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David Eagleman's afterlife - a possibilist position
April 10, 2010 9:16 AM   Subscribe

So we're stuck in a position where we know too little to commit to atheism and we know too much to commit to religion. That put me somewhere in the middle. I don't prefer the term agnostic because agnosticism is often used as a weak term that means I'm not sure if the guy with the beard on the cloud exists or doesn't exist. So I call myself a possibilian.

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with particular interests in time perception, synesthesia and neurolaw. He also writes fiction.

His book Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives is concerned with "... what happens when the Am becomes Amn't, the zero-sum game called death."

In the afterlife you receive a clear answer about our purpose on the Earth: our mission is to collect data. We have been seeded on this planet as sophisticated mobile cameras. We are equipped with advanced lenses that produce high resolution visual images, calculating shape and depth from wavelengths of light.
posted by philip-random (229 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Innn
The Afterlife!
You'll be in for some serious strife!
Now you make the scene all day
But tomorrow there'll be hell to pay!
posted by clarknova at 9:19 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fortunately, atheism has never been something you needed to commit yourself to: the 'archetypical' (in a very broad sense) atheist is a rationalist, a scientist, a skeptic; someone pursuing discovery.

I am an atheist in that I don't believe in any god that is differentiable from 'no god'. But I'm an agnostic in that I concede that systems can exist that could, technically, be called gods or god-like. But I'm always looking for evidence that my assumptions are wrong; have I found any? Not yet.
posted by LSK at 9:21 AM on April 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


Possibilian is a horrible word. I'd go back to agnostic, TBH.
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


God is possible in the same sense that Russell's teapot is possible. The reasonable assumption is that there's no teapot and no god.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2010 [22 favorites]


To echo LSK, atheism really just means 'godless'. If you know too much to commit to religion, you're an atheist. That doesn't mean that you would reject the existence of a god if there were proof later on; it just means you don't recognize the existence of a god now.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:26 AM on April 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


You don't "commit" to atheism. Atheism is the clean slate that every infant starts with. It is completely passive.

Theism means adding to this a belief in a god. This active behaviour requires the commitment.
posted by CaseyB at 9:30 AM on April 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


we know too little to commit to atheism

Lack of evidence for god is atheism.
posted by DU at 9:34 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Paying attention to the lack of evidence for god is atheism.
posted by brundlefly at 9:37 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find it interesting that the tone of many of the posts in this thread is very close to the tone adopted by white Amercians that think being ethnic is something that happens to other people.
posted by oddman at 9:38 AM on April 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


Yeah, but in modern times the word Atheism is described as an unbelief in gods.

I'm like LSK I do not believe any religion known by humans is possible, studying anthropology kind of shows you the ghost in the machine, but at the same time I find it's impossible to state what will happen when you die.

Atheists in a modern sense for the most part believe that there is only oblivion after death when that is just as improvable as any other state.

While I concede it's the most probable there is just so much we don't know about our universe, so I find it a leap of faith to believe in that too.

Maybe I'm just too apathetic about the entire thing though.
posted by Allan Gordon at 9:38 AM on April 10, 2010


As an agnostic, I'm rather annoyed that this person considers it to be a weak term. I've given it a good deal of thought, and struggled with it for most of my adult life, and agnosticism is something I arrived at after long contemplatation. To me, and what I've thought, atheism is a belief in the infinite, the unknowable, the idea that what is, is, and has always been, and will always be. A belief in the infinite, if you will, an concept that itself is nearly unknowable, and almost impossible to grasp. I choose to accept that I can't know, that I can't understand where this comese from, and what purpose it serves. This was not an easy decision, but it's one of the few decisions I've made in my life that I stand by. I don't know. I can't know. Anyone who claims that they know, or can know, I right here and now say that they have faith in their position, atheist or theist, and to that, I say at least the theist is honest to themselves.

Also, I'm pretty drunk.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:40 AM on April 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


Thanks for these links; I now have my reading for the weekend.

I've found myself tiring of the whole atheism/agnosticism semantics argument lately. The best I can do is, "Okay, look - you see those people over there with the books and the icons and the funny hats? I think they're mistaken at best and con men at worst. Beyond that, I don't know and I don't think it's possible for you to know, either."

Seems to be working so far, but I'm always on the lookout for a better way.
posted by Pragmatica at 9:40 AM on April 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


Allan Gordon: I can cite a simple mechanism compatible with current scientific findings by which death would be oblivion. No other explanation of death can claim a mechanism compatible with currently understood biology.
posted by idiopath at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lack of evidence for god is atheism.

Speaking as a former atheist, current agnostic (I agree with Art W that "possibilian" is a pretty dumb word) I tend to think of atheism as the belief that there is a lack of evidence for God (or gods). Of course, while I was an atheist, I didn't see it as such, then let's just say I stumbled upon evidence ... of something-or-other.

I'm still confused.
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's certainly the idea among some atheists that agnosticism is a cowardly, wishy-washy way to avoid a hard truth. I consider myself an agnostic, and I don't particularly feel like I have to bow to their attempts to rebrand me.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2010 [19 favorites]


The idea with Sum was to write 40 mutually exclusive stories, where each story tells a completely different, incompatible version of the afterlife There's a meta-message and that meta-message is that we don't know.

While the author sounds like someone I'd enjoy talking to, this book does not sound like something I'd enjoy reading.
posted by box at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2010


You don't "commit" to atheism. Atheism is the clean slate that every infant starts with. It is completely passive.

atheism has never been something you needed to commit yourself to

Lack of evidence for god is atheism.

I see no reason to believe these claims are true. Rather, these sorts of claims just mirror the familiar theistic idea that people begin life with a natural belief in God.

It's always easier (but more dangerous) to see other people's beliefs as culturally constructed.
posted by washburn at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


You don't "commit" to atheism. Atheism is the clean slate that every infant starts with. It is completely passive.

Theism means adding to this a belief in a god. This active behaviour requires the commitment.


Exactly. We know too much to have a default state of anything except atheism, and we know of absolutely nothing to warrant shifting from that default state. Abandoning that atheism without evidence is an irrational, delusional act.
posted by kafziel at 9:47 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with the term 'non-theism' to distinguish from anti-theism? Seems to me, "possibilian" is just a trendy name for the same thing.
posted by Knigel at 9:47 AM on April 10, 2010


Atheists in a modern sense for the most part believe that there is only oblivion after death when that is just as improvable as any other state.

Not really...it's just that it's the most probable outcome. 'Just as improvable as any other state' is implying that there's evidence to the contrary, which is illogical. We have no idea what happens, therefore we have to assume that nothing happens. That's not as probable as any other state - it really must be the default assumption in entropic world.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:47 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


No I get that idiopath, but what I meant was that there is just so much we don't know to state that as a confirmed fact.

Every religion is based from stories told by our ancestors to get an idea of how the world worked and all are impossible. But the universe is a big place and we still only have the information about the life that evolved on one planet. So oblivion is most probable given the information available now, but it shouldn't be the only answer. Maybe that's a cup half full response though.
posted by Allan Gordon at 9:50 AM on April 10, 2010


Nothing gets your cause sympathy like coming up with a completely ridiculous name for it.
posted by Kattullus at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


My insight about the concept of an afterlife:

I once had a friend with a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (1).
Looking back I once realised that mid conversation she switched from her depressive rational subpersonality to her social amorous subpersonality. That realisation was the result of me noticing I was very discombubalated by the change.
That made me realise that we deal with people using the personality-continuity conjecture. If somebody reacts one way at one time they'll probably act similarly a second time.
She upset that conjecture I didn't knew I held and it upset my quite a bit.

That and my feelings just after the death of my cat made me realise that the afterlife is the concept you end up with given the personality-continuity conjecture given the occasion of the death of somebody you care about.
We just can't comprehend that that somebody suddenly doesn't exit anymore.

Similarly about the concept of religion as an infantile super-parent conjecture. So to me the burden of proof is on religious people. But when I'm not drunk I'm too well behaved to raise the subject.

ad (1): I know that the existence of DID is disputed. Let's just leave it at that I'm a rather sceptical person with a born-in distrust of fantasy prone persons. And I was convinced that her diagnosis was correct.
posted by joost de vries at 9:53 AM on April 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


Though his religious philosophy changed a lot over the course of his life, from what I can tell, French author Andre Gide had at one time an interesting conception of atheism as the ultimate form of organized religion. From what I could figure out, his belief was something like:

If Christ's teachings are a source for good, regardless of their divinity, the organized religion that sprang up around them is an authoritarian distraction from them. Atheism, (of the Neitzsche sort in particular) then, is just an evolution of that same movement towards moral relativism and away from the humanistic philosophy in which he believed.

I thought it was an interesting argument, I wish I could find more about it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:55 AM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I find it interesting that the tone of many of the posts in this thread is very close to the tone adopted by white Amercians that think being ethnic is something that happens to other people.

There's a difference between the normativization of "white" and arguing that "bald" is a hair color.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:56 AM on April 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


Abandoning that atheism without evidence is an irrational, delusional act.

You know, calling reasoned thoughtful choice irrational and delusional is pretty darned provocative. I'm not saying all (or even most) religious faith is reasoned and thoughtful, but a lot of it is. And this, of course, challenges me to reason and think.
posted by philip-random at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2010


I'd respect the "new atheists" a hell of a lot more if they didn't keep pretending that atheism isn't a belief. There's nothing wrong with it being a belief. To call it a belief doesn't diminish the likelihood that, relative to some specific standard of truth, it's the correct belief to have. The idea that it is merely an absence of any belief at all is so silly as to undermine the whole thing.

As I've said here before, I don't think religiosity is primarily or fundamentally a matter of believing or not believing in certain factual claims about the world relative to a scientific standard of truth, so the atheism-versus-religious-literalists conflict is, in the long run of history, an incredibly unimportant one.

Eagleman's stuff is fascinating though, and I need to go away and digest it much more.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:58 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


The word agnostic does not, in fact, mean that you are unsure as to whether God exists or not - it's a much stronger statement that you believe that the existence or non-existence of God is essentially unknowable.

I am not willing to commit to such a belief. I suspect God doesn't exist, I also suspect no proof of this will ever be forthcoming, but that doesn't make me an agnostic - I am an unbeliever.

(Yes, I suspect that the term has become muddied with common misuse, which is a shame, as there's now no word for the concept...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:58 AM on April 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'd respect the "new atheists" a hell of a lot more

I notice that nothing helpful or productive or respectful has ever once followed this phrase.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I find it ironical that Eaglemen's lame life-in-a-nutshell scientific theorem reveals he suffers from the same cognitive delusions everyone else does. A guy with a white beard on a cloud? That's retarded. Methinks Eaglemen fears uncertainty and ambiguity just like everyone else and has deluded himself into believing that certainty about uncertainty eliminates uncertainty. We all know that many things in life are complex--however, I'm obviously not gonna regurgitate a 28 page paper on the current state of the health care industry when I voice my opinion on the health care bill. That doesn't mean I'm unaware of the possibility that a meteor could strike the Earth and really shake things up a bit.

I bet dude has dreams about the lab--throwing on the white coat and proper goggles, firing up a bunson burner, doing a little science and bam he figures out whether God truly exists. I bet when a chick tells him she loves him, he responds "please prove it via the scientific method." Love is indeed complex and all.
posted by stevenstevo at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2010


I am a big fan of ignosticism myself, despite how often it is mistaken for a typo. And happily enough I can find it interesting, and think it is probably right, without making any commitment whatsoever. I guess you could say I am agnostic between ignosticism and atheism.

A concept like agnosticism is the consequence of people saying "this is absolutely true and you will suffer eternally if you reject that fact". There are all sorts of things we don't really can't know for sure about but are probably wrong, or might be wrong about, we don't need special words for it in those contexts, that is just the simple nature of what it means when a human claims to "know" something.
posted by idiopath at 10:02 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd respect the "new atheists" a hell of a lot more if they didn't keep pretending that atheism isn't a belief.

I can't fathom how you could possibly think that the absence of belief is exactly the same thing as belief. How do you figure?
posted by signalnine at 10:04 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I tend to think of agnostic as a separate question from theism—it's perfectly possible to be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist. It's more an epistemological stance.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 AM on April 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


I can't fathom how you could possibly think that the absence of belief is exactly the same thing as belief. How do you figure?

For many, isn't atheism a belief that the supernatural (in the literal sense) can't exist? It's still a belief, not a magical lack of one. Some people say "well if they prove a God exists I'll believe," but the obvious subtext is the belief that no one is going to.

I believe that elephants won't suddenly fly away, but that's still a belief. It's a belief in science, reason, etc. It's not an absence of belief, because then I'd be like "maybe they'll fly away! who knows!"

"Belief" isn't a dirty word. It doesn't mean "faith."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:08 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I picked up Sum a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a fascinating book.
posted by ob at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2010


Between Radiolab, Wiretap, and now the Guardian it will soon be possible to assemble an audiobook version of Sum.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2010


I first heard about this book in an episode of RadioLab, with Jeffrey Tambor reading a couple of stories from the book, which led to me getting the book myself. Some of the stories are funny, and some kind of haunting, but I think the book overall is pretty thought provoking and imaginitive.
posted by sambosambo at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2010


For many, isn't atheism a belief that the supernatural (in the literal sense) can't exist

Uh, no. That's ridiculous.

It's still a belief, not a magical lack of one. Some people say "well if they prove a God exists I'll believe," but the obvious subtext is the belief that no one is going to.

Nope. Requiring evidence is not the same thing as either belief OR faith.
posted by signalnine at 10:13 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Quoting myself: "Belief" isn't a dirty word. It doesn't mean "faith."

Actually, I realize that sometimes it can mean to have a religious faith. In this case, I don't think it does, obviously: I think the relevant definition is "to accept as true, genuine, or real" or "to hold an opinion about." Every worldview or assumption, even in science and truth, has grounding assumptions and beliefs.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:15 AM on April 10, 2010


Solon and Thanks: "I believe that elephants won't suddenly fly away, but that's still a belief. It's a belief in science, reason, etc. It's not an absence of belief, because then I'd be like "maybe they'll fly away! who knows!""

It depends how you define a belief.

I don't have a specific belief that elephants won't fly.

I expect future experiences of the world to somehow be compatible with past experiences. Elephants simply flying away would be a contradiction of this expectation. Furthermore I am pretty sure that being able to expect the world to be mostly compatible with my experiences so far is the only kind of knowledge I can have.

This is a different kind of thing altogether from blind speculation, and to give both it and blind speculation without evidence a single name gives blind speculation entirely too much credit.
posted by idiopath at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Be kind. Make more than you take. Be that teensy part of the universe charged with making sense of some of the rest of it. Don't talk and chew at the same time. Try to have some fun. The rest will sort itself out.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


Atheism for me is like my lack of interest in sports.

Some people are so obsessed with sports, they watch every televised game in a season, pay hundreds of dollars for the special channels, follow their team around like its Phish, buy all of the merchandise, paint their car the team colors, paint themselves the team colors, name their children after the quarterback, paint their children the team colors, fantasize about their team gangbanging their wife, fantasize about the team gangbanging themselves, pay fantastic amounts of money for fake autographs, wear a team jersey under their work clothes every day, wear funny hats and would kill themselves before they used any part of a telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of a game without the NFL's express, written consent.

Others, just don't watch sports. They've tried, but they just aren't interested. They don't think it sucks. They have no opinion. There's just no there, there for them. Mu.

Although, I have to admit, sometimes I just can't shake the feeling that some guy is watching me masturbate.
posted by stavrogin at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm converting to cartographism.

I accept that I'm nothing more than a street view cam for a hypercosmic Google Map.

My contributions to the universal database will enable millions--billions--of higher entities to set aside things that must get done -- planning meetings for new universes, space-time management seminars -- to hunch over their desks, staring at a screen, clicking, panning, zooming....wishing they were someplace else.
posted by prinado at 10:19 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Although, I have to admit, sometimes I just can't shake the feeling that some guy is watching me masturbate.

You need to fix that hole in your ceiling so the cat can't get in.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:19 AM on April 10, 2010


Take the existence or non-existence of God is essentially unknowable and add a sprinkle of just too apathetic about the entire thing though.

And you get the Apathetic Agnostic. I don't know, and I don't care. Welcome, my children, to a branch of the Discordian continuum.

I just wish I could add the Ignostic in there too. 'It doesn't matter' is an interesting additional conjecture. Presuming it is of the cheerfully ambi-valent sort, and not the 'OMG you guyz, dis is The Truth and yous has wasted yur lifes!' sort.

Any sort of reflection on society and personal morality is excellent. If only we thought about how dirty we leave public washrooms as much.
posted by LD Feral at 10:20 AM on April 10, 2010


Does it matter? If there was confirmation tomorrow there wasn't a god would we all go on epic killing sprees? Are we so bad we need the threat of a magic cloud man scorekeeper to make us behave decently to each other. If there is a god why would he bear any resemblance to what we think he/she/it is. Why would he create stuff, then watch it for a bit, then file it at the end of its life depending on performance during life. If we're just here for he/she/its sport then what an absolute asshole. And really would he be so insecure that he worries if we believe in him? If it mattered he would have hard wired it into our programming and made it impossible for us not to believe. So doubting the existence of magic cloud man is obviously part of his mysterious plan. Or maybe its a load of old nonsense someone made up that there's no point worrying about because you can't prove either way. Anyone for Pong?
posted by Damienmce at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


So we're stuck in a position where we know too little to commit to atheism and we know too much to commit to religion. That put me somewhere in the middle. I don't prefer the term agnostic because agnosticism is often used as a weak term that means I'm not sure if the guy with the beard on the cloud exists or doesn't exist. So I call myself a possibilian.

Worry no more. The idea that a supreme being can be jealous is an impossibility, or he wouldn't be supreme. The purpose of religion, then, is the idolatrous appeasement of an impostor that uses random punishment on people to make them afraid. These punishments are most likely the forces of nature, of course. But by crediting a supreme being's will we demote the higher purpose of intellectual honor and justice in life to instead favor of an ignorant blind loyalty to an irrational force of random evil.
posted by Brian B. at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


For many, isn't atheism a belief that the supernatural (in the literal sense) can't exist

Uh, no. That's ridiculous.


... How so? "Uh, no" is not a very illuminating rebuttal.

Science can prove the existence of things that are part of the natural world. If someone were to posit that there exist things outside of the supernatural world, science and proof would be irrelevant. Atheists are the ones saying "Yeah, if it isn't measurable it doesn't exist. Or at least probably doesn't exist, until it's proven. Since there is no scientific proof of a God, therefore he probably doesn't exist." AKA: things outside of the natural world can't exist.

Just because you find your world view logical and rational (and I'd agree it is), doesn't mean you're not internalizing certain world views. I'm not saying all world views are equally truthful or "it's only your opinion!"

By virtue of accepting any method for proving or disproving something, you're adopting a belief in that method. As we discussed in ask a little while ago, there's no reason the scientific method works or is correct, its just worked for us so far and so we can believe that it will continue to work.

I mean, isn't this philosophy 101...? It's important to be aware of and examine where our worldviews come from, because otherwise you're just a fish who can't see the water.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:25 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


here's the correct ask link.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2010


Atheism is not a belief, it's an observation. Belief is an assumption made without evidence or despite evidence. Faith is belief as it applies to spiritual matters.
The brain likes to connect the dots even when the connections aren't apparent or don't exist. The phrase "Correlation does not imply causation" exists because of this tendency.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:30 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Damienmce: "I just wish I could add the Ignostic in there too. 'It doesn't matter' is an interesting additional conjecture."

But ignosticism is more than that! I actually find it very interesting - it is not as simple as 'it doesn't matter'. There are a range of responses for the proposed existence of a god: "easily provable as false", "so self contradictory as to make a meaningless proposition", "indistinguishable from its own falsity", to meet the range of definitions one encounters for a god.
posted by idiopath at 10:33 AM on April 10, 2010


The idea that a supreme being can be jealous is an impossibility, or he wouldn't be supreme.

Careful, you're getting perilously close to St. Anselm's ontological argument there, whereby God must exist because by definition there can be nothing greater than God, but if God doesn't exist, then there could be something else that has all of God's qualities, but also exists. And such a thing would be greater than God, which is impossible. So to be God, God must exist.


Also, it seems to me that much of Eagleman's problem with the terms atheism and agnosticism, and much of the wrangling over them in this thread, stem from the fact that atheism as it largely exists in our culture isn't really the simple lack of belief in a supernatural being, but a very angry (and absolutely positively held) belief that the culture's dominant religious belief is absurd, dangerous, and simply incorrect. In other words our inherited religious traditions have become such an integral part of our culture and our psyches (whether you believe in them or not, actually) that for most people atheism becomes a reaction to them specifically rather than a more general and less emotionally loaded philosophical approach to the universe, as people here seem to want to see it.
posted by Naberius at 10:33 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: Also, I'm pretty drunk.
posted by hippybear at 10:33 AM on April 10, 2010


The elephant I keep seeing in the room of people loudly proclaiming their "atheism" is that they only ever talk about Yahweh. It's either the Christian god or nothing.

I tend to describe myself as "polyagnostic": I know there are a lot of gods out there that people put their belief in, and I'm really not sure about any of them.
posted by egypturnash at 10:36 AM on April 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Lack of evidence for god is atheism.

There are different ways to exist in and gain knowledge about the world, reason and sense being one of them. But we customarily accept that some of our most fundamental beliefs, such as that there is actually an external world, or that other people actually have an inner life, ultimately have no basis in reason. Still we accept these things are self-evidently true or at least impossible to do without.

People of faith feel the same way about God. They can feel his presence inside of them, and they can see it in the world around them. It is self-evident. As such there is no point in asking for evidence - all that can be done is to testify.

When a man says, "I have faith", this does not mean "I have proof". It means "I don't require proof - I have faith".
posted by eeeeeez at 10:37 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll stick to worshipping Glycon, the only god we know doesn't exist.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 10:37 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's well known that God doesn't exist, simply because it's a bizarrely improbable coincidence...
posted by hippybear at 10:40 AM on April 10, 2010


fleetmouse: "God is possible in the same sense that Russell's teapot is possible. The reasonable assumption is that there's no teapot and no god."

If a bunch of smart-ass time-travelling asstronauts from the future put a teapot out there just to fuck with us, I'd LOL.
posted by klanawa at 10:40 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Naberius: "Careful, you're getting perilously close to St. Anselm's ontological argument there"

There is a HUGE difference between calling being omnipotence and jealousy mutually contradictory states and claiming that having a mental category for a thing proves the existence of the thing.
posted by idiopath at 10:41 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


So I call myself a possibilian.

i dislike calling myself an atheist because it assumes i give a damn. but i think the term this guy is going for is justincaseian.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:41 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


This Eagleman dude. Someone needs to hook him up with a ghostwriter. Or at least a ghost-word-maker-upper. Possibilan? Seriously?
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2010


egypturnash: "they only ever talk about Yahweh"

One of the best arguments for atheism is the absurdity of picking which of the many contradictory gods one should speculate to exist. It is a very short step from "could be any of them" to "probably none of them".
posted by idiopath at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Although, I have to admit, sometimes I just can't shake the feeling that some guy is watching me masturbate.

well, but now every time i see the name stavrogin i'm going to think about you masturbating. and now that i've said it, everyone else will, too. shake that.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2010


Atheism is a religion like a constant insistence on not having a hobby, and the adamant attempt to reject all hobbies, is a hobby.
posted by shii at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I came to this very strangely satisfying conclusion not to long ago and it just popped into my head. I've always been so terrified of dying, of that no longer being, the extinguishing of consciousness, and then I realized I do that every single night. Head hits pillow and unless I dream vividly, it's blackness, timelessness and effectively, nothingness, until the alarm. I thought, that's what death will be like, maybe the part before it will be frightening, but likely not, but when it comes, there won't be anymore me there to be scared of the "dying" of the light, no mourning from myself of my consciousness. It'll just be like one of those old tv's, image fades, bright dot in the middle persists and then nothing. Never wake up again. And oddly enough, that thought comforts me to no end.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


There's certainly the idea among some atheists that agnosticism is a cowardly, wishy-washy way to avoid a hard truth. I consider myself an agnostic, and I don't particularly feel like I have to bow to their attempts to rebrand me.

This this this this this this this. This.
posted by desuetude at 10:52 AM on April 10, 2010


Atheism is a religion like a constant insistence on not having a hobby, and the adamant attempt to reject all hobbies, is a hobby.

This would be true in a world in which it is assumed that everybody has a hobby and most people with hobbies are so into hobby-having that they have difficulty conceptualizing a state of being in which a person does not have a hobby.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:53 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


and the adamant attempt to reject all hobbies, is a hobby.

Never trust a man without a hobby.
posted by philip-random at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2010


"atheism isn't a belief, it's an observation".

No, atheism is a belief - it is the belief that God does not exist. No dictionary in the world will back you up. Whether or not observations led you to that belief is irrelevant.

Words in English have certain agreed-upon and well-defined meanings. To base your argument on a personal redefinition of these words is incorrect.

Now, I don't believe in God! But that doesn't make me an atheist; atheism isn't the lack of belief in God, it's an active belief that God doesn't exist.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2010


lupus_yonderboy: "atheism isn't the lack of belief in God, it's an active belief that God doesn't exist"

This contradicts the majority of self described atheist philosophy.
posted by idiopath at 11:01 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


A shorter version of the "atheism is so a belief" argument presented in this thread is "Fuck you, I will tell you what you believe and do not believe."
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Atheism is a religion like a constant insistence on not having a hobby, and the adamant attempt to reject all hobbies, is a hobby.

more like atheism is not even thinking about a hobby because you're not bored enough to need one.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:03 AM on April 10, 2010


Agnosticism is the one true religion. Both theism and atheism purport that humans can know the nature of the fundamental forces that have given rise to human existence and consciousness. Only agnosticism acknowledges the limitations of human consciousness - that humans are human, they are not divine and they can not know the nature of their creator (whether god or nature) any more than my dog can know the nature of my consciousness.

Bad joke filter - What does a person do if they are agnostic, insomniac and dyslexic? Stay up all night wondering whether there really is a dog.
posted by pavi at 11:03 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well Apatheism seems like my cup of tea. Thanks metafilter for giving me a better word to describe my beliefs.

Also atheism is a belief only if you have been presented with the argument that god exists and you choose to disbelieve that. It's not the absence of belief or anything else like that. If human culture had evolved without any sort of religion that would be this absence of belief you guys are talking about. But since each individual isn't in their own vacuum the beliefs of others influence our own beliefs.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:04 AM on April 10, 2010


Careful, you're getting perilously close to St. Anselm's ontological argument there, whereby God must exist because by definition there can be nothing greater than God, but if God doesn't exist, then there could be something else that has all of God's qualities, but also exists. And such a thing would be greater than God, which is impossible. So to be God, God must exist.

I'm assuming you convey St Anselmus' argument accurately. I'll try to show the assumptions in that argument.

It sounds like StA coined a term for the infinity of the enumeration of greatness (that's assuming that greatness is dependent on one variable and enumerating is possible) and that that term's 'God'. If you deny the end of that stick that leaves another end of the stick.
That's just submitting that the existence of that stick is helpful. Which I'm not convinced of.
And that equating the pinnacle of greatness with a super-parent predisposed to wrath and/or love is undeniable.
That's a lot of assumptions I'm not ready to make.
posted by joost de vries at 11:05 AM on April 10, 2010


I use "agnostic" as shorthand for "I don't want to talk about it." In my hyperreligious city, the fundamentalists seems to find the term less offensive than "Atheist" (or Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or Catholic, for that matter).
posted by bibliowench at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2010


Right now I'm actively not collecting stamps.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


pavi: "Agnosticism is the one true religion. Both theism and atheism purport that humans can know the nature of the fundamental forces that have given rise to human existence and consciousness. Only agnosticism acknowledges the limitations of human consciousness"

But agnosticism accepts the same shaky premise upon which most theism and atheism are based: that "does a god exist" is a sensible question. Which god are you talking about? Is the god you are talking about internally consistent enough such that a question about said god is a meaningful statement?
posted by idiopath at 11:08 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The common quote I've heard is "Atheism is not a religion any more than not playing golf is a sport."
posted by tresbizzare at 11:09 AM on April 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


As I've gotten older being an atheist has become less important. Thinking about the existence of God just distracts me from thinking about the important stuff like Ramones, Chuck Jones cartoons, Mexican food, and baseball.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:09 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


ExitPursuedByBear I've also thought about that a lot.

I mean when you look at the beliefs of many religions about the after life most involve having your notion of self being changed completely.

Reincarnation is an endless cycle of destroying your self until you are able to finally reach nirvana which has could be called oblivion or being a drop in an ocean.

Any sort of heaven or hell will completely change your notion of self when you are overwhelmed with fantastical sensations. Extreme pleasure or pain will in most ways terminate your prior being.

Oblivion seems to be the only choice that let's you die as yourself.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:11 AM on April 10, 2010


What strikes me about these discussions is that there are a number of ways of learning to think differently about the nature of reality without buying into one or other of the major belief systems, including Atheism. Didn't Buddha say something like, "Check it out for yourselves"? This seems like sound advice. And if meditation is too slow, we have some pretty cool drugs nowadays (not my cup of tea, but some people swear by them).

It just seems like there's so much to learn from a systematic exploration of our own lives that quibbling about afterlives and what god eats for breakfast is really just muddying the waters.

Not just a hobby, but a hobby-horse!
posted by sneebler at 11:11 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


But agnosticism accepts the same shaky premise upon which most theism and atheism are based: that "does a god exist" is a sensible question.

Given the typicality of humans believing in some sort of god(s) or higher power, I think that "does a god exist" is a pretty sensible question. It's not a sensible scientific hypothesis, but agnosticism isn't intended to be science.
posted by desuetude at 11:15 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


To (probably) misquote Alan Moore: "The only place we know God exists is within the human mind."
posted by SyntacticSugar at 11:16 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course atheism represents a "belief". But except in the most extreme of cases, it's a belief open to change on the basis of evidence. It would be completely unreasonable to remain "agnostic" about the existence of an infinite variety of imagined things -- and no theist I've ever met does this, while some simultaneously expect it of others (regarding their chosen belief). Props to early mention of Russell's Teapot.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:16 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


belief systems, including Atheism.

Atheism is not a belief system. It is a single feature of many varied belief systems.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:18 AM on April 10, 2010


This contradicts the majority of self described atheist philosophy.

Citations, please? I've read a lot of the "Atheism 2.0" books and they do seem to share an active disbelief in God.

Or let's put it another way. If atheist simply means someone who doesn't believe in God, what is then the word for someone who actively believes that there is no God?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:21 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given the typicality of humans believing in some sort of god(s) or higher power, I think that "does a god exist" is a pretty sensible question.

yeah, "is she a witch" used to be considered a sensible question as well. the phenomenon has actually been mastered by republicans, who know that if they repeat some ridiculous claim at least once per second per day, rational people will eventually start to see it is a legitimate point of debate.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


If atheist simply means someone who doesn't believe in God, what is then the word for someone who actively believes that there is no God?

antitheist.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:24 AM on April 10, 2010


Lol, all Texans are philosophers examining the possibility or lack of an afterlife!! Silly agnostic Texans!! LOL Texans!!

Sorry, I just wanted to see the typical wide brush used on Texans around here get used both ways. Just once.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2010


No, atheism is a belief - it is the belief that God does not exist. No dictionary in the world will back you up. Whether or not observations led you to that belief is irrelevant.

Words in English have certain agreed-upon and well-defined meanings. To base your argument on a personal redefinition of these words is incorrect.

Now, I don't believe in God! But that doesn't make me an atheist; atheism isn't the lack of belief in God, it's an active belief that God doesn't exist.

___________________________________________________________

My first attempt at testing your challenge disconfirmed it, atheism is defined as disbelief in at least one dictionary.
posted by Brian B. at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2010


"I expect future experiences of the world to somehow be compatible with past experiences. . . .Furthermore I am pretty sure that being able to expect the world to be mostly compatible with my experiences so far is the only kind of knowledge I can have."

Can you provide evidence for the continuity of causality that does not beg the question?


PG, whether there is a difference in the normativization of "white" and "bald" is the question at hand. You can't simply reassert your conclusion as if repetition and emphsis could make it so. Theists in the 17th c. thought it pretty obvious that a belief in God was the default state. Atheists in the current time think it's pretty obvious that the lack of belief in God is the default state (that's the official position many are pushing here, but frankly it seems to me that what most of you really believe is that it's dumb to believe in God). There is an obvious similarity here.

Furthermore, unless you are willing to argue that there can be no new evidence in the debate and that therefore the question is settled. You have to admit that you might be wrong (as we all do, given that it's extremely likely that at any time we are wrong about the vast majority of our beliefs about the world). In fact since the work of science (to cite an authority you respect) is not yet done, you should admit that you are really very likely to be wrong about any given belief about the world.

Thus you've adopted a belief that history shows is very likely to be wrong and a tone that is wholly unwarranted in its certainty and smugness.
posted by oddman at 11:26 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


i dislike calling myself an atheist because it assumes i give a damn. but i think the term this guy is going for is justincaseian.

This Eagleman dude. Someone needs to hook him up with a ghostwriter. Or at least a ghost-word-maker-upper. Possibilan? Seriously?


As long as no one's using "bright" any more, I'm cool with it.
posted by naoko at 11:32 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


My first attempt at testing your challenge disconfirmed it, atheism is defined as disbelief in at least one dictionary.

The same dictionary defines "disbelief" as "the act of disbelieving : mental rejection of something as untrue" -- which I think is what a few of us are trying to get at. That atheism is an act, a mental rejection, not a blank slate exactly.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:32 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


oddman: "Can you provide evidence for the continuity of causality that does not beg the question?"

Can anyone?

I like to keep my unsupported premises to a minimum, and there is a large amount of evidence that this is a fruitful approach.

The fact that one needs at least one unsupported premise does not vindicate the needless multiplication of unsupported premises.
posted by idiopath at 11:34 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a HUGE difference between calling being omnipotence and jealousy mutually contradictory states and claiming that having a mental category for a thing proves the existence of the thing.

Both arguments essentially define God as they see fit and then hold him to their own definitions. Who says a supreme God can't be a jealous one? You? There's a long biblical tradition that would disagree.

Also, arguing that God cannot be jealous because a jealous God would not be supreme, and arguing that God must exist because a non-existent God would not be supreme don't seem that far apart to me.
posted by Naberius at 11:39 AM on April 10, 2010


The elephant I keep seeing in the room of people loudly proclaiming their "atheism" is that they only ever talk about Yahweh. It's either the Christian god or nothing.

Yes, this. There do exist schools of religious thought that do not involve a "God" character. You can be atheist, as in, not believing in supreme being(s), and still be a religious adherent. Depends on the religion. The one that always comes up in these debates is the Christian God/Jesus/Beardo-Man, but there are plenty of religions in which that guy is notably absent and then, yeah, you have to pick different Gods not to believe in.

I'm a Buddhist and don't at all believe in "God" the same way that Christians do when they speak about God. I think that maybe there's a "whole greater than the sum of its parts" effect in the universe at large, but I don't think there is a specific being with one specific consciousness that is "in charge." I'm not an atheist, but I don't believe in "God" either.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:45 AM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


a belief in the infinite, the unknowable, the idea that what is, is, and has always been, and will always be. A belief in the infinite, if you will, an concept that itself is nearly unknowable, and almost impossible to grasp.

funny dat, the above italicized words mentioned upthread as the understanding of atheism could as easily be used to articulate my own understanding of what being hindu means. after much struggles in my teens, and not being terribly religious (in the ritualistic sense that my birth religion tends to convey externally), i came to this understanding of the core philosophy behind the 'religion'

tat tvam asi almost nearly translates into that what is, is,
posted by infini at 11:45 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Naberius: "arguing that God cannot be jealous because a jealous God would not be supreme"

no, the claim is that jealousy and omnipotence are mutually exclusive. That no truly omnipotent thing could also be jealous. I think this is neither right nor wrong - simply meaningless. Omnipotence is a patently absurd concept, and any argument based on omnipotence as a premise is absurd.
posted by idiopath at 11:46 AM on April 10, 2010


…so, this turned into the same dumb argument again pretty quickly, didn't it?
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2010 [19 favorites]


My first attempt at testing your challenge disconfirmed it, atheism is defined as disbelief in at least one dictionary.

Supposing you made a claim, and I said "I disbelieve it." Would you interpret that as me saying that I have no opinion as to whether that claim was true or not?

Disappearing is not the same as not appearing. Disbelief is not the same as not believing.

Regardless of these semantic games, it appears to be that the vast majority of English speakers, both people who believe in God and people who don't, take the word "atheist" to mean "someone who believes that God does not exist" (and would probably use the word "agnostic" to mean someone who doesn't believe one way or the other, even if I didn't approve of that usage. :-D)

Again, if you believe that that is not what modern self-described atheists claim, then show me the references, please!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2010


The elephant I keep seeing in the room of people loudly proclaiming their "atheism" is that they only ever talk about Yahweh.

Could it be the case that you're mainly reading things written by English speakers in the West... where Christianity is the overwhelmingly most common religion? Would that be a good explanation for this phenomenon, perhaps?

I might also add that in Muslim countries, atheists keep a very low profile indeed.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


No dictionary in the world will back you up. ... Words in English have certain agreed-upon and well-defined meanings.

Yes, that's true. Every English speaker uses the same dictionary, and meanings don't change with time or context.

Wait, what?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, atheism is a belief - it is the belief that God does not exist.

The atheists I know say that they have seen no evidence that there is a god. I think that difference is crucial.
posted by rtha at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: "if you believe that that is not what modern self-described atheists claim, then show me the references"

if you consider participants at the richarddawkins.net forums to be representative of mainstream atheism
posted by idiopath at 11:56 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I ate a possibilian at a party and achieved complete understanding of how the afterlife smells.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:56 AM on April 10, 2010


My first attempt at testing your challenge disconfirmed it, atheism is defined as disbelief in at least one dictionary.

Merriam-Webster is not an authority on philosophy, nor even a relevant source. I have no idea why you would cite a dictionary of all things.


PG, whether there is a difference in the normativization of "white" and "bald" is the question at hand. You can't simply reassert your conclusion as if repetition and emphsis could make it so

I am arguing by analogy, not reasserting.

Theists in the 17th c. thought it pretty obvious that a belief in God was the default state. Atheists in the current time think it's pretty obvious that the lack of belief in God is the default state (that's the official position many are pushing here, but frankly it seems to me that what most of you really believe is that it's dumb to believe in God).

So not only are you equivocating between disparate groups, you are, as I mentioned earlier, presuming to tell other people what they believe.

Furthermore, unless you are willing to argue that there can be no new evidence in the debate and that therefore the question is settled. You have to admit that you might be wrong

Absolutely. This is where the atheist position differs from the theist position, as theistic positions are necessarily reached without evidence to support them. As atheists we have taken a particular position (that claims need evidence) which theists do not agree with. As such, the idea that it is the atheists who are close-minded and not open to evidence is insulting and hypocritical. When you have taken flight from evidence, you do not get to insult the epistemologies of others.

In fact since the work of science (to cite an authority you respect) is not yet done, you should admit that you are really very likely to be wrong about any given belief about the world.

As do you. Your effort to use the provisional nature of knowledge that features in science as a bludgeon to wield in favor of theism is truly baffling.

Thus you've adopted a belief that history shows is very likely to be wrong and a tone that is wholly unwarranted in its certainty and smugness.

This is hilariously hypocritical and appears indicative of a total lack of introspection.


Could it be the case that you're mainly reading things written by English speakers in the West... where Christianity is the overwhelmingly most common religion? Would that be a good explanation for this phenomenon, perhaps?

One of the effects of the increase in science and technology education in India over the past several decades is the rise of an atheist/skeptic/rationalist movement in India. They tend to focus on the religious claims which are most relevant in India; I do not know if any overly smug Hindus tell that that they never seem to address the Christian god.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh, and a helpful formulation from that forum:

"Weak agnosticism: I don't have knowledge of Superman.
Strong agnosticism: It is not possible to have knowledge of Superman.
Weak (implicit) atheism: Absence of belief in Superman (no claims or denials made)
Strong (explicit) atheism: Denies the existence of Superman."
posted by idiopath at 12:00 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


PG: perhaps because they have a gazillion gods of their own to topple first
posted by infini at 12:03 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, lupus_yonderboy, the wonderful thing about human beings is we can think of new ideas and new words and words shift in meaning and ideas shift in definition. Even self defined atheists argue about whether "atheism" unqualified implies strong or weak atheism, or whether atheism and agnosticism are compatible with one another or incompatible. Words change and ideas evolve, so prescriptive dictionary versions of what words mean can be unhelpful when comparing the merits of ideas.
posted by idiopath at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2010


there's no reason the scientific method works or is correct, its just worked for us so far and so we can believe that it will continue to work.

No. There is no reason to the scientific method works or is correct metaphysically. Practically there are many reasons the scientific method is vastly superior to other methods of finding facts about the world.

This is the at the heart of a major problem with this thread and with agnosticism in general. Yes on a purely metaphysical level atheism and theism are equivalent in that we can't make any firm statements about one or the other. But on a practical level, the level which actually matters to living human beings, atheism is vastly more supported by the facts and if you are a person who likes to believe in facts that are likely true, you will be an atheist.
posted by afu at 12:12 PM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


No. There is no reason to the scientific method works or is correct metaphysically. Practically there are many reasons the scientific method is vastly superior to other methods of finding facts about the world.

Yes, that's just what I said - what the askme I linked to covers in detail.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:20 PM on April 10, 2010


Who says a supreme God can't be a jealous one? You? There's a long biblical tradition that would disagree.

Superstitions tend to rely on errors in reason and affirm local traditions.

Also, arguing that God cannot be jealous because a jealous God would not be supreme, and arguing that God must exist because a non-existent God would not be supreme don't seem that far apart to me.

You might want to consider that a jealous or angry supreme being is an imaginary human projection based on our own insecurities, which was the point: human, not real. An assumed real god might least care about various local superstitions, and if so, then probably disrespect those who do when they try to use reason to describe him as a bitter tyrant. So if he's not here clarifying things, then we've already assumed a sort of absence, and so I'm just taking this absence to a logical level, because it could serve as an efficient test of honor to discover those who reject idols and impostors, despite them being a long biblical tradition. Also, to say that a supreme being should exist for some reason or another related to being supreme is circular.
posted by Brian B. at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2010


Magic all up in this bitch.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:23 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hm. I call you a wussy. How about that.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2010


Yes, that's just what I said - what the askme I linked to covers in detail.

So you are an atheist then?
posted by afu at 12:29 PM on April 10, 2010


Again, if you believe that that is not what modern self-described atheists claim, then show me the references, please!

Even Dawkins himself considers himself a 6 out of 7 on the certainty scale - a de facto atheist*

*Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam Press, 2006), 73.
posted by Sparx at 12:36 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


As atheists we have taken a particular position (that claims need evidence) which theists do not agree with.

Do your really believe that Creationists and the intelligent design folks and other Biblical literalists, who the Dawkinsite atheists go to such lengths to engage, don't believe claims need evidence? Of course they do, and they believe that the Bible (or really complex organs in animals, or whatever) is that evidence. (You disagree with them, and so do I, but the point still stands.)

To flesh out my earlier comment, I think this confusion partly arises because for so many other religious people (Buddhists, yes, but also the north Oxford Christians Dawkins would have to engage with if he didn't keep flying to deepest Jesusland USA in order to make his position look embattled and controversial) simply don't understand religion as primarily a question of claims and evidentiary standards, but rather as an experiential undertaking, as practice, and as a way of being.

In short: Atheism is a belief, theism is a belief, and atheism is a much better belief than theism, but arguments on the terrain of belief will (I believe!) always miss the point of the appeal of religiosity and spirituality to most religious or spiritual people.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:42 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The afterlife is probably the element of my faith that I've struggled with the least. I once made a jokey comment about heaven being a sort of eternal Dungeons and Dragons campaign - when the reality is that I was only half-joking about that. Like many people with too much access to the internet, I spend a lot of time reading about quantum physics and various cosmic genesis hypotheses. I make absolutely no claims to anything greater than the most freshman understanding of these topics, however it seems that many physicists agree that in any given vacuum, various elementary particles phase in and out of existence - indeed that this universe itself could be just such a particle. If, in fact, this is the case, I see absolutely no reason why - given an infinite amount of time - the great bathtub that spawned this universe will not spawn one quite similar to it, wherein I exist as a powerful wizard possessing all of my current memories due to a replicate neural network and I have a pet dragon and go on adventures with my dad. And also we have potions that let us live for as long as we want. In fact, given a sufficient amount of time, it appears that this is certain to occur at some point.
The only downfall to this theory - so far as I can see - is that it also creates a potential universe where I have all of my current memories and am burning in a giant lake of fire. Which would suck. However, if I reach the Balrog-as-wizard universe first I will surely find a way to avoid the lake-of-fire universe... I hope. We shall see, anyway.
Now I go back to putting the finishing touches on my sermon for tomorrow morning. I wish I could preach about this stuff instead of the apostles getting flogged.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


oddman: "Atheists in the current time think it's pretty obvious that the lack of belief in God is the default state..."

My parents didn't teach me about God, and I never asked. It's my default state.

IAAA, IANAP
posted by klanawa at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2010


Thinking about the existence of God just distracts me from thinking about the important stuff like Ramones, Chuck Jones cartoons, Mexican food, and baseball.

If there is a God and he's not some nasty, vengeful prick-God, I suspect He/She is best found within such stuff as the Ramones, Chuck Jones, Mexican food and baseball ... to which I would add Sonic Youth, Monty Python, my mom's apple pie and motorsport (road racing in particular).
posted by philip-random at 12:45 PM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just don't know.
posted by belvidere at 12:52 PM on April 10, 2010


also the north Oxford Christians Dawkins would have to engage with if he didn't keep flying to deepest Jesusland USA in order to make his position look embattled and controversial

You don't know anything about Dawkins except what you see posted about him on the internet, mostly by theists looking to discredit him. You're like the right-wingers who condemned Fahrenheit 9/11 before they'd even seen it- you are certain that you understand Dawkins despite your ignorance and your failure to address that ignorance.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:53 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


afterlife as the hell of constant reincarnation until one's atom's coalesce into baby balrog's magical world
posted by infini at 12:57 PM on April 10, 2010


As an All-Pantsterian Possibilian (Ref.) of the Upper Miskatonic Tendency, I object to your linking to an article the heretic Eagleman. His part in the Possibilian Purges -- which included the Great Feather Tickling of '04, and several attempts to put Benzedrine in Thee Tolerable Pope Slacky Nostance's Ovaltine -- is well-documented. My grandparents, whose Possibilianism runs so deep that they can't even be bothered to definitively state whether they're human or not, were really very inconvenienced by Eagleman's Purges. They even wrote a somewhat strongly worded 'Letter to the Editor' about it -- a letter which still has not been published.
posted by ford and the prefects at 12:57 PM on April 10, 2010


so we can slot ford and the prefects into the "absurdist" column, then.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:01 PM on April 10, 2010


The atheists I know say that they have seen no evidence that there is a god. I think that difference is crucial.

I've heard it said that an atheist is someone who believes what he sees (just the facts ma'am) whereas a theist is someone who believes what he feels (that there must be something more to it all than just the physical evidence).

As someone who tends to both see and feel, I can't help but think (and feel) that the big TRUTH is somewhere between these two positions. That is, sure there's a God but his middle name is Paradox.

Or as a wise man once said, "The next thing I'm going to say is a damned lie."
(pause)
"What I just said is a damned lie."

This is a failure of language, not reality.
posted by philip-random at 1:01 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


One thing that upsets me about some the 'arguments' here and elsewhere is the implicit or explicit assumption that atheism is necessarily rational and scientific, that belief in gods must be replaced by belief in other things, and leads to arguments of "faith in science is just as much a leap of faith as belief in little green fairies at the back of the yard" variety.
I'm an atheist (ie: I don't believe in gods). I suspect scientists are closer to the truth than other people, but I myself am not a scientist and do not pretend to share their knowledge about L.T.U.A.E. I don't need to replace my lack of faith with anything else.
I don't lack belief in gods because I have some other, superior worldview, some great insight into the nature of the Cosmos. I lack belief in gods because I find this belief simplistic, childish and utterly unconvincing.
posted by signal at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


my favourite example on fact and truth is that while it may be a fact that my hair black, its not the truth since L'Oreal was involved. intimately
posted by infini at 1:06 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


philip-random: "there must be something more to it all than just the physical evidence"

absolutely there are things of which we do not have evidence

specific claims about what any of them are may be entertaining, but only become useful beyond aesthetic value once we find some shred of evidence, or look for shreds of evidence and fail to find any
posted by idiopath at 1:10 PM on April 10, 2010


The only place we know God does not exist is within the human mind.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:12 PM on April 10, 2010


I'm not exactly sure why the OP used this quote to represent the article. The rest of it is a fascinating look at neuroscience, humanity, and the afterlife, and yet we're stuck in the atheist quagmire again because the post started with one of his introductory asides.

I would have much rather read thirty comments on the mind and the afterlife than a hundred on how everyone's version of atheism is better than everyone else's.
posted by twirlypen at 1:13 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


The term atheism is useless because it must be predicated on theism to make any sense at all. And theism is just collective agreement on arbitrary speculation. Frankly boring and unimaginative speculation.

Also, the afterlife has *so* been done. Let's move on. I propose that truly civilized people will only kill each other because of disagreements over what happened to us before we were born.
posted by fartknocker at 1:20 PM on April 10, 2010


Does anyone else ever get sick of the exact same disputes over definitions and semantics every time this stuff comes up? Not that I'm not guilty of doing the same, mind you.

I agree with what dude said in the first linked article: I think what a life in science really teaches you is the vastness of our ignorance.
posted by Red Loop at 1:24 PM on April 10, 2010


so we can slot ford and the prefects into the "absurdist" column, then.

Winnebago'd -- proudly.
posted by ford and the prefects at 1:28 PM on April 10, 2010


As someone who tends to both see and feel, I can't help but think (and feel) that the big TRUTH is somewhere between these two positions.

From the existence of two mutually-exclusive theories one should not infer that the truth is "somewhere between" them.
posted by nicwolff at 1:29 PM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Given the typicality of humans believing in some sort of god(s) or higher power, I think that "does a god exist" is a pretty sensible question.

yeah, "is she a witch" used to be considered a sensible question as well. the phenomenon has actually been mastered by republicans, who know that if they repeat some ridiculous claim at least once per second per day, rational people will eventually start to see it is a legitimate point of debate.


I don't share this scorn for religion. I don't think that "does god exist" is a ridiculous question. (I think it's an unanswerable question, but not a ridiculous one.)

The reductionist equivocation of the whole of religious thought to an example of superstitious persecution seems perhaps also to employ technique drawn from the GOP Handbook Of Rhetoric.
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh Christ. An agnostic is someone who doesn't want to say they're an atheist in polite company. This guy is someone who goes so far as to make up new words to not say he's an atheist. You either believe in God or you don't. "Impossible to know" is the theological equivalent of "I don't wanna offend you, but". It's a fucking cop-out.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of what I came in here to say lupus_yonderboy has covered.

Before "new atheists" or whatever started arguing with me about it on the internet, I'd never ever heard of an atheist being anything but an active disbeliever in god. Agnostic has, for me, always covered the middle grounds of "I don't know" and possibly "it can't be known".

Furthermore, I'm not terribly interested in being re-branded as a "weak atheist" or a "possibilitarian" or whatever dumb buzzword marks me as part of some vaguely confused movement.
posted by Nomiconic at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the existence of two mutually-exclusive theories one should not infer that the truth is "somewhere between" them.

This is very true. The truth might be one, the other, both, or neither. Maybe there is what some would consider a god, but is so alien to our sensibilities that most would not.


Oh Christ. An agnostic is someone who doesn't want to say they're an atheist in polite company.

That reminds me of a friend who called Unitarians "nice atheists". However, I could see someone wanting to accent their lack of knowledge (or anyone's knowledge) rather than the end result. As much as you can demand to call a spade a spade, there is something ultimately scientific and humbling in admitting that we can't answer that question now or perhaps ever. They might be functionally indistinguishable from an atheist yet still want place the emphasis on their differences. I wouldn't consider that a cop-out at all.

Anyway, this entire debate makes my ears bleed.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:53 PM on April 10, 2010


Let me try to redefine what some people here seem to be using "atheism" to mean in a way that makes it less of an argument against and more of a worldview for which "atheism" is probably not the correct term. Some of the people arguing here (such as Solon) are people whose thoughts and ideas tend to interest me, and if that's the case I think any argument that's degenerated as much as this one has is misguided and perhaps hurtful.

It's not that I don't believe in things I haven't seen. "Belief" is the wrong word because it suggests some conscious effort; it also suggests a false yes-no dichotomy. Instead for me it's that God and religion is simply not a part of the universe as I understand it. It's a manmade construct. Asking "Do you believe in God?" is like asking "Do you believe in Hogwarts?" I think it is fun to talk about God, and I think it is fun to talk about Hogwarts, but it's not even wrong to take either seriously. I don't disbelieve God because I can't wrap my mind around the idea of believing in God. I draw a blank when I run up against it. I find it hard to phrase my nonbelief at the moment because I'm incapable of taking that belief seriously to begin with.

That's not to say that I inherently hate religion, though it's true that I'd rather it not control society — but I think the same about sports, and I invoke Jesus Christ in casual conversation the same way I'll casually damn the Yankees.

It's also not to say that I'm incapable of recognizing anything outside of proven science. You mention, Solon, the supernatural; I've never seen it myself, and if I saw something beyond my idea of reality, then my reality would start accommodating that thing. Now, that doesn't mean if I saw a translucent figure before me I'd call it a ghost and start believing in those as well as fairies and wizards and dragons. I'd recognize that one thing, as well as the fact that it lay outside of my understanding. Some people have a burning curiosity to understand such things; I don't, but that doesn't mean I either reject those things or assume they're beyond my ability to understand them.

The reason I can't address God is that God is ludicrous. If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, then that existence would involve essentially being unformed and powerless; the instant such a being became present, it would exist within patterns and limits and therefore lose its omnipotence. I think of the stories of God parting the sea in the Old Testament, and of the ten plagues before it; my reaction to such stories is to wonder why God works in mediums like seaparting and bloodraining and frogs and locusts. So I enjoy the stories as poetry because they say a lot about the fears and imaginations of the people writing them. But if those things happened in reality, I wouldn't disbelieve them, but I would start wondering why this seemingly limitless being has such an animal/liquid fetish.

Problem is, that line of thought demeans the noble God concept. It has reduced God in my mind instantly to a mortal, comprehendible being. And the only way for something to be entirely beyond my comprehension is for it not to exist at all. So I can't even not believe in God, because any idea of God I have in mind is necessarily not the one that's capable of existing. I can't believe in God for the same reason.

I don't call myself an atheist. If somebody asks me if I believe in God, I prefer to ignore the question than to waste time putting words to it. If pressed I'll call myself a "pantheist", which I use to mean "the universe evokes awe in me", and leave it at that. Occasionally I'll debate people's concepts of God, but even that feels like playing games to me. If people really believed in God they wouldn't stoop to talking about it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:54 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Lord Chancellor: "This is very true. The truth might be one, the other, both, or neither"

you have an unusual definition of "mutually exclusive"
posted by idiopath at 1:59 PM on April 10, 2010


I consider the fact that there is something, rather than nothing, all the evidence for God that I need. Existence is enough. The nature of this God, I don't know or understand, but human suffering seems to mean something different to it than it does to us. That's the basic extent of my belief; the trappings of religion, aside from the music and literature and records of human wisdom are basically just huddling together against the dark.
posted by jokeefe at 2:04 PM on April 10, 2010


One thing I always found extremely puzzling is the idea that you can choose to believe. I mean, belief is something that that forms in you without your agency - not something that you have voluntary control over. Yet this use of the term belief as if it were something under your control is pervasive - look over the comments here - and it struck me even as a child, as extraordinarily bizarre, a kind of psychological impossibility. When Christians would say that you must believe in Jesus and his divinity - I was puzzled. At most, I could, like a slave on his knees under the sword, declare Jesus to be my Lord - but that would not be the heart speaking, it would be the mouth proclaiming. I simply could not - and still cannot understand how you can approach anyone and ask them to "choose" to believe in Jesus. You do, or you don't. Some may be convinced by set X of arguments and collection Y of evidence. Some may look at the same sets, and are not convinced. But how do you choose? It's not like you can look at the sets, feel strongly that it's a load of rubbish, but choose to believe in order to save your soul? How would that work with any degree of sincerity? This is so unreasonable a request, that if the Christian god actually existed and had such a requirement of belief, I would be immediately constitutionally incapable of being "saved", and condemned to hell just for the way I'm built - I have no control over it. So how does a Christian think it fair that some people will be saved, and some not if at least some of those who are not don't have the power to change their fate?

So too about being an atheist. At no point in my life can I recall - as one poster here claims he did - as one poster here claimed to choose to become an agnostic. So belief, to me, is something that's entirely passive and involuntary. I guess I'm going to hell - but I'm doing it passively.
posted by VikingSword at 2:06 PM on April 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


Oh Christ. An agnostic is someone who doesn't want to say they're an atheist in polite company.

What? I don't know if this is polite company or not, but I'm pretty sure I'm an agnostic.
posted by Nomiconic at 2:12 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I believe for many people, atheism is a belief while for others it is not. I'm not using the word belief in a faith sense but rather in the same way that we can believe in science, politics, law, and culture.

For those growing up in houses where there isn't any religious training nor exposure to the idea of gods, atheism isn't a belief. They never really came to a conclusion (rational or not) that made their stance atheism. They are simply there. It's not a set of their principles or views of the world. Their views on angels are in the same category as most Americans views on Bangladeshi politics: nonexistent because they never really thought about it.

For those that grew up religious or exposed to religious thoughts, then atheism is often a belief. They were at one (usually family default) view point, came to new evidence or a change in their life that necessitated reviewing that system, and then came to conclude that they were atheist. Their world view and set of principles does factor into this change, so I would consider it a belief (once again whether rational or irrational). It's not bad that atheism is part of their beliefs as other beliefs of theirs might be rationality, justice, equality, fraternity, law and order, or responsibility. They're positions, some which that person might take nearly no time out of their life to focus on, yet still are a part of their views.

The problem is, the word "belief" means a lot of things. It can mean utter faith and trust ("I believe in my son no matter what"), it can me acknowledgment of existence ("I believe that the sky is blue"), it can mean your best guess ("I believe that's the one I dropped off"), it can mean a general principle in your life ("It's my belief that I should try to be nice to him, even if he's a prat"), or just a tendency. When somebody uses the word "belief" to refer to atheism, they might simply want to say that atheism is a position, but it often gets picked up as atheism being a dogmatic set of codes and systems of thought.

So chalk this mostly up to the language we use. Of course, that is very ill comfort when you're fighting in the trenches.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:12 PM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I came to this very strangely satisfying conclusion not to long ago and it just popped into my head. I've always been so terrified of dying, of that no longer being, the extinguishing of consciousness, and then I realized I do that every single night. Head hits pillow and unless I dream vividly, it's blackness, timelessness and effectively, nothingness, until the alarm. I thought, that's what death will be like, maybe the part before it will be frightening, but likely not, but when it comes, there won't be anymore me there to be scared of the "dying" of the light, no mourning from myself of my consciousness. It'll just be like one of those old tv's, image fades, bright dot in the middle persists and then nothing. Never wake up again. And oddly enough, that thought comforts me to no end.

Hmm. What about teleportation like this: you go to sleep, information about all your atoms is encoded into a series of signals and transmitted to anther city (planet, next room, wherever), there the teleportation receiver decodes the signals and reconstructs you from brand new atoms into an exact copy, like a huge fax machine. Then the sleeping "original" you is killed. The "new" you wakes up as you and has no idea he's new. Would it bother you? Would you think you died? And how is it different from what is happening to you every night? You go to sleep "original", you wake up "new". Is there some kind of "soul" continuity broken when the "original" is killed? Where is consciousness located? Maybe you die when the teleport receiver breaks down like an old fax machine out of paper./jk/
posted by VikingSword at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2010


Rory, I think we're pretty much in agreement, more or less. I think I'm just using a different definition of "belief" than others are, and the dispute is one of terminology.

I'm not a religious person, I don't identify as an atheistic though some people would probably call me one. I don't believe in a God (or gods) - like others have said, I think some things are beyond the range of human experience and it's not a particularly pressing question, anyway.

I just hate when people dismiss others' worldviews and assume that they are the norm, they are the blank state, everyone else is icky and corrupted and wrong and different from the ideal human norm (the speaker, of course!) Who's to say a child raised with no human contact whatsoever wouldn't invent a religion? When anyone makes a claim that they are the blank slate, I find it somewhat suspicious.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's a fucking cop-out.

No, believing in something there's absolutely no evidence of because it makes your world-view less frightening or more comfortable is a cop-out.
posted by Aquaman at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Lord Chancellor: "This is very true. The truth might be one, the other, both, or neither"

you have an unusual definition of "mutually exclusive"


I was trying point more to the idea of "truth" being independent from some sort of middle ground based upon the existence of two widely held positions. And I was including an example that demonstrates confusion as to which exclusive position is correct, though I'm sure if such an occasion happened, both sides would claim victory and vindication.

So, I apologize Idiopath; I was more critiquing the "The truth must lie somewhere in between" rather than saying that specific question was mutually exclusive. Sorry if I wasn't that clear when I stated it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:17 PM on April 10, 2010


Actually Lord Chancellor said it better than I could re: the word belief.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:18 PM on April 10, 2010


Oh Christ. An agnostic is someone who doesn't want to say they're an atheist in polite company. This guy is someone who goes so far as to make up new words to not say he's an atheist. You either believe in God or you don't. "Impossible to know" is the theological equivalent of "I don't wanna offend you, but". It's a fucking cop-out.

Well, despite the company being pretty fucking impolite at the moment, I'll have to disappoint you and point out that I'm still an agnostic. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Statements like "you either believe in God or you don't" make absolutely no sense to me posed as an allegedly simple question. What is meant by god? What is meant by believe? There's a lot of things that are impossible to know, about which I nevertheless have some thoughts and opinions.

By"fucking cop out" do you perhaps mean "I'm not interested in this subject and really should be at a different party?"
posted by desuetude at 2:20 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


When anyone makes a claim that they are the blank slate, I find it somewhat suspicious.

Hm. I'd be curious why anybody would say "blank slate" like it's a good thing. When I was a child I threw toys about and had to be taught not to destroy them in fits of rage. Many things I came up with on my own weren't necessarily right things or good things. Similarly, I've invented religions. I don't think it was bad of me to do so, but it doesn't stop me from thinking that atheism is closer to being an accurate understanding of the universe than any nominal religion is. (Save, you know, Buddhism and other religions that focus more on sociology than on worship.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:21 PM on April 10, 2010


I think many intelligent people are frustrated with our current conception of god. They feel that there is some higher something but also feel that probably none of the concepts of what that thing is in current religions are probably right. It may be a deity, it may be a social consciousness, a higher plane of existence and thought, it might be....., who knows? I am probably one of these people. I think many religious people, including Sister Theresa, fall into this category, as did many of this country's founding fathers. Christopher Hitchens will swear up and down that there is nothing but this existence, but I bet even he wonders whether he is right. The uncertainty of it all is part of life's beauty, at least to me.
posted by caddis at 2:22 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


more like atheism is not even thinking about a hobby because you're not bored enough to need one.

That would only be true if the people running around screaming about how much they don't think about hobbies went into every single thread about hobbies just to talk about how much they don't think about hobbies.
posted by thesmophoron at 2:22 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


By the way, Viking Sword, I always wonder a lot about that, but also about the continuity of our perceptions (or soul as I'll use) in non-teleportation matters. Why is this moment of my perception connected to the previous moment? Am I an infinite series of perceptions each dying instantaneously sending my soul into oblivion while a new moment of perception takes its place? There does seem to be some sort of continuity of perception, so I would qualify my belief in a soul that "bridges" the metaphysical existence of moment by moment. Maybe what I call a soul is the gestalt between this infinite number of perceptive moments? That certainly doesn't mean that the soul is immortal, but my belief is that it exists. When I think about the teleportation problem that you described, it does make me wonder how the meta-continuity is preserved (or not) and if there are other forces that govern that.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2010


Hm. I'd be curious why anybody would say "blank slate" like it's a good thing.

Beats me, because neither do I. People were arguing that atheism is the lack of any belief, is simply the state one is born into before being indoctrinated into a religion.

I think everyone human position on anything is influenced by one's world view and there is no real "blank slate", because as soon as you start to think - or are asked a question - you're making decisions based on something. Even if your worldview/position is valuing science and rationality, it's important to remember that this is a worldview that you came to somehow and not simply something you were born with. It may be correct, but it's important to remember that other worldviews aren't simply failed attempts to be yours, you know?

I don't think it was bad of me to do so, but it doesn't stop me from thinking that atheism is closer to being an accurate understanding of the universe than any nominal religion is. (Save, you know, Buddhism and other religions that focus more on sociology than on worship.)

I certainly agree with this.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:28 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


i never really have a hard time saying i don't believing in hogworts, any more than i have trouble telling people i do believe in jesus and the bible and such.

i assume that most people that don't believe in god, don't believe in it in the same way that i do not believe in hogworts--that is to say that i do believe that hogworts is a fictional construct, made up by a british schoolteacher, and that i have evidence to back up this belief: that of newspapers and wikipedia articles, not to mention the books themselves. in this i am convinced of the factuality of this belief. Surely similar evidence comes to mind for those who wish to argue that god is fictional. Sounds good, let us dispute the evidence and the interpretation! Or not, feel free to ignore me and the question because it is boring or because you hate me. But pretending as if it cannot or should not be asked...that's as unreasonable as declaring "The fool in his heart has said, 'There is no God.'"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:28 PM on April 10, 2010


When I was a kid, I believed in the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. The former replaced my pillow-buried teeth with money and the latter made a great fuss about dumping a load of fantastic new stuff under the tree in December (the tree that we erected inside the house!). There was no doubt about that - as the faded Polaroids still attest. I also encountered in media or was told about Jesus and god and Moonface and the Faraway Tree and Jack Frost and Evil Otto and The Force and the Candyman.

But my default is not god fearing. Why must others' heartfelt beliefs somehow mark me as lacking? How in any way is your god something other than what you chose? Why can't it just be that my factory-settings are not denial, but that I don't feel the need to invent a deity? (Is that scary? I really don't understand why that seems unacceptable.)

God didn't exist or likely occur to me until you asked me why I didn't believe in him/her/it.
(And also, I'm pretty drunk too.)
posted by 4eyes at 2:31 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


i never really have a hard time saying i don't believing in hogworts, any more than i have trouble telling people i do believe in jesus and the bible and such.

I sure have a hard time saying it with a straight face.

When somebody asks me if I believe in God, or if they try to draw me into debate about it, I can't take them at face value. It doesn't matter how serious they are about it, or how much they really believe. I'm not capable of taking the question seriously. I linked to Not Even Wrong above because it's the mindset I find useful in this discussion. I can't address the concerns as if they're serious concerns just like I can't address the Harry Potter question seriously.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:37 PM on April 10, 2010


Potomac Avenue: "i assume that most people that don't believe in god, don't believe in it in the same way that i do not believe in hogworts--that is to say that i do believe that hogworts is a fictional construct, made up by a british schoolteacher, and that i have evidence to back up this belief: that of newspapers and wikipedia articles, not to mention the books themselves. in this i am convinced of the factuality of this belief. Surely similar evidence comes to mind for those who wish to argue that god is fictional."

For a many individual gods, your standards of proof are met.

Though I would say that your standards of proof are quite a bit higher than those we expect of most things we don't believe.

If you would like to suggest which particular god mean, we could maybe discuss its individual merits and evidence.
posted by idiopath at 2:42 PM on April 10, 2010


*which particular god you mean
posted by idiopath at 2:43 PM on April 10, 2010



"I can't address the concerns as if they're serious concerns just like I can't address the Harry Potter question seriously."

This is too bad, but it is a perfectly reasonable belief to think that God is stupid and boring and you're too busy to talk about it. But it is still a belief.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:52 PM on April 10, 2010


When somebody asks me if I believe in God, or if they try to draw me into debate about it, I can't take them at face value. It doesn't matter how serious they are about it, or how much they really believe. I'm not capable of taking the question seriously. I linked to Not Even Wrong above because it's the mindset I find useful in this discussion. I can't address the concerns as if they're serious concerns just like I can't address the Harry Potter question seriously.

This isn't a case of "not even wrong" -- "not even wrong" means that the topic of discussion is based so deeply on misunderstanding and false premises that it cannot be made sense of. Conversely, it's objective fact that some people do believe in some higher spiritual power or powers, and others do not, and so the premise underlying the question -- to which group do you belong? -- is not only perfectly logical but emphatically true.

Your contempt and disdain says more about you than it does about others.
posted by thesmophoron at 2:54 PM on April 10, 2010


This is too bad, but it is a perfectly reasonable belief to think that God is stupid and boring and you're too busy to talk about it. But it is still a belief.

But it's not even that. Like, God isn't boring. Think of all the great literature devoted to the concept! It's just that I can't help but see it as literature and not reality, and I have a hard time thinking that other people really think there's a physical God.

So I talk about God, and I invoke God and use all sorts of spiritual slang, but still can't discuss it directly. If that makes sense.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:55 PM on April 10, 2010


Idiopath: I could name my beliefs and you could name yours and we could compare them, that would be quite a lively debate! Perhaps sometime we could engage in that, but right now all i wanted to dispute was the idea that atheism is not a belief. There are different interpretations for this word so let me be clear: I simply mean that it is a rational position maintained on a set of axioms followed by a bunch of evidence in a chain leading to a conclusion. Even if the evidence is an emotional experience ('it makes me laugh to talk about it!') or a custom ('that's what my parents told me, so...') it's still a reason to believe (that there is/is not a God, for instance).

Atheists don't get to be outside this realm of belief anymore than theists. Everyone should probably acknowledge that whether we're going to debate it or not.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:03 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


thesmophoron: "This isn't a case of "not even wrong" -- "not even wrong" means that the topic of discussion is based so deeply on misunderstanding and false premises that it cannot be made sense of. Conversely, it's objective fact that some people do believe in some higher spiritual power or powers, and others do not, and so the premise underlying the question -- to which group do you belong?"

Here is a formulation:

"a) statment b is correct
b) statement a is false"

There are two kinds of poeple: people who think that the formulation is true, and those that think it is false. And then of course there are the ones that have not yet made up their mind. It is objective fact that some people believe it is true and others think it is false. So which group do you belong to?

The ignostic claim is that the definition of "god" as is implied by using labels like theist atheist and agnostic is so muddled a concept, and so self-contradictory, as to be simply meaningless. Just like that silly formulation I quote above.
posted by idiopath at 3:06 PM on April 10, 2010


Sum is one of my favorite books. The afterlife stories are surreal, often poignant, sometimes amusing, and I found them quite entertaining as thought experiments. I didn't find any of them a plausible scenario for "what really happens" after death, but I am not sure that's what they were meant to be. Mostly each story got me thinking about the things I hold true and dear in life, often in a new perspective and with a new appreciation. As a non-believer I didn't feel like I was being challenged to take up any belief or other, not even the belief that anything is possible or that everything is absurd. I just found the stories to be inventive, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Oh, that's not what we're talking about in here? Sorry, my bad.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:10 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christianity is like Windows: You assert faith in a greater being that will make things run just so, and take their name in vain when everything goes to hell anyways.

Atheism is like Linux: You put your faith in a big mass of scientists just as clueless as yourself in all the ways that matter, and when things screw up, there's really no one in particular to blame,though there's plenty of sympathy and hacks to try out in the forums.

I guess that leaves OS X. Sorry guys, but the best analogy I can come up with is Scientology. Or maybe Zoroastrianism.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:10 PM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Potomac Avenue - you're picking between belief in Hogwarts or your god. You chose not to believe in Hogwarts (because of Wikipedia, really? Why doesn't this work with Scientoligists?), but your god isn't similiarly dismissed.

I'm not sure why you feel a question is being ignored "because it is boring or because you hate me." (What question?)

But pretending as if it cannot or should not be asked...that's as unreasonable as declaring "The fool in his heart has said, 'There is no God.'"

Now you're using phrases that arrived after the fact of your choice of belief. Again, why so fearful of people who don't opt into such belief in the first place?
posted by 4eyes at 3:15 PM on April 10, 2010


Potomac Avenue, I think that's well stated. It seems like part of the objection to the "belief" thing is some atheists being bothered that theists get to start the conversation, as it were, and make them "take a position" on something they find absurd.

I think, though, that as soon as someone asks a question - any question, no matter how ridiculous (will the sun turn green today?) - and you answer, you've entered into the realm of stating a position based on whatever mechanism you use to decide positions.

It happens a lot with religion for obvious reasons, but there's no need to feel like we're assuming religion is something everyone must naturally be a part of. It's just - the question was posed, and you have a position on it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:15 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lord Chancellor: "By the way, Viking Sword, I always wonder a lot about that, but also about the continuity of our perceptions (or soul as I'll use) in non-teleportation matters. Why is this moment of my perception connected to the previous moment?"

Epistemology was my area of particular focus at the uni, and I wrote a paper that addressed some of these issues. You really can slice it pretty thin - what about our concept of proof? At any moment in time you hold one thing in your mind - say a certain step in the proof, but you also rely on your memory of all the other steps leading to this point being validated... which is of course an assumption, if nothing else, that your memory is correct. But actually you can slice it even thinner than that - down to the very moment you hold any idea or experience in mind, after all what is the span of immediate experience? A millisecond back is memory - and as such fallible (or substitutable a la Descartes devil), so what are you holding in your mind at this very moment, and how thin is that sliver? So at some point, the concept of identity becomes entangled far beyond solipsistic parameters. If the sliver becomes too thin, is it really "you" or what?
posted by VikingSword at 3:17 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Impossible to know" is the theological equivalent of "I don't wanna offend you, but". It's a fucking cop-out.




"Hey, Erik, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."


"A woman who you've never met died last night, alone. Do you think she died with her eyes open or her eyes closed?"

"What?"

"Open or closed, dude."

"I have no idea. She died alone, right? How am I supposed to know?"

"Well, which makes more sense to you? The open eyes or the closed eyes?"

"Ummm, I wasn't there. Figuring out an answer to your question will in no way impact my life. I don't see the point in coming up with an answer to a stupid question like that. Why the hell are you asking me this? How will me making up an answer do anything for you at all? I mean, if you want to pick one, by all means, GO FOR IT, but trying to make me decide how Schroedinger's grandma's eyes were when she died makes absolutely no sense to me."


"Man, that's just like you, Erik. That's is such a COP-OUT."
posted by 23skidoo at 3:24 PM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Good post. But what a fucking boring thread.
posted by howfar at 3:45 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


We already live in a local universe that produces teakettles by the million, and I have little doubt that before it is done (before we are finished with it, at any rate) it will produce Thors, Hanumans, Purushas, and Saturn. Lowercase gods will most certainly exist; the only question is whether any of them should be treated as God. It's not their existence but their relationship to man that is so important. This is ethics, not ontology.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:50 PM on April 10, 2010


howfar: Good post. But what a fucking boring thread.
Is discussing faries ever going to be rewarding?
posted by 4eyes at 4:09 PM on April 10, 2010


Good post. But what a fucking boring thread.

Thanks, I guess.

I'm not exactly sure why the OP used this quote to represent the article.

Sorry, I guess.

I chose that particular quote because the initial link that got me to the interview with Mr. Eagleman paraphrased it. Of course, now I've forgotten where it even came from now. Maybe it was Satan.

For the record, I too find frustration in much of the commentary here and yet I'm not really surprised. Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, Possibilism, afterlife, oblivion -- it's all pretty loaded stuff, and it should be, as it can't help but inform what constitutes for many of us The Meaning Of Life (or lack thereof).

In this light, I'm glad folks care enough to argue.

As for my personal thoughts on what "afterlife" (assuming such exists) might genuinely be like, the best I can come up with is something a 12 year old kid said to me a few years ago. "Maybe it's like you're dreaming except you never wake up."

As long as it's not a nightmare.
posted by philip-random at 4:14 PM on April 10, 2010


Yes, if they're spelled correctly.
posted by klangklangston at 4:14 PM on April 10, 2010


Before "new atheists" or whatever started arguing with me about it on the internet, I'd never ever heard of an atheist being anything but an active disbeliever in god. Agnostic has, for me, always covered the middle grounds of "I don't know" and possibly "it can't be known".

Furthermore, I'm not terribly interested in being re-branded as a "weak atheist" or a "possibilitarian" or whatever dumb buzzword marks me as part of some vaguely confused movement.


Actually, you'd be wanting to blame the Catholics for that one - they first described the distinction between strong (nee positive) and weak (nee negative) atheism back in the 40s before Flew re-appropriated the terms in the 70s.

Similarly, I don't feel constrained to worry about your feelings regarding different stripes of atheists choosing to demonstrate nuances in their respective outlooks with relatively recent neologisms. The terms exist now, they serve an elucidating purpose, you might as well learn to live with it, or you run the risk of not being very gay at all.
posted by Sparx at 4:15 PM on April 10, 2010


I'm definitely going to read David Eagleman's book, though. Sounds great fun. Was this post about the book, or the idea that there's middleground betwixt Belief and Atheism?
posted by 4eyes at 4:20 PM on April 10, 2010


i'm wondering if all this angst and drang in this thread is due to dogma rather than karma
posted by infini at 4:25 PM on April 10, 2010


klangklangston, my apologies for spelling - fascinating indeed.
Perhaps it's the discussion about belief in fairies that's not so compelling?
posted by 4eyes at 4:40 PM on April 10, 2010


Well, shit. Now I'm hungover. I tried last night to reply to a couple people upthread, but realized that I was struggling with typing (as well as ordering my thoughts), gave up, and went to bed.

Anyway, I am an Apathetic Agnostic, though this thread is the first time I've seen anyone else use that term. I'd thought I'd invented it, but I guess there is nothing new. For me, though, it's not "I don't know, and I don't care." It's, "I can't know, and I'm not going to get too worked up about it." It's not a cop out, it's the position I reached after years of being an angry atheist.

I believe that atheism requires as much belief in the unknowable as just about any religion. With no prime mover, no creator for all that is, then you're arguing that all that is has always been, that our world, our universe is infinite, without beginning or end. The mind boggles at that concept. Infinity is itself an unknowable concept. To argue that you believe there is no creator, you're arguing that the universe is infinite, that it didn't come from somewhere, it just is. Either a god or infinity, you're arguing for something that is unknowable, and you are basing your arguments on faith in your position. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but both involve faith, both involve belief. To me, accepting that I don't know, that I can't know, and just letting go of all the anger and contentiousness I held dear was incredibly difficult, but not in any way, a cop out. I just don't want to play the game of sitting around arguing what color hats we're supposed to wear in the hot dog stand.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:15 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I call myself a possibilian.

I like to think of myself as a member of the Church of Hopeful Uncertainty.
posted by Doohickie at 5:22 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


With no prime mover, no creator for all that is, then you're arguing that all that is has always been, that our world, our universe is infinite, without beginning or end.

Not even wrong. This is the very essence of a false dichotomy. Atheists are not arguing anything of the sort, and your suggestion that a lack of deity necessitates all this other stuff is indicative not just of a failure of imagination on your part wrt other possibilities but a tacit admission of your failure to comprehend valuable elements of current cosmology, the mathematics of logical argument and the acknowledged limits of human-derived science so far.

So yeah, don't do that.
posted by Sparx at 5:23 PM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Atheism is the clean slate that every infant starts with.

Says someone who didn't have monsters in his closet!

Neil Stephenson's Anathem is an excellent read, and the ideas it discusses about universes, information exchange, and etcetera is pertinent to the ideas expressed in this thread.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:18 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe that elephants won't suddenly fly away, but that's still a belief.

Whereas I know that elephants won't suddenly fly away. It's called reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2010


The 'intro to philosophy' definition of knowledge is justified true belief, so if you know it you believe it as well.
posted by Pyry at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2010


Sparx, I'm actually, wide open to an explanation of why you find my view wrong. Feel free to explain to me, I'd like to know. Or at least give me an actual reason why I shouldn't do that.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2010


People of faith feel the same way about God. They can feel his presence inside of them, and they can see it in the world around them. It is self-evident. As such there is no point in asking for evidence - all that can be done is to testify.

That's all well and good until they figure the thing that possesses them should also possess me.

No, atheism is a belief - it is the belief that God does not exist.

It appears that there are two ideas about atheism.

There is the atheist view, which is that "not believing" that God exists is equivalent to "not believing" the Tooth Fairy exists. In this view, "believing" is a rather asinine concept: I mean, really, what kind of blinkered idiot would "believe" in the Tooth Fairy. "Belief" is an absurd idea in this context, utterly naïve and childish.

There is the religious view, which is that "not believing" that God exists is equivalent to "not believing" that Gravity exists. In this view, "not believing" is the asinine concept: how stupid do you have to be to "not believe" in Gravity?

When religionists say that atheism is "not believing," they mean it in the latter sense. When atheists say that atheism is not about "not believing," they mean in in the former sense — the nonsensicality of it all is absurd beyond all reason, the term "belief" doesn't even remotely apply.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe that elephants won't suddenly fly away, but that's still a belief.

Whereas I know that elephants won't suddenly fly away. It's called reality.


This really sounds like the "Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt" school of philosophy, as espoused by the great Philosopher Wayne Campbell.

Party on!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:51 PM on April 10, 2010


more like atheism is not even thinking about a hobby because you're not bored enough to need one.

That would only be true if the people running around screaming about how much they don't think about hobbies went into every single thread about hobbies just to talk about how much they don't think about hobbies.


you're confusing having the hobby with not politely shutting up about the fact that the hobbyists have a tendency to use said hobby to poison a great many aspects of non-hobby-related discourse for those who do not share the hobby.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 7:03 PM on April 10, 2010


Once again for the record, atheism is not a "lack of belief", it is a rational and scientific skepticism open to empirical evidence.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:04 PM on April 10, 2010


That would only be true if the people running around screaming about how much they don't think about hobbies went into every single thread about hobbies just to talk about how much they don't think about hobbies.

Nobody ever called me less than fully human or told me that I was incapable of moral reasoning or said I shouldn't be considered a full member of my polity because I don't build model airplanes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 PM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nobody ever called me less than fully human or told me that I was incapable of moral reasoning or said I shouldn't be considered a full member of my polity because I don't build model airplanes.

On the plus side, no one ever tells you that you're insane, stupid, evil, or untrustworthy if you do build model airplanes, so there's always that too. In fact, hobbies, though they do bring out some passions, tend to be less contentious. People that don't have a hobby understand people that do, and vice versa.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:13 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, no one ever tells you that you're insane, stupid, evil, or untrustworthy if you do build model airplanes...

though such labeling would likely be justified were one were insisting on applying airplane-model-building techniques for non-airplane-model-building purposes, such as establishing government and rule of law.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 7:20 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


though such labeling would likely be justified were one were insisting on applying airplane-model-building techniques for non-airplane-model-building purposes, such as establishing government and rule of law.

*grumble* You're not helping the civility, sir.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2010


Yeah, but since no one here is advocating Modelairplaneocracy, can we stop pretending that they are?
posted by klangklangston at 7:27 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I apologize. You didn't mean that in an insulting way, and obviously no one here is suggesting that religion should manifest itself in government. I was out of line. I know what you're trying to say. I was merely saying that both theists and atheists could use some mutual respect for each other.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:27 PM on April 10, 2010


Good post. But what a fucking boring thread.

I FIXED IT WITH THIS LINK! It's an obese, crazy, Christian woman on Wife-Swap changing places with some woo-believing new-agers! If there was a god he would laugh at this until he found some old shrimp in his bigass beard and then eat them. Shrimps awesomeness is inversely proportional to god's awesomeness so shrimp are pretty fucking awesome AND they're real!



ok
...I'm drunk too. Everybody on this thread is drunk.
posted by fuq at 7:33 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, another one of these threads where people for some reason vehemently deny that there's a distinction between agnosticism and atheism.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2010


And you get the Apathetic Agnostic.

Indeed.
posted by homunculus at 7:57 PM on April 10, 2010


I was merely saying that both theists and atheists could use some mutual respect for each other.

i get that (and actually saw nothing out of line). though disinterested myself, i grew up with respect for others' exercise of personal spirituality--sometimes even admiration for their commitment and sincerity, when i saw it. this respect was gradually diminished concurrent with realizing the stubborn, even proud insistence on part of the same believers that i should, if not won over by them, yet be subject to the same priorities and limitations they take on by choice.

perhaps it is as simple as the fact that the same terms and labels are used simultaneously for both the personal exercise of religion and its collective influence and association. despite the fact that many insist that, for them, the latter is not an accurate reflection of the former, the numbers seem to favor those who consider them inseparable--which i get as well, but then i tend to take issue with how criticism of religion or its exercise of power is disingenuously called out as an attack on personal spirituality. (and i do get that this kind of conflation is paralleled in atheists' use of science in the debate.)
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:00 PM on April 10, 2010


My observations, as a sensor for the gods, foster a desire to have a little inquisition session with the intelligent designer.

I'd start with stuff like chronic sinusitis and constipation and slowly work up to the more egregious stuff. Just in case that lightning bolt stuff (TASER OF THE GODS!) is true.

Considering the reliability of eyewitnesses, I'd guess the experiment got disheartening and the humiliated designer overachievers wandered off to greener pastures eons ago. Which leaves us here, as Vonnegut put it, 'just to screw around'. Unless we come up with something ourselves of course ... like MF.
posted by Twang at 8:13 PM on April 10, 2010


There *is* always Zorro-ass-trianism. (No offense to Ahura-Mazdaians intended.) Gives a whole new meaning to 'stacking Z's'.
posted by Twang at 8:20 PM on April 10, 2010


I am too drunk to read the entire thread but has anyone mentioned the idea that believing in god is the adult version of believing in Santa Claus yet? I love throwing that line down at parties.
posted by repoman at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2010


I treat matters of faith more like an axioms than hypotheses. This way, I find the questions I have more interesting, challenging, and useful. What I've read and heard of Eagleman's project (thank you Radiolab and philip-random) suggests that Eagleman has come to a similar idea about faith. This project can be used to think about his proposed afterlives in just this way. For this thread I will I ask,

"What use does a belief in an afterlife serve?"
"What use does a belief in a particular afterlife serve?"
"What advantages are there in believing in this afterlife, verses another?"
"How does this afterlife help me live in the world?"
"What about life (or my perception of it) improves (or worsens) for believing this?" "How?"
"What changes about my understanding of the world when I assume this belief?"
"What actions should follow?"

(One may ask these questions about Santa Claus too, but I'd like to stay on-topic.)
posted by wobh at 8:58 PM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


btw: though my posts here are peripheral to the FPP, i did buy this book today and look forward to reading it.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:01 PM on April 10, 2010


I believe that elephants won't suddenly fly away, but that's still a belief.

Whereas I know that elephants won't suddenly fly away. It's called reality.


You're both wrong.
posted by sallybrown at 9:03 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do think it's amusing how many religious people have turned to the most radical epistemic relativism to support their arguments.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:09 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I treat matters of faith more like an axioms than hypotheses.

That is by far the best way to use religion, IMO. It wholly sidesteps the useless bullshit over whether or not the thing is factually true, and gets to the meat of the matter: what can we learn from it?

It'd be swell if there were Religious History classes in school. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of the factual history of various religions, their "tree of life" showing how they've influenced one another's stories, and their fundamental agreements and differences.

If we "choose" to "believe" or "choose" to "not believe" — I'm suspect of those words, because I think religionists use them very differently from how I use them — then surely we should be making an informed choice. We should be giving our kids the best opportunity to make the right choice.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:27 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am so sorry that my disbelief seems to you like some kind of twisted belief.

But my disbelief is simply not believing. That is all.

Your belief that my disbelief is believing in something is your problem, not mine.

I do not believe that you have completely understood my disbelief of what you insist upon believing in.

Your belief is not proof. And I don't have to prove what you believe in. You do.

Your turn.

BTW, there is no proof for your belief. Only your words.

Disprove my words first.
posted by Splunge at 10:00 PM on April 10, 2010


Actually, you'd be wanting to blame the Catholics for that one - they first described the distinction between strong (nee positive) and weak (nee negative) atheism back in the 40s before Flew re-appropriated the terms in the 70s.

I know, but it's most recently come back as branding. It's branding on the part of a movement whose aims I'm not terribly interested in and who insist on asserting what I am or am not based on specious semantic games like "A means without so anyone who doesn't actively believe in god is necessarily an Atheist, right?"

Similarly, I don't feel constrained to worry about your feelings regarding different stripes of atheists choosing to demonstrate nuances in their respective outlooks with relatively recent neologisms. The terms exist now, they serve an elucidating purpose, you might as well learn to live with it, or you run the risk of not being very gay at all.

You're right, man, I'd better start using made-up words that are attempting to replace words that already exist before I get left in the dust!

There were lots of perfectly good terms before, and I'm not feeling terribly constrained by what you consider elucidating.
posted by Nomiconic at 10:06 PM on April 10, 2010


Really? Seriously?

Because faith operates only in the absence of proof, so demanding that I prove my belief or disprove yours immediately moves you into that coveted "not even wrong" position.

I know, I know, it feels good to hold that atheist cock in your hands and make demands on those nasty theists that are always keeping you down, but could you at least try to not sound like an ignorant, disrespectful moron when you get all puffed up about your big man badass lack of faith? Because when you throw down challenges, that's exactly what you sound like, and frankly, if that's the best you can bring to a Metafilter discussion of faith, you need to close this tab and go comment on cats on scanners or something.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 PM on April 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Lord, give me the strength to destroy this thread.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:24 AM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


if that's the best you can bring to a Metafilter discussion of faith, you need to close this tab
That's not for you to decide.
posted by joost de vries at 12:26 AM on April 11, 2010


The people not commenting on this post are probably apatheists. They don't know and they don't care.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:43 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're right, man, I'd better start using made-up words that are attempting to replace words that already exist before I get left in the dust!

There were lots of perfectly good terms before, and I'm not feeling terribly constrained by what you consider elucidating.


I'm going to call you on that. What were the perfectly good terms that described the distinction between weak/negative or strong/postive atheism? Phrases are acceptable, within limits - I don't think a paragraph can be termed a 'term'
posted by Sparx at 2:58 AM on April 11, 2010


Sparx, I'm actually, wide open to an explanation of why you find my view wrong. Feel free to explain to me, I'd like to know. Or at least give me an actual reason why I shouldn't do that.

You know what? I don't have to provide anything of the sort. You made that claim that lack of belief in God led inescapeably to certain assertions about the universe. These were bold claims indeed. You never even tried to prove those assertions as a necessity belonging to an absence of god belief, so I really have nothing to go on. You can't fight an argument that isn't really there.

But, seeing as this really isn't about the FPP - to be polite, MeFiMail might be the better place. It's late here, and I did make specific accusations about your argument earlier, which I'll address specifically if you want to discuss further. But, while I honestly think you are mistaken, perhaps the blue isn't the place, and we can learn a bit about each other's positions via mefimail.
posted by Sparx at 4:07 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


But my disbelief is simply not believing. That is all.

I don't believe you.
posted by Snyder at 6:54 AM on April 11, 2010


I suspect that many are avoiding the use of atheist, and a negatively defined image generally. I don't have a problem with that because there are the same pitfalls with asserting atheism as saying that one does not belief in UFO's. It doesn't describe what one is willing to believe on the subject, which is why I have a problem with people declaring atheism to be a belief.

I'm willing to believe that if there is a god, or any intelligent being who could claim power over us, then this "god" is absent, or else we need a better one. All of the evidence points to this absence, and it is even casually assumed in most religious arguments. However, it is not a good faith religion to suggest that the monotheistic God is simply hiding from us, while actively looking down on us as we kill each over his religions, awarding status to the frauds that quote him directly, sending famines and earthquakes to innocent children.

Furthermore, I'm willing to believe that if there is a superior being who is absent, he or she should be honored if and only if they promote the dignity and fairness of humanity. They cannot honestly fulfill those tribal wishes for the ancient idolatrous superstitions in the name of a supreme being, because time already ran out for those slave cultures and nobody should be told to wait around for the end of days to be freed by any god.

The biblical Greek word for absence is apeimi. Apeimist suits me fine.
posted by Brian B. at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2010


Having slept on it ... and awakened with a kink in my neck, I'm pretty sure of two things:

1. That kink is a fact. That is, it's there, even if wouldn't show up in an x-ray. My immediate sense of feel tells me so. This is not a belief.

2. It is however a belief that the kink happened because of this stupid thread. That is, I spent too damned much time yesterday picking through all the comments (bad posture, got all worked up and tense, skipped my afternoon dog walk etc).

I think.

That is, it makes perfect sense that this is where the kink came from. I might even rethink my approach to everyday life in the wake of this informed belief, and I might damned well be right to have done so. But I could never really prove it in a way that would satisfy Scientific Method. I mean, it could also be directly attributable to that voodoo doll I'm pretty sure my ex-business partner had made for me. Highly improbable, but still possible.

If there is such a thing as an afterlife, one hopes it would afford access to encyclopedic information of every detail of our mortal lives, so that we could finally resolve all these little mysteries.
posted by philip-random at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2010


I can't fathom how you could possibly think that the absence of belief is exactly the same thing as belief. How do you figure?

Belief in absence is not the same as absence of belief.
posted by prak at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2010


Wow. This thread is full of folks (believers and non-believers) who are determined to take a gray world and make it black and white. I've met so many atheists who define "atheism" in a personal way. I guess I could settle on one definition (maybe from a dictionary) and then insist that anyone not adhering to it is not an atheist. I'm not sure what the point of that would be, though.

If someone said, "I'm an atheist -- meaning that I like tacos," I might chastise him for misusing the world, but I (and, I suspect, most people) allow any definition that is in the cloud of "doesn't believe in God" to come to the Atheist Christmas Ball.

I've talked to atheists who say things like, "I can't believe in a God that would make little kids suffer." To me, such people ARE atheists, even though I (another atheist) can't relate to them at all. I have much more in common to theists who simply believe God exists. The "I can't believe in a God who would allow suffering" camp are people who base their beliefs on what they WANT to be true. I don't get that. I don't even get how they do it. But I'm not going to say, "they're not atheists." Why not? Because I don't own the definition of atheist.

If anyone owns it, "culture" owns it. If you tell someone his definition is wrong, how are you going to back up that claim? Wrong according to whom? Wrong according to the dictionary you are choosing to accept? Why should he accept that dictionary? Wrong according to common usage? How do you know the common usage? I don't claim that I know the common usage for sure, but I strongly suspect (based on many conversations with many people), that the word is not an exact one that means just one thing. (Not everyone means the same thing by theist, either. Not everyone even means the same thing by Christian.)

- Atheist A doesn't believe in God because he has seen no compelling evidence for God's existence.

- Atheist B doesn't believe in God because he is angry at theists.

- Atheist C doesn't believe in God because he has a gut feeling God doesn't exist.

- Atheist D doesn't believe in God but is open to changing his mind if the right evidence comes along.

- Atheist E doesn't believe in God but is open to changing his mind if the right experience or feeling comes along.

- Atheist F doesn't believe in God and will never budge from that belief, no matter what.

- Atheist G doesn't believe in any god presented in the world's major religions, but he is open to the idea of a vague sort of god that is synonymous or similar to "nature."

- Atheist H doesn't believe in a literal God, but he does believe that religious worship is a useful ritual in life.

- Atheist I's disbelief in God is really just one small part of his general skepticism. He doesn't believe in anything supernatural, so he can't even be a Buddhist, because Buddhism (the traditional form of it) assumes reincarnation exists.

- Atheist J is a militant atheist or someone who not only disbelieves in God but someone to whom that disbelief is really important.

- Atheist K is an atheist who rarely thinks about his atheism. If you proved to him that God exists, he's say, "Okay. I guess I was wrong" and then he'd continue doing whatever he was doing. He happens to be an atheist, but the more salient point about his personality is that he just isn't very interested in God.

- Atheist L is some mixture of the above.

Go ahead and tell one of those guys that he isn't an atheist. Does it make you feel good to do that? Okay. I guess you should do it, then. But are you interested in meaningful conversation in which the person you're talking to participates instead of just saying, "Whatever, dude. I guess we just disagree about what that word means"? If so, relax your desire to pound "atheist" into a shape that suits you.

I suggest that if you want to have a meaningful conversation with an atheist, you first ASK him what atheism means TO HIM. After hearing it, respond to his definition by saying, "Oh, I agree with that, even though I don't consider myself an atheist" or "I disagree with that, because..." Those are much more useful avenues -- assuming you want to engage in something more akin to discussion than "is-not-is-so" playground battles -- than blathering about definitions.

I am also very surprised by the folks who are saying "atheism is the natural state" or "theism is the natural state." REALLY? Evidence, please. What babies and young children "naturally" believe is a complex and open field. We're only just discovering things like whether or not babies have any natural ability to understand numbers and whether or not they can perceive certain sounds. You're saying you know, definitively, that they come out of the womb believing or disbelieving in God? Or that they come out with a default propensity to turn into atheists or theists? Wow! That's quite a claim. Please write it up for "Nature" so we can all read about your empirical or experimental evidence.

Finally, what is an "active belief"? How does it differ from a regular (non-active? inactive?) belief. I don't believe in God in exactly the same way that I don't believe the guy who sat next to me on the bus has a nine-headed dog at home. Is that an active belief or a non-active one? I don't get the difference.
posted by grumblebee at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


There's a difference between the normativization of "white" and arguing that "bald" is a hair color.

This. This. A thousand times this.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 4:19 PM on April 11, 2010


I guess that leaves OS X. Sorry guys, but the best analogy I can come up with is Scientology. Or maybe Zoroastrianism.

Buddhism. When you're not really sure about the guy who made it all happen, but sometimes people mistake that person with a supernatural being.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:48 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sticking with apatheism. I am apathetic about the question of the existence of some magical omnipotent intelligence that can't be seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:21 PM on April 11, 2010


- Atheist F doesn't believe in God and will never budge from that belief, no matter what.

Not even for a plate of chocolate chip cookies?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:04 PM on April 11, 2010


I'm sticking with apatheism.

I'm all for apatheism as long it's belief in an all powerful God who just doesn't care.
posted by philip-random at 10:46 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


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