want and that because you can't, it is evidence that everyone else is ignorant. I am sure I am just as well read as you.
posted by 517 at 8:45 AM on March 23, 2006


The other day I was going through a fast food drive-thru and I thought to myself prayed, "God, wouldn't it be great if they just made a fresh piping hot batch of fries and gave me some of those instead of the stale old ones?". Well, when I got to the window the cashier (without ever having met me before or hearing my prayer) said, "It'll be a few minutes, we're waiting for the fries to be done."

Now I don't know why God wanted me to have fresh fries, but He did, and mine is not to question why. So don't tell me He doesn't exist and He doesn't care about the quality of the fast food I consume. Hallelujah!
posted by Devils Slide at 9:08 AM on March 23, 2006


I am sure I am just as well read as you.

517, it's blindingly obvious that you haven't read any Russell or Flew or even the basics of epistomology or you wouldn't be saying stupid shit like Think of god like time, space or matter. The fact that you exists requires all of them, they all had to come from somewhere. Even if they just magically appeared and somehow imagining that nonsensical claptrap supports any reasonable position.

No one with anything worthwhile to say insists on linking to dictionary definitions because, hey, you want to insist I'm an agnostic, if your only defense against atheism is to define it out of existence, and you want to define god to mean "whatever you want it to mean as long as you want it bad enough," then I pity you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:17 AM on March 23, 2006


I'm not happy with Humanism as a positive term (although I like the sentiment) - it's speciesist.

If we meet some extra-terrestrials, I'd prefer not to offend them. Or have the AIs sulking about how our philosophy is exclusive. (Really, even calling them AIs is potentially insulting.)

What I'm saying is: if we're rebranding, let's futureproof.
Personism? Not great. Awesomism?
Suggestions?
posted by wilberforce at 9:31 AM on March 23, 2006


fleetmouse: "deconversion.... may not even be your goal..."

It isn't. I try to respond when I see atheism broadly misrepresented, but I have no interest in evangelizing. If someone engages in an honest exchange of ideas I'm happy to lay out my views, whatever the subject; but not toward any end other than the conversation itself.

Personally, I am not convinced that religion is the problem that some atheists think it is. I think it is a manifestation of basic differences in cognitive processing and personality types. I think that those who use religion to gain and abuse power will find other means without it. I think that those who are the most desperate, obsessive, credulous, ignorant, intellectually lazy, or easily led would find plenty of causes, demagogues, and charlatans to take lives for if religion were to suddenly disappear tomorrow. I think those who are hyper-rational and/or anti-authoritarian will continue to buck the system whatever the system may be founded on. And I think everybody else - the majority of people, split somewhere between moderately conservative traditionalists and moderately skeptical early-adopters - will continue to struggle to discover and maintain a healthy balance between stagnation and runaway change.

I think the truly spiritual believers actually process information differently than the hyper-rationals do. Literally experiencing the world in a different light. It doesn’t make the spiritual crazy, any more than being rational necessarily makes one immoral. It makes us different on a fundamental level. And I do not think this difference has to be a bad thing. In fact, I think our differences may be important to the ultimate success of the group dynamic. But the resulting tension is both natural and unavoidable.

Angry atheists, tired of being marginalized, often point out the many evils perpetrated in the name of religion. Sometimes, just for the sake of argument, I counter with my own list of non-religious extremists and governments perpetrating the exact same crimes. For those with a cause, religion is a tool. Sometimes it is a sword, sometimes it is a ploughshare. Sometimes they will beat you with the ploughshare. Point is, ideology and extremism don’t require religion anymore than gravity does. It’s just a marriage of convenience. But even if marriage is ultimately destroyed, that won’t stop the fornicatin’.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:38 AM on March 23, 2006


I've read russell, all of him, to my knowledge. I think you missed the point of my argument if you think that was the direction I was going with it.

The definitions were for the people stating that I was confusing Atheism with anti-theism, not you and not part of my argument.
posted by 517 at 11:08 AM on March 23, 2006


Atheists and creationist follow the same rules. They both can't see how it works, so they decide it doesn't, and then state that it is self evident.
posted by 517 at 11:25 AM on March 23, 2006


Atheists and creationist follow the same rules. They both can't see how it works, so they decide it doesn't, and then state that it is self evident.

I've posted "what" a lot in this thread and I'm pretty tired of it but

what
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:34 AM on March 23, 2006


517, not your friend russell, but the philospher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.
posted by bardic at 11:41 AM on March 23, 2006


Crap. I just spent all morning boning up on Nipsey Russell.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:46 AM on March 23, 2006


517: Stop whining that you can't have the argument you want and that because you can't, it is evidence that everyone else is ignorant. I am sure I am just as well read as you.

Then certainly you would know that atheist thought is quite broad including Russell's "will to doubt," weak or epistemological atheism in addition to ontological arguments that god can't exist, semantic arguments that the concept of "god" is incoherent, and pragmatic arguments that provisionally accept the non-existence of god as the best hypothesis to the available evidence. You might also have actually read beyond Huxley's admission of lack of knowledge as core to agnosticism, to read his proposal for something that looks suspiciously like secular humanism as a result.

But instead, rather than engage with atheistic philosophy as a complex and rich domain, you insist on a "No True Atheist" fallacy based on a text developed more to pack the maximum number of definitions into the minimum number of pages that accuracy. (And please, if you are going to cite a dictionary, the Merriam-Webster?) Not to mention the fact that the definition you pound is a bit more inclusive than you think. (Hint, disbelieve does not mean, "believe in the absence of..")

Honestly, it's baffling to me because I've never seen this happen with other religious or philosophical groups.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2006


And please, if you are going to cite a dictionary, the Merriam-Webster?

Huh? What's wrong with M-W? It's the standard reference for virtually all American editors, and for good reasons: it's got a long history, is updated carefully and thoroughly, and has the very highest standards. If you're going to tell me the OED is better, I'll agree—with the proviso that it's better because it has more words and especially more word history, not because it's more accurate; it's certainly less convenient for everyday use and citation, and it's primarily UK. What exactly would you prefer he link to?
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on March 23, 2006


What exactly would you prefer he link to?

Nothing. If the crux of his argument is that those who espouse the weak atheist position aren't really atheists, it's clear he is grasping at straws.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:25 PM on March 23, 2006


IRFH: I think the truly spiritual believers actually process information differently than the hyper-rationals do. Literally experiencing the world in a different light. It doesn’t make the spiritual crazy, any more than being rational necessarily makes one immoral. It makes us different on a fundamental level. And I do not think this difference has to be a bad thing. In fact, I think our differences may be important to the ultimate success of the group dynamic. But the resulting tension is both natural and unavoidable.

I disagree. Not sure what you mean by truly spiritual believers - are they like true Scotsmen? My experience is that everyday religious people simply have no critical thinking skills and are much more likely to take all kinds of other rubbish seriously - conspiracy theories, UFO abductions, psychic powers, out of body experiences, crackpot economics and so on. They aren't innately different - they just lack a particular skill set.

There are of course vastly learned and sophisticated spiritual and / or religious types who DO have critical thinking skills, but their conception of the divine is so rarefied and subtle it's an eyelash away from naturalistic pantheism, which I consider to be perfectly compatible with atheism - though they might not agree. :-)
posted by fleetmouse at 1:18 PM on March 23, 2006


Optimus: I wasn't talking to you; I understand and largely agree with your point. I was talking to KirkJobSluder, who seems to think there's something wrong with M-W.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on March 23, 2006


Any dictionary that's good enough for languagehat is good enough for me.
posted by bshort at 1:46 PM on March 23, 2006


Hmmm...This whole ‘restraint’ thing isn’t getting me anywhere...

“Exactly. But still the question is - what do athiests believe?

And the response is ‘nothing’.

Otherwise an “athiest” is merely a nihilist.”
“And once again you prove that you have no clue about atheists or atheism.” -posted by bshort

Well, hmm....fuck you bshort. And shove your opinions up your ass.

...no, viscerally that’s great, but it’s not intellectually satisfying.
bshort - with that comment you prove that you have no clue how to read or digest and argument. That you are close minded and obviously hung up on member names not comments given your extreme paring down of my argument.

Which in fact was expressed more clearly by vraxoin here.

/but y’know, fuck me for the presumption to defend atheism - please enlighten me wise one -what exactly is it? Because apparently I shouldn’t take the word of anyone here - even though they’re atheists. Nor should I believe the reading or anything else. Apparently I shouldn’t think for myself either, so please tell me WTF atheism is and how exactly am I wrong in thinking that beyond the denial of the existance of God and the general agreement with empiricism - which we all have by default given we make use of the benefits from science - what exactly is the value set atheism espouses?

“I've done a fair amount of reading of religion, and I don't see any principle inherent in theism other than the whole "God" thing. So why is there this concept that atheism must mean some monolithic "nothing?” -posted by KirkJobSluder

I was asserting that that is the perception. In essence agreeing with you. I slightly disagree that athiesm has some inherent meaning beyond believing there is no God.

Thus my point - the question on the survey shouldn’t be focused on the term atheism but on another term with some ethos attached (such as secular humanism).
As you point out - all theists are bound by their God concept - but the way they express it is different. So the question on the survey should be more along the lines of either (for example)- do you trust theists or atheists more - or do you trust secular humanists or Hindus or Muslims or Baptists or Mennonites - etc. etc.

Apples to oranges is what I’m saying. - Or rather, macintosh, golden delicious, roma (etc.) to Oranges.


“Duh, you can't be "neither" Atheists are people without religion, literally "a-" theist. That's like being neither political nor apolitical.” -posted by delmoi

Daojia

It’s nontheistic. By design. By inherent meaning. So, yeah. I can.

/also - sorry for all the wikipedia links. I’m lazy lately.

Wtf is "eupraxsophism"? The internet seems to be rather short on this subject.
posted by borkingchikapa

More wiki

posted by Smedleyman at 2:05 PM on March 23, 2006


languagehat: Huh? What's wrong with M-W? It's the standard reference for virtually all American editors, and for good reasons: it's got a long history, is updated carefully and thoroughly, and has the very highest standards.

I've noted some cases where the brevity of the M-W leads to cases where it seems to be out of touch with common use. Has the first definition of bisexual been in common use in the last 20 years? Atheist appears to be out of touch with way the term is used and described by multiple authors and journals relating to the topic. I'll certainly reconsider my prejudice against it based on your recommendation. Although I must say the performance of editors in dealing with technical topics does not lend it a high recommendation.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:27 PM on March 23, 2006


fleetmouse: Yeah - "truly spiritual believers" was a vague phrase, meant to imply those who actually have "mystical" or "spiritual" experiences, and therefore hold very deep convictions based on "personal evidence," as opposed to those with beliefs based more on traditional acceptance of the authority of other believers, along with a lack of what you refer to as "critical thinking skills."

I understand your position, and certainly most atheists that I've read or spoken with would agree with you, but I have begun to suspect that the type of critical thinking you're referring to is more than just a skill. I have found that with a surprisingly large number of people in my admittedly anecdotal experience, trying to apply logic to their version of "understanding" is like trying to describe a rainbow to a blind man. And yes - these same people do seem "much more likely to take all kinds of other rubbish seriously - conspiracy theories, UFO abductions, psychic powers, out of body experiences, crackpot economics and so on."

Do you watch the Colbert Report? Steven Colbert does a great bit about how he doesn't trust facts, and that feelings are often more true. He thinks this is parody, but I suspect that it is literally true. That many people innately process exactly that way. I, however, am not a cognitive scientist, and can offer nothing but my guess. It's not even a hypothesis.

Thanks for the dialogue - gotta go to a meeting.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:29 PM on March 23, 2006


I am a lifelong atheist who was raised in a mildly theist household. For years I used to wonder what I was missing about religion. How did other people get comfort from it, believe it so completely, and the such. Then one day I thought maybe it wasn't me that was missing something but rather it was them. Maybe there was something missing from their lives that religion filled. I guess I'm still not sure.

I don't think it is possible to prove whether god exists or not, but my heart, my head, and my gut tell me there isn't one.
posted by obol at 2:43 PM on March 23, 2006


Heh heh, yeah, truthiness.

You have a point that it may be more than just a skill - the rest of the brain is older than the neocortex and it's plausible that there's some variation in the population regarding whether conscious decisions or more bellyfeeling modes of operation predominate. So yes, maybe badthinkers unbellyfeel JebusSpeak.

Always a pleasure, Flo. I'll see you in the next one.
posted by fleetmouse at 2:49 PM on March 23, 2006


Has the first definition of bisexual been in common use in the last 20 years?

OK, here we have a common misunderstanding, namely that the definitions are ranked in order of use. They're not; they're ranked in historical order. The first one is the oldest. Yes, this is stupid and misleading; it works for a historical dictionary like the OED but makes no sense for a dictionary for the common user, who expects (and rightly) that the first definition will tell him what the word "means." For this reason I was prejudiced against M-W for years, and it still pisses me off, but once I was forced to start interacting with the dictionary day in and day out (having gotten a job at a place that used it as the basic reference) I quickly came to appreciate its excellences. I still wish they'd change the ordering, but once you learn to allow for that, it's a great dictionary. (Incidentally, the New Oxford American Dictionary has a much better system; they start with a "core sense" and then give specialized definitions. Too bad the book is full of mistakes and inaccuracies. Maybe when it's got as long a history behind it as M-W, it will be an even better reference. After all, it's got the OED files behind it.)

Atheist appears to be out of touch with way the term is used and described by multiple authors and journals relating to the topic.


Come on now, you can't judge dictionaries by how they deal with hot-button words referring to things you personally have an intense involvement in. That's just silly. The dictionary isn't written for people who read journals of atheism, it's written for people who see the word atheist and think "What does that mean?" Saying it means 'one who believes that there is no deity' is perfectly sensible and accurate to the desired degree of accuracy. If they want to get into the finer points, they can subscribe to the Journal of American Atheism. Or take part in a MeFi debate.

Thanks for responding to my question; it was really bothering me not to know what you meant!
posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on March 23, 2006


One of the many false dichotomies in this thread: rationality/spirituality-religion.

Not all atheists are rationalists.
Not all rationalists are atheists.

On a related note, atheism is just scepticism writ large.
posted by signal at 4:54 PM on March 23, 2006


languagehat: Come on now, you can't judge dictionaries by how they deal with hot-button words referring to things you personally have an intense involvement in. That's just silly. The dictionary isn't written for people who read journals of atheism, it's written for people who see the word atheist and think "What does that mean?" Saying it means 'one who believes that there is no deity' is perfectly sensible and accurate to the desired degree of accuracy. If they want to get into the finer points, they can subscribe to the Journal of American Atheism. Or take part in a MeFi debate.

Well, I'll reconsider my prejudices against the M-W. But I do think that for the reasons you mention above, that wading into a debate about a philosophical position and claiming authority based on a single sentence from a dictionary is bad form. It is also something that I see primarily with atheists. I've never seen a person attempt to dismiss the wide varieties of Judaism or Buddhism armed with only a dictionary.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:36 PM on March 23, 2006


Eupraxophism it is! Now I can sleep soundly again. Thanks Smedleyman.
posted by wilberforce at 3:52 AM on March 24, 2006


Oops - that should probably just be eupraxophy. I can be a eupraxophist.

Eupraxophy eupraxophy eupraxophy.
Spellcheck suggests 'spermatophyte'.

posted by wilberforce at 3:56 AM on March 24, 2006


wading into a debate about a philosophical position and claiming authority based on a single sentence from a dictionary is bad form

Sure, I wasn't disagreeing with that.
posted by languagehat at 4:18 AM on March 24, 2006


517, it's blindingly obvious that you haven't read any Russell or Flew or even the basics of epistomology or you wouldn't be saying stupid shit like Think of god like time, space or matter...

Russell commented that he considered Liebnitz just about the deepest thinker in history, and the "stupid shit" you acuse 517 of supporting is not totally out of sync with Liebnitz. Russell wrote 'why I am not a christian', not 'why I reject any concept of god.'

Modern analytics may cut things off at epistemology, but metaphysics is making something of a comeback. Trying to comprehend what time/space/matter truly is can lead to concepts of god - and I already babbled on about this above, so I won't again, but I think you guys could relax and actually think about what 517's trying to get at rather than just claiming he's an idiot because he talks about god (how do you deal with aristotle, spinoza, kant, liebnitz, einstein, and all the other very rational thinkers who at least consider the non-personal form of god to be a possibility?)
posted by mdn at 5:38 AM on March 24, 2006


(how do you deal with aristotle, spinoza, kant, liebnitz, einstein, and all the other very rational thinkers who at least consider the non-personal form of god to be a possibility?)

I'm not really interested in what anyone else, no matter how famous, skilled, or intelligent, thinks about a god or gods unless they can substantiate their conclusions with evidence. As I've said before, there could be a god, but merely saying "what if time/matter/space are god, brah?" is going by a meaningless definition. If one wishes to convince me of a god's existence, first define the attributes of a god and then present evidence that such a being exists.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:50 AM on March 24, 2006


"If one wishes to convince me of a god's existence, first define the attributes of a god and then present evidence that such a being exists." - posted by Optimus Chyme

I've done that. No one buys it.

God = everything.

End.

Most folks get hung up on the 'meaning' part of that. I think that question is irrelevent. (Much like the question of "God" itself).

One is not going to understand everything (every molecular interaction, every thing of every kind in the past, going on now, in the future, regardless of distance, etc. etc.). So whatever you say about "God" is inherently not "God."

...I suppose in a sense that is a bit close to Logical Positivism, but I lean toward Quine in that the physical differs from the intangible only in degree, not kind.
We do have to recognize our own conceptual scheme when we refer to stuff in general.
Something with a scientific basis is there. It's fact. It's irreducible. Something more intangible - say pure fiction - can be useful as an idea or thought construct even though it is infinitely reducible. I don't think that's at odds with scientific realism really. There is recognition of that sort of realism in the difference between "hard" and "soft" sciences for example.

It appears that both sides create an entity separate from being ('God') and argue over it's existance. Which seems to ignore the conceptualization process.
Do leprechauns smoke pipes? Do they not?
Pointless argument. Recognize instead that leprechauns do exist albeit in a certain classification and the whole pipe smoking thing is moot where it concerns the classification.

In the case of "God" - it's similarly subjective. Once we define the features we can not argue against the entities existance - "God" does exist by the definition we're talking about him.

The argument must be one of classification - what kind of knowlege is knowlege of "God"?

From there it's easy. At least from my POV. There is not - and by most accepted definitions cannot be - full empirical knowlege of God.
You simply can't fully know an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being unless you are that being.

So even if we could put God in the empirical knowlege box - through say - knowlege his works (parting the red sea, what have you - but that is a whole other discussion of knowlege and validity) - we could not leave him there because his works are not the total of him (so perhaps it was some lesser entity - even an avitar of God that did it) - that plus he's (obsevably) constantly changing, etc.

So God must be - in terms of empirical knowlege - undefined. In addition, any evidence supporting empirical knowlege can be attributed more simply and directly to a more localized force.
E.g. evolution - If God is the force behind evolution - fine, but organic chemistry does a perfectly good job on it's own - so again, no dice when it comes to empirical knowlege.

So existance? Sure. Classification of knowlege? God can't be empirically known - there can be no evidence. For those intents, no one can be convinced of God's existance barring the equation of God with everything. Which is observable, but as I've said, devoid of inherent meaning because there can be no rejection or acception of what is - despite manifest evidence - is still a tautology.
No duh everything exists. The dilemma of divinity is a fallacy.

I guess to somewhat support your point Optimus Chyme, I'm arguing that "God" (although I don't believe in the term as used for the reasons above) - can exist on an empricial basis, but even if it does can't be proven on an empirical basis.
(We experiance everything, but we do not experiance EVERYTHING)

So we must use a priori knowledge using reason and without direct experiance to classify "God".
And since things in that class are infinitely reducible...

...it can become 'whether leprechauns smoke pipes'.

(Buddhism also warns against endless speculation on this stuff)
posted by Smedleyman at 8:34 AM on March 24, 2006


I've done that. No one buys it.

God = everything.

End.


If god = everything, it's meaningless to speak of it. Who gives a shit? Why call it god?

There is not - and by most accepted definitions cannot be - full empirical knowlege of God. You simply can't fully know an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being unless you are that being.

No human has full knowledge of another; that doesn't mean we're all solopsists.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:46 AM on March 24, 2006


but merely saying "what if time/matter/space are god, brah?" is going by a meaningless definition. If one wishes to convince me of a god's existence,

you could read the books by some of those listed above, if you're honestly interested. One sentence may not get the idea across, but a lot more than one sentence has been written...

first define the attributes of a god and then present evidence

although they don't often take such a positivist approach. (and modern analytic philosophers who do are, in my opinion, ridiculous, and falling right into the trap I mentioned above that Hegel described)

If god = everything, it's meaningless to speak of it. Who gives a shit? Why call it god?

it's meaningless to speak of everything? who gives a shit about everything?
The deistic concept of god is one in which the everything is whole, beyond space/time, rational, absolute (ie, the laws don't just magically become something else) etc. The skeptical version here is one that argues for a world which is absurd, accidental, randomly happened with no cause and could randomly uncausally disappear or be something totally different or just stop making any sense, etc. In a way it comes down to whether we think the world inherently makes sense or not... as I said above, I'm not sure where I stand on this one, but it's a much more interesting question than whether to take myths literally.
posted by mdn at 9:43 AM on March 24, 2006


you could read the books by some of those listed above, if you're honestly interested. One sentence may not get the idea across, but a lot more than one sentence has been written...

I've read enough philosophy, thanks. State your argument without resorting to "read someone else's argument."

it's meaningless to speak of everything? who gives a shit about everything?

It is meaningless when you say "God equals everything. End." I am not interested in a claim that is unverifiable and unfalsifiable. If Smedleyman wishes to redefine god so that it has no attributes other than "all matter and energy contained in the universe," there is little to say on the matter.

The skeptical version here is one that argues for a world which is absurd, accidental, randomly happened with no cause and could randomly uncausally disappear or be something totally different or just stop making any sense, etc.

In which way could the universe "be something totally different" or "just stop making any sense?" Although the odds that all particles would instantly decay into their consituent components is non-zero, it is so unlikely as to be impossible. Indeed, the laws of physics are such that it is highly unlikely that they would "just stop making any sense." A nonsensical world would be one in which a deity is capable of suspending the laws of physics on a whim; there is no evidence that we live in such a universe.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:55 AM on March 24, 2006


mdn: "The deistic concept of god is one in which the everything is whole, beyond space/time, rational, absolute (ie, the laws don't just magically become something else) etc. The skeptical version here is one that argues for a world which is absurd, accidental, randomly happened with no cause and could randomly uncausally disappear or be something totally different or just stop making any sense, etc."

I'm intrigued with the way you have flipped the attributes of deistic/non-theistic thought here. You describe deism as "rational," and claim the associated laws aren't "magical;" yet you claim that laws described by skepticism would allow for "absurd" "accidental" change "with no cause." Your earlier comments seem to indicate to me at least a fair understanding of the subject, so I wonder if you simply misspoke, here? Because without bothering to argue the merits of either supposition, I can't see how any argument can be made that deism isn't founded on magical thinking, while cause and effect is pretty much the foundation of skeptical thinking. Or are you making the argument by incredulity? Because right or wrong, science does not describe the universe as an accident, nor subject to random change. And right or wrong, the laws of a deistic universe are pretty much subject to change by definition. Can you elaborate?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2006


“If god = everything, it's meaningless to speak of it. Who gives a shit? Why call it god?”

You did read the part - pretty much the whole comment - where I explicated this?

I don’t know about the “why call it god” part. I personally don’t call anything God. I’m merely recognizing that the term exists and as such warrents some classification of knowlege - much as leprechauns or dragons do but also much as logic does.

“No human has full knowledge of another; that doesn't mean we're all solopsists.”

Again - classification of knowlege. Any human can be directly experianced materially. I can poke someone in the chest and experiance that they are there. I can measure and quantify their height, weight what have you. I can’t do that with any entity referred to as “god” or for that matter “dragon” or “leprechaun” (but for different reasons I’ve outlined).
Same goes for their thoughts - as I suspect you mean- which would be classified as a priori knowlege, not empirical knowlege.
And can be meaningful without any manifest substance in emprical terms.


“If Smedleyman wishes to redefine god so that it has no attributes other than "all matter and energy contained in the universe," there is little to say on the matter.”

Exactly.

/But I’m not redefining god. I’m taking the sum of what is generally said about god - omnipresence dictates, well, omnipresence.

We want to throw the anthropomorphic man in the clouds in there that’s fine, but that concept is nearly worthless, in my estimation, as knowlege of any kind.

“the laws of physics are such that it is highly unlikely that they would "just stop making any sense”

I believe he was speaking about meaning in human terms - which is what I was/am trying to point out (everyone looks at the pointer tho).
Defining attributes - by its nature - requires a conceptual schema - which is subject to preconceptions.

There is nothing to say about “god” because there is no conceptual schema we can use to define such a being. Any thing we say is nonsensical.

I’m not going to argue for my definition (all matter and energy, etc.) - that’s much like arguing about which conceptualization of a unicorn is the right one.

I will argue for the relevence to meaning in terms of human understanding - there are some complex and useful ideas linked to God-concepts. Those would be however a priori knowlege.

But as to whether these have an empirical meaning or whether we can base a physical* prediction on such a thing - no.

*in the ‘physics’ sense. Cause, effect, all that.

The classification of such knowlege, not any given definition itself - is what I’m talking about.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:38 AM on March 24, 2006


I will argue for the relevance to meaning in terms of human understanding - there are some complex and useful ideas linked to God-concepts. Those would be however a priori knowledge.

But as to whether these have an empirical meaning or whether we can base a physical* prediction on such a thing - no.


Algorithmic information theory indicates the existence of fundamental limits on how much we will ever be able to predict about the world and examinations of bifurcations point towards definable limits.

We moved from the impenetrability of an incomprehensible being's actions to the impenetrability of a universe characterized primarily by stochastic processes and randomness, a concept as irreducible and unappealable as God himself.

Either way, us conditioned beings are not equipped to handle even the relatively unconditioned.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:47 AM on March 24, 2006


“There is nothing to say about “god” because there is no conceptual schema we can use to define such a being. Any thing we say is nonsensical.”

To add - my earlier point that even if God does have an actual emprical existance, we cannot experiance it in the same way we could if say a unicorn had actual physical existance because - given all the ‘omni’- whatever’s generally heaped onto God signifying infinity there would be no possible way any finite being could apprehend all of that.

A similar idea comes up in relation to really really really big numbers.

A googleplex is a real number, but we will almost certainly never have any empirical experiance of it.
But it is also finite.
Which is where the hang up is - ‘God’ - is infinite. No chance of knowing that.
Even granting ‘God’ a finite definition - it’d still be really really really big. Same dilemma.

So yes - there is no point of talking of ‘God’ in empirical terms.

There is another classification of knowlege, but the debate there splits off into relevance and the attack from the athiest side seems to assert the “man in the clouds therefore meaningless” argument and the theists keep trying to upload God from inferential to empirical knowlege as though that would give it some reality it doesn’t have without it.

Pointless.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2006


Well, hmm....fuck you bshort. And shove your opinions up your ass.

Real nice.

...no, viscerally that’s great, but it’s not intellectually satisfying.
bshort - with that comment you prove that you have no clue how to read or digest and argument. That you are close minded and obviously hung up on member names not comments given your extreme paring down of my argument.


So because I point out that you're consistently wrong on atheism, therefore I'm somehow hung up on member names? Actually, I'm just observant and I've noticed that you do nothing but engage in wordplay and apply fuzzy thinking to discussions that are otherwise rational.

God = everything.

End.


That's truly stupid, and is exactly what I'm talking about. You can call your cat "God," but when people are talking about atheism they're not saying they don't believe you have a cat.

/But I’m not redefining god. I’m taking the sum of what is generally said about god - omnipresence dictates, well, omnipresence.

Uh, yeah you are. You're claiming that because omniprescence is a characteristic of God, then "God = everything" must be valid. Being everything and being everywhere are not the same thing.

I could waste all day going through the mountains of nonsense that seem to exude from your keyboard, but it's obviously not worth it.
posted by bshort at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2006


/sonofsamiam if buddha were a computer scientist he might have put it that way.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:55 AM on March 24, 2006


God = everything.

Also, the old saying, "A man who believes in everything will fall for anything." should really read "A man who believes in God will fall for anything." Makes more sense like that anyway.
posted by boaz at 11:04 AM on March 24, 2006


Again - classification of knowlege. Any human can be directly experianced materially. I can poke someone in the chest and experiance that they are there. I can measure and quantify their height, weight what have you. I can’t do that with any entity referred to as “god” or for that matter “dragon” or “leprechaun” (but for different reasons I’ve outlined).

You could if they existed. God in the Jewish tradition expressed himself in all sorts of ways - a booming voice, a burning bush; hell, some lucky guy got to see his back. But the God people talk about now is less than a ghost, less than a wisp. But if a god really existed, materialization would be a trivial task.

There is nothing to say about “god” because there is no conceptual schema we can use to define such a being. Any thing we say is nonsensical.


You would be the expert on the latter, it appears.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2006



“You can call your cat "God," but when people are talking about atheism they're not saying...”

#1 that was a whole other thread - proves my point that you’ve got a chip on your shoulder with me. #2 - when the hell did I say that? I’m arguing from generally accepted terms. A convenient term. A term I might add - I don’t use myself. #3 - Optimus Chyme posed an interesting point which I thought opened up to an illustration on epistomology. For purposes of discussion I used the term however I personally liked because that’s what the statement was open to. #4 - I also ceded the argument on definition as irrelevent and argued classification of nuance.


“I could waste all day going through the mountains of nonsense that seem to exude from your keyboard, but it's obviously not worth it.”

Then don’t fuck with me in the first place.
Also - real nice comprehension. I suspect “go fuck yourself” is about the longest sentence you can comprehend, given the degree to which you isolate my comments.

But at least have the balls to answer the questions I posited. If I’m always wrong I’ll go with your definitions from here on out.
Define atheism. What ethos or secular philosohy does atheism promote? What values does it seek to negate? Where are these defined? What is its ideology?

Otherwise you can call your cat "atheism" and we all have to go along with it.

Do you even know what epistemology is, bshort?
You do know I’m not a theist nor arguing that “god exists.” Right?
You do know the difference between example and assertion don’t you?

Lard brain Nazi.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2006


“You would be the expert on the latter, it appears.” -posted by Optimus Chyme

And you are a shithead who can’t tell the difference between someone arguing that God exists and someone arguing that only conceptually can God exist.

But fuck me for agreeing with you.

And people wonder why atheists aren’t trusted.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2006


Define atheism.

The lack of belief in a god or gods, or the active belief that no gods exist.

What ethos or secular philosohy does atheism promote?

None.

What values does it seek to negate?

None.

Where are these defined?

Nowhere.

What is its ideology?

That no gods exist, that a god cannot exist, or that insufficient evidence for their existence has been presented.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2006


And you are a shithead who can’t tell the difference between someone arguing that God exists and someone arguing that only conceptually can God exist.

Settle down. By stating that a god can only exist conceptually, you are guilty of the same thing as the most fundamentalist Christian: positing something with no evidence whatsoever. I make no claim as to whether a god is or is not possible, only that it has not been sufficiently proven. Further, the gods that you conceive of are arbitrary, meaningless creations. You take one aspect of potential gods - omnipresence - and apply that to the universe at large, concluding that god = everything.

But fuck me for agreeing with you.

And people wonder why atheists aren’t trusted.


Please. You act as if one cutting remark is the highest betrayal. I think you're a nice guy who suffers from a muddled philosophy. I've said worse.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2006


hmm, that little new warning note below the posting box is working sooo well

also, oh great undefined incorporeal omnipresent omnipotent all knowing but unknowable god that are everything and nothing, but only insofar as everything and nothing can be comprehended or not, including, but not limited to, sitting in an english garden waiting for the rain, thank you for non-perhaps-existing-depending-on-definitions and bringing people together in such harmony. snakes on a plane, man.
posted by funambulist at 11:34 AM on March 24, 2006


“That no gods exist, that a god cannot exist, or that insufficient evidence for their existence has been presented.”

I’d argue that as strictly speaking an ideology (organized collection of ideas) but yes, it is a comprehensive vision, so fair enough.

“By stating that a god can only exist conceptually, you are guilty of the same thing as the most fundamentalist Christian: positing something with no evidence whatsoever.”

Er...no. What I am apparently doing is expressing complex ideas poorly.

So - baby steps. (Not being condescending - I’m not that great a writer)

The concept ‘God = everything’ - is an example (which is indeed why it’s an arbitrary creation).

There are multiple definitions of God. I prefer to use one that reflects either the totality of being or infinity.

Other concepts, I think, are fairly trivial for purposes of argument.

The reason they are trivial is because they very easily slip into a simple classification.

That classification is - in epistemological terms: a priori knowlege.

There are two kinds of knowlege: a priori - that is knowlege derived from reason alone (unicorns, but also logic and some math).
And a posteriori - that is knowlege gained by direct experiance, also called empirical knowlege (bricks, bats, chemical reactions, etc).

You - and others generally, use the term “exist” to mean empirical knowlege.

“I make no claim as to whether a god is or is not possible, only that it has not been sufficiently proven.”

This is where we disagree. My argument is that it is not possible for God to “exist” in empirical terms. Or rather that even if God did exist in those terms, it is not possible to apprehend such an existance so it makes no difference.

In a similar sense, there are gigantic numbers that do exist (in the empirical sense) but we will never have any experiance of them - so I question how to classify them in terms of knowlege.

“God” I take a step further in that since we cannot directly experiance (by SOME definitions) God, it makes no difference whether he exists empirically or not.

I am in agreement that by many other definitions God cannot exist or is unproven.

This is where it gets hairy for me - I don’t think the question itself is valid.
I think any God concept is arbitrary because any God concept is by necessity a priori knowlege. Arguing there is a God is just as tautological as arguing there isn’t.

Any knowlege of God has to be a priori, it can’t come from without. In the examples folks see a burning bush and think “it’s God”.
Well, that may be - but God remains unprovable even if he does work miracles all the time.
The concept of God is inseparable from the assertion that God exists.
Anything that exists by those means can only be known through a priori knowlege - whether it’s a divine vision, burning bush, parting the red sea, whether the sun stops in the sky today and everyone sees it - we can experiance the effect of the sun stopping, but not the cause (God). (Indeed, often belief is part of the cause of the experience rather than the other way round)

But - no matter what the case, what definition of God you use - it’s a priori knowlege.
The question as to whether that is trivial knowlege or not is subject to debate and a huge one that I don’t want to get into. (Many are trivial, perhaps some aren’t - again, debatable.)

So, that said, the question becomes - is that knowlege meaningful?
The flip side is - is the empirical knowlege of everything meaningful?
Everything exists - obviously. So it’s the same question. But as God is too big for empirical knowlege - so is everything.

What I’m trying to bring into focus is that the process used to think about these things come with preconceptions.
That these preconceptions are not the things in themselves.
And that it is good practice to observe one’s own thought in this way.

And that practice, thinking about the meaning we ascribe to universals (God in some cases being one), I think is useful.
How we classify things - how we think of them as first principles, that kind of thing.

I think beginning from those terms - God as a recognized arbitrary concept or shorthand for another undefined term is much more useful.

I’d get rid of the term itself because it causes a lot of misunderstanding. But I doubt the chances of that any time soon.


/And my earlier argument - given your definition - lends strength to your position.

If atheism does not promote a set of values, it is incorrect to classify it in the same way one classifies religions which do.
The correct application would be to survey people as to whether they trust theists or atheists (and/or nontheists).

Not all atheists are secular humanists or whatnot - in the same way not all theists are baptists. But that’s what the survey was promoting.
And that is probably what forms the basis for mistrust - atheists don’t have a value set other than the ‘No God’ thing - which INCORRECTLY leads people to believe that atheists are valueless. When in fact athiests have a variety of often very different value sets.

“Please. You act as if one cutting remark is the highest betrayal.”

Frustration from not being understood. From my POV it looks like folks aren’t reading. But yeah, perhaps I’m not expressing it all that well.
...still, some folks seem to have gotten it. Styles differ I guess.

Little help maybe.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2006


soooo, the whole point all along was that "asking whether God exists is simply not meaningful", a silly waste of time better spent on taking care of real problems? (nice story about the arrow and the doctor)

well, thanks, *I* could have told you that and I haven't read any of those books on nontheism and I don't have a clue what epistemology means. man, philosophers sometimes have a way of making simple things sound complicated...

but seriously, it didn't sound at all like that's what you've been saying, Smedleyman. it sounded like you were talking about believing in a god that is not antropomorphic because it's simply everything that there is but can't be known so... abracadabra.

> Frustration from not being understood. From my POV it looks like folks aren’t reading.

well, from another POV it just may have looked like frustratingly woolly and disingenous nonsense, so, before getting all pissed off, try and imagine how it may come across. if you don't mind me saying so. (pre-emptively: I am a lard-brained nazi nonce and I can sue myself for free)
posted by funambulist at 2:14 PM on March 24, 2006


/also - I'm not trying to make the jump from a priori knowlege to empirical knowlege with the "God" concept. No transcendental argument for god's existance, no pantheism - I grant it smells a bit like the ontological argument, but I stop at god existing in human understanding. I think it's worth discussion, but in the same way art or other such things are discussed.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:23 PM on March 24, 2006


"it sounded like you were talking about believing in a god that is not antropomorphic because it's simply everything that there is but can't be known so... abracadabra."

Most folks get hung up on the 'meaning' part of that. I think that question is irrelevant. (Much like the question of "God" itself). - me

Yeah, that's completely unclear, innit?

God can't be empirically known - there can be no evidence. For those intents, no one can be convinced of God's existence barring the equation of God with everything. Which is observable, but as I've said, devoid of inherent meaning because there can be no rejection or acception of what is - despite manifest evidence - is still a tautology.

Too long?

So yes - there is no point of talking of ‘God’ in empirical terms.

Too short perhaps?


As for that "abracadabra" part - I don't myself have a deity concept - but I see it as a placeholder for a bundle of ideas. Arguable whether its useful, but some tell me it is.

I also like pointing out that there are myriad preconceptions attached to the term.

Generally that pisses everyone off anyway. So whether I execute it well or poorly - most people don't think about how they think about things anyway. They're right and any wiggle room I point out - even if it's pure conjecture, just thinking - bandying about a priori knowledge - the way they do/think about things is always the correct way.

I'm no philosopher, but I am well read. And I do think about how I go about thinking about things.

But because people don't understand it - it must be nonsense.
You said yourself funambulist you haven't read any of those books on nontheism and don't have a clue what epistemology means. - So thats probably at least in part why it sounded like it sounded. (I've already admitted to my poor expression).

I figure there are others in the same boat.
But suddenly folks are qualified to tell me that even though I've read up on it and I'm aware of a variety of arguments on this topic and perhaps they haven't- it's nonsense?

Hey, I admit I'm not joe author or joe philosopher. But wiki something before attempting to refute it maybe?

"pre-emptively: I am a lard-brained nazi nonce..."

I have no intention of personally insulting you. My dispute with bshort is a hold over from another thread. An issue that I personally would not have raised and I certainly wouldn't have made personal if he had not done so.

In addition - I appreciate your joking tone, but I do have fair reading skills and I know when I'm being insulted. bshort insulted me out of hand and without regard to what I was saying (the above point on 'nonsense').

Insulting Optimus Chyme was a mistake out of sheer frustration (again - the point on 'nonsense'). And misreading his intention (the ontological argument is stupid - it's insulting that I'd reiterate it - but he didn't mean it that way, so, cool). If he want's me to apologize again,(explicitly, not in tone) I'd be happy to do so.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:46 PM on March 24, 2006


Most folks get hung up on the 'meaning' part of that. I think that question is irrelevant. (Much like the question of "God" itself). - me

Yeah, that's completely unclear, innit?


hmm, yeah, a little, when combined with all that stuff about "'God' does exist by the definition we're talking about him" and talking about "a priori knowledge" of God (rather than say imagination, projection, or, from the point of view of believers, faith) and "you simply can't fully know an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being unless you are that being" and so on, and your references to atheism.

But because people don't understand it - it must be nonsense.
You said yourself funambulist you haven't read any of those books on nontheism and don't have a clue what epistemology means. - So thats probably at least in part why it sounded like it sounded. (I've already admitted to my poor expression).


probably, yeah. the link you posted was a lot clearer, that's all. (I'd always thought that kind of position was identical to agnosticism)

now I'm really sorry to have barged in and dragged down the quality of discourse so much. I bring along my ignorance and my own preconceptions but I have no bone in this fight over philosophical definitions, it's not mine. I'm just a materialist girl in a materialist world, and to me the question of religion and religious faith is essentially a political and social one, ie. which consequences the practice of religion has on individual people's lives and on society at large. so, that's my bias, I have developed allergic reactions to discussions that isolate the issue exclusively in the realm of abstractions especially when they get more and more abstract and vague. I slept through the philosophy classes, so my recollections of what epistemology means and which philosophers it was that said what are as vague as drug-induced dreams, I just don't think anything on that level of discourse has any bearing on how atheists are perceived in a given society where religion has a big role in public discourse, because that is entirely a very pragmatic political matter, in my view, rather than one of theoretical definitions.
posted by funambulist at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm intrigued with the way you have flipped the attributes of deistic/non-theistic thought here. You describe deism as "rational," and claim the associated laws aren't "magical;" yet you claim that laws described by skepticism would allow for "absurd" "accidental" change "with no cause." ... Can you elaborate?

well, I was purposefully trying to get across the theory 517 was talking about earlier, the suggestion that it's just as or even more rational to have a god concept than not. When I first began philosophy I was surprised so many great thinkers talked about god, and I sort of pushed it aside as just 'their mistakes'. But after really getting into it, I can see why.

By deism I'm thinking of the aristotelian or spinozistic concept of the universe, which is the one hume specifically questioned. The only 'miracle' of deism is that the Universe Is, but how it behaves is strictly by being-what-it-is, which is to say, the god concept is the wholeness of Being through time and space - infinity and eternity. It is not going change - it is changeless, eternal, absolute - god is described by these terms everywhere. The idea of deism is not that there's this guy with a magic wand; it's that the entirety of being is One and Is what it Is (I am that I am). So magic does not fit into this situation.

what hume asked is how we can know that things'll be the same tomorrow - maybe instead of falling to the floor, tomorrow when I let go of my keys they'll hover in the air. We can respond by saying, well sure, if the laws of nature changed, we'd just have to inspect scientifically what happened so that they changed - eventually we'd make sense of it. But this is relying on the truth of cause & effect, and hume suggests we have no proof at all that cause and effect are True - only that it's worked that way in the past (the theory of induction). The essential point here is that 'cause & effect' implies a deeper relationship betweeen the objects that we don't always acknowledge - basically a unity between them; they're moments in a world but the world must have a oneness (the absolute Substance, as Spinoza put it). So to hume, if you're going for cause and effect, you are essentially believing in some kind of god, this unified absolute - if you are truly skeptical, you will wonder whether the laws of nature are stable or illusory. In a truly no-god-concept world, anything at all is possible, considering that the entire universe just randomly popped into existence from nothing.

The god-concept people try to say that the universe is a changeless rational whole. The no-god-concept people often just ignore what "the universe" is, or where it came from, as some vague mysteries that it's not worth bothering about, but they still rely on the absolute and unchangeable unity that is the universal laws. But if the universe is prone to such randomnesses as existing or not existing on a whim, as it were, why be sure the way it works is reliable? So a real skeptic takes Hume's approach here - you truly cannot know that even the basics of science will be true tomorrow. Which is fine on a day to day basis - who needs certainty - but to try to understand what it would mean if the universe is a random accident vs. a unified substance is interesting.

It's true that these ideas may reduce god to something some religious folks would not be satisfied with, but on the other hand, I think it's worthwhile for atheists in general not to get stuck on invisible pink unicorns, but to understand the metaphysical mysteries that god originally stood for. it's not about the day to day world. God is not just another "thing" like a chair or a rock or your slippers. When they say god is everything, it doesn't mean in the sense of, god is a big pile of stuff. It means god is that which articulates matter/being so that it expresses particular forms, and by some accounts, god must also be that matter (because some think the only way to articulate it is to be it-)

Anyway, not trying to change minds (as I said I'm atheistic by common standards and still in the process of working out my larger metaphysical picture), but I think it's worth honestly attempting to understand alternate concepts rather than just presuming 'god is for dumb people'...
posted by mdn at 8:52 PM on March 24, 2006 [3 favorites]


MeTa
posted by bshort at 10:00 PM on March 24, 2006


Fantastic post, mdn. Flagged as such.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2006


yeah, very good, I flagged it too. also, it provides us with a new tagline:

MetaFilter: I'm thinking of the aristotelian or spinozistic concept of the universe
posted by matteo at 7:02 AM on March 25, 2006


Our (atheists) lack of belief in a supreme being is of no danger to ANYONE in ANY capacity.

Sure. But we show up the superstitious for the needy, irrational dimwits they are. That tends to bug 'em.
posted by Decani at 7:10 AM on March 25, 2006


Only God could have made a thread as long and boring as this one.

posted by jfuller at 7:59 AM on March 25, 2006


Hey guys - I'm here! What'd I miss?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:01 AM on March 25, 2006


Baby_Balrog : "Hey guys - I'm here! What'd I miss?"

The issue of whether there was a god or not was, for the first time ever, proven on the internet. Unfortunately, JRun crashed, and the thread was recovered from Matt's cache, which didn't have the sublime proof.
posted by Bugbread at 6:57 PM on March 25, 2006


mdn: nice post. I think your apparent assumption that there's a necessary opposition between "random accident vs. a unified substance" could use examination, though.

ISTM that there is a use for considering the attachment of the label "God" to the same referent as the label "everything". Doing so allows at least some insight into what actually goes on inside people's heads when they have what's commonly called a religious experience.

Effects generally associated with religious experiences are: feeling overwhelmed, feeling humbled, total perspective shift, feelings that the experience itself is of vast significance, perception of unity, perception of connectedness, temporary loss of personal identity, feeling awed, feeling part of something unimaginably huge.

These experiences are generally very important to people who have had them (self certainly no exception) and they lead to a sense of finally "getting" what all those prophets have been banging on about for all those years.

They also leave a person with a very strong sense that the experience was about something, and it's common for people to label whatever that is "God".

People who have had religious experiences are generally driven to find, afterward, some way to make sense of what's happened to them. Some do this by cherrypicking the beliefs and precepts that still work for them from the religious tradition they grew up in, while sweeping what now seems like the non-essentials under the rug.

Others self-identify as Deists, having made the choice to sanctify the Universe.

Still others self-identify as atheists, having instead made the choice to cease labelling as "God" anything less than the awesome totality they've caught a glimpse of, which they feel comfortable continuing to think of in the abstract as "universe" or even "everything", though the latter term has connotations of disconnectedness that make it possibly less suitable.*

There are also reactions - ranging anywhere from amused tolerance to genuine sympathy to condescension to batshitinsane desire-to-kill - toward people who (a) apparently have not themselves experienced any such thing and (b) misuse the words of those who have in support of some or other inadequate concept labelled "God."

For the huge number of people who have never had a direct religious experience, talk about God is talk about some kind of learned abstraction, and leads to endless disputation about whose abstraction is Better. Much of the discussion I've seen on atheism vs. [insert other religious position here] has this flavour**.

Also, the mere fact of having had a religious experience provides no immunity against the human tendency to get into pissing contests about whose experience was More Genuine.

It seems to me that most of the trouble caused by religion comes down to one of those causes.

Now to the point at hand. From the linked article:
Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public.
Makes perfect sense to me. We're looking at a shadowy outgroup with mysterious beliefs.

God only knows what those people are up to. Ain't nobody telling me what they believe in. Gotta believe in something, dontcha? If they're not with me, they must be against me. And I don't even know who they ARE!

Widespread use of the "everybody's an atheist - I just believe in one less god than you do" bumper sticker might help make the "atheist" label less mysterious. Of course, this requires that people don't mind themselves and their cars getting beaten on by redneck dimwits.

*FWIW, I'm one of those - though I can fully understand where the Deists are coming from. It certainly seems to me that to attach the label "God" to anything less than the totality of that which is, that which was and that which will be, is an act of disrespect; I think that's smedleyman's point, too.

**FWIW, it seems to me that the default assumption in such discussions is quite properly atheism (in the weaker, lack-of-belief sense), and that the standard atheist demand for evidence in support of the other's belief is perfectly reasonable; if you can't give me any kind of coherent account of the object you refer to, much less point me to evidence that you're actually referring to something real, I'm entitled to continue assuming you're just making shit up.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on March 26, 2006


that geeky kid in high school who can't get a date so he quotes Nietzsche to everyone and tries to act superior to all that

so how geeky does that make the kid who goes around quoting "'Nietzche is Dead' - God"?
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on March 26, 2006


mdn: Great comment, thanks so much for the response. I can't say that I find that a personally compelling argument, but I do think you did a very good job in stating the position clearly, and I truly appreciate the effort. I wish I had the time to respond in kind, but I at least wanted to thank you while the thread was still at least somewhat active. Time permitting, if this thing doesn't die completely, I'll try to follow up with a worthy response.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:47 AM on March 27, 2006


(ok so there's still someone around...)

flabdablet, good points, but I have only one sort-of-objection -- and sorry if what I'm about to say is all very obvious and banal, still I think can be often overlooked, or implied but not really taken into account, but it needs to be kept in mind: most people in the world who have a religion "got" that religion not out of any religious experience moment such as you describe, not even out of their own choice, but because they simply are brought up in it, from childhood (my case). It's not willing adult converts making the big numbers.

For the vast majority of people who practice a religion, all over the world, it is simply part and parcel of their heritage. Those who keep practicing it (not my case, though I still sometimes feel some sort of formal reverence for the family traditions... but it's more emotional attachment than anything else), well, there's no way of knowing how many really had that kind of experiences.

On the other hand, all sorts of people can have them, but not related to any idea of God/actual religion, unless they already have that framework to relate it to *and* still want/need to relate that experience to it. It may be a moment of contemplation/epiphany happening in very trivial circumstances, or very special circumstances, solitary or communal, a journey somewhere, the big outdoors, a music show, a sports feat, a personal encounter, drugs, anything.


Of course, a religious believer who has had 'direct religious experience' moments will say the above are completely different situations, they're mundane, they're secular, they're material, they're "induced" while theirs is not (no way! theirs is genuine! the only real thing! indeed, the risk of a pissing contest can be exponentially higher the more a God is brought into it, nevermind more than one different God - even though I bet Pink Floyd fans pretty much argue the same way about which show was THE real Pink Floyd mystical experience), but for the non-religious person experiencing the whole overwhelming feeling of vast significance and awe and connectedness etc. there is no difference, it'll feel exactly the same way, only it's interpreted differently. Without the need or desire to add any extra 'properly religious' significance to it and ascribe it to some divine being or trascendental dimension. The 'trascendence' is already there, in the feeling.

I guess for the actual (?) mystics who devote their entire life to religious contemplation the experience may be truly significantly different (different in kind, or only because it's sustained through such long periods of time and practiced repeatedly? who knows?), but they're a tiny minority in any religion anyway.

At least that's what I think, having been on both sides of the fence, so to speak.

So... I just don't see the mutual incomprehension between religious people and atheists as a matter of lack or presence of experiences of that kind. I see it as a social issue. A communication issue. A political issue. A representation issue.

It's obvious to me how someone who proudly and happily keeps their religious heritage going may have more than a little mistrust for people with no such "roots". Especially if they haven't had much in the way of real open cultural exchange outside that heritage, and especially if their religion teaches them godlessness is the greatest sin, punishable with hell (if not hell PLUS a death sentence right now).
posted by funambulist at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2006


btw, that wasn't really an objection, as the substance is pretty much in agreement, only a few rambling thoughts I had while reading...

Basically, this:

> God only knows what those people are up to. Ain't nobody telling me what they believe in. Gotta believe in something, dontcha? If they're not with me, they must be against me. And I don't even know who they ARE!

is absolutely true but I think it's much more a matter of religion as a tradition and that concept of heritage (tied to morality codes, cultural values, and even nationalistic ones, sometimes, as in this case) than to actual differences in directly experiencing a "religious" feeling
posted by funambulist at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2006


(This is definitely a topic of interest to me, but I just got my official notice about my phd oral exams next week, and now that I know who's on my committee I'm twice as scared, so must get back to that and hence can't spend long on this...)

to jfuller, heh.
to flabdablet, believe me, I don't assume necessary opposition - I'm generally not inclined to rigid dichotomies, and tend toward the 'synthesis' viewpoint, which is to say, perhaps the difference between an atheist and deist, once they really work out their metaphysical ground, is essentially semantic. On the other hand, there may be some important ontological distinctions - for one thing, there's the issue of temporality. If time is inherently unified with being and not outside of it or somehow running through it, then all that is, was, or will be is unchangable - it may not be known by a consciousness but it is theoretically already formed and absolute in a sense. One reason Sartre was atheistic was because he was so committed to the complete freedom of the human consciousness. The atheistic point of view here has important repercussions for what time is, I think, and determining its relationship to matter is an important part of constructing a unified-but-unfinished understanding of the universe, which is I think what a truly atheistic view needs to account for (& I'm certainly open to/trying to see what that would be)

Re: 'religious experience' vs. inherited beliefs, I don't know that the two need to be so diametrically split; everyone has had those moments of awe just looking at the stars or out over the sea or whatever, and if you're brought with religion, you attribute those to "god". The point isn't that everything people say about god is worthwhile, but merely that the initial idea of god wasn't merely about fear and power, but very real questions and comprehensions. There are social constructs of what reality consists of in any culture, and very few of us have the time or interest to actually look at them closely. Many religions were purposefully mythical, which is to say, they provided knowledge not as scientific but as meaningful, and they were not intended to be taken literally, because the society that formed them was not attempting to describe facts but to convey meaning. The scientific approach takes the opposite line, believing that the description of facts is the only part of any 'use' and the conveyance of meaning is nonsense. Too many religions have been distorted by this, and from within a largely culturally scientific-minded society, now sort of attempt to use their religions to describe facts, because that's the currency now. While I'm a curious and scientifically minded person in general, I think science sometimes thinks itself a little more sure of itself than it really has a right to be (yes, we know we could be wrong, but we often don't act as if we know we could be wrong)

...ok. I really have to go - I realize I could ramble on about this for hours, and I will probably still somewhat misrepresent myself. I guess all I was really going for is, this question is not necessarily as simple as we might think at first glance :).
posted by mdn at 10:03 AM on March 28, 2006


mdn, I think your point about religious texts existing to communicate meaning rather than facts is right, if you take the meaning of "meaning" to be somewhere near the meaning of "feeling" or "experience". Religious texts, ISTM, are an attempt to set up the conditions for tipping people who end up on the edge of a religious experience over that edge, so that the writer of the texts gets to share the experience around.

I pretty much agree with your points about time, too. Time is the single weirdest thing it's possible to think about. Grokking time is something I really wish I could do, and I strongly suspect I'm not alone in that. I'm amazed how often those who do claim to understand it fail to notice their own begged questions and the extent to which the structure of language makes those beggings almost impossible to avoid.

I think change is much easier to draw supportable conclusions about than time. ISTM that change is a local thing; the whole idea of change involves comparison of something with something else. When dealing with the totality, there is no "something else"; hence, no change.

It further STM that this view is indeed compatible with notions of choice and freedom. Small example: I chose to post these particular words and not something else.

Arguments about whether or not my choice was genuine generally boil down to differing interpretations of the meaning of the word "I"; to what extent am I conceptually separable from my circumstances?

Arguments about whether I might possibly have chosen otherwise are, it seems to me, moot. In the end, I didn't; therefore, I could not have. Could-haves and probabilities are nothing more than useful ways to deal with missing or unavailable information and/or information processing power; I were to find myself in similar circumstances again, I would in no way be somehow forced to post the same thing.

And I agree with you that this question is not as simple as it seems; but then, what question ever is?

Cheers! And good luck with the orals.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 PM on March 28, 2006


Oh yeah: Sartre was an ugly little poseur who smoked far too many bad cigarettes.
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 PM on March 28, 2006


Certifiably spun indeed.
posted by homunculus at 7:44 PM on April 15, 2006


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