Archived Discussion

This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

DalekKanNoladti: I know this will start an argument, but could we please stop calling the general atheist/skeptic movement "freethought" or "free thinking" or any variation thereupon that appears to imply that those of us who believe in one or more gods are somehow mentally enslaved or deceived?

Mr Wednesday: This is simply the name that is often given to atheists and atheist movements. Regardless of whether you like its implications, that's the name that gets used. I wouldn't worry about it; if you do think there's an implied insult there, it isn't intended.

Malchus: Besides, most atheists have learned to live with "atheist" having the annoying alternate definition of "ungodliness, wickedness" (at least according to the Merriam-Webster) dictionary since the inception of the term. So getting all worked up about unfortunate implications in the philosophical labels is just an exercise in frustration.

Johnny E: Meanwhile this (atheist) troper wishes the term "bright" would fall off a cliff. Seriously, "bright"? Could you have thought of anything more self-congratulatory and intellectually snobbish, Dickie? And its popularity does nothing for the "We're not the Church of St. Dawkins, honest!" argument.
Duckluck: The concept of "Atheism" has always been a hard one to define (it's not helped by the fact that a lot of "agnostics" are really atheists and a lot of "atheists" are really agnostics). This page gets across one brand of atheism fairly well, but it doesn't really fit all atheists that well. Also, I'm not sure if this page really gets across the notion that atheism is also based in faith — faith that the divine doesn't exist. That's the difference between an atheist and an agnostic. When asked if God exists, an atheist will say "no," an agnostic will say "I don't know."

Chandagnac: I disagree. You don't need to have faith that Gods don't exist; to be an atheist you just need to not believe in a God. There's a certain amount of overlap between agnosticism and atheism. In fact, there's a certain amount of overlap between Atheism and Christianity- that may sound stupid, but bear with me- back when the Romans were the main power in Europe and Christianity was a relatively new faith, the Romans were fairly tolerant with other religions and could usually find some way to justify their existence within their own belief system. However, the Christians denied the existence of all other Gods but theirs, and they were encouraging others to do the same. That could not be tolerated- the Roman were afraid of upsetting the Roman Gods. So many Christians were sentenced to death. Their crime? Atheism. Their religious position was (and is) atheist with respect to all Gods but one. And Atheism was punishable by death. My point is that everyone is atheist with respect to one or more Gods even if they believe in another.

Hah. I'm joking, of course. I just wanted to see if I could string anyone along with that argument. Joking aside, I think an entry like this is doomed to failure because there's no strict definition of what an atheist is and individual atheists can vary widely in what they believe and how they behave. I mean, for years, some people have been trying to redefine atheism so that no one can be an atheist, and the crap I've written above suggests that everyone is an atheist, and the original definition of atheism (before the eighteenth century or so) was that evil person=atheist regardless of what that person actually believed. So Yeah...

Duckluck: Hmm, first definition on is, "1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God." All the other definitions say about the same thing, so let's go with that. Based on that definition, it's pretty clear that atheism requires a certain amount of blind faith (how can we know God doesn't exist?), so let's write it that way. I've never much liked the myth that atheism is the only rational belief system, and I'd rather this page didn't encourage it.

Chandagnac: I think I'd be happy to have you accept Atheism as a rational position, let alone the only rational position.

I've always thought that atheism was simply nonbelief as opposed to active belief that there are no such things as Gods. And your webpage reference partly agrees with me: "2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings."

I mean, come on, couldn't you at least have shown both definitions? I'd say the only reason that "belief or doctrine that there is no God" appears at the top is because several of the more famous and crazy atheists have helped popularize the Hollywood Atheist idea of atheism.

So no, it definitely isn't "pretty clear" at all.

Personally, I'd describe myself as being an atheist (I don't actively believe in any Gods) and an agnostic (I accept that it's pretty much impossible to determine whether or not there are Gods) and an ignostic, and I see no contradiction in that.

The point is, atheists are all different. Some of them believe that there are no Gods with the same amount of fervour with which evangelical Christians proclaim the existence of God. And most of them just... don't believe.

Gattsuru: I think you're going to run into a lot of definition issues. Actively believing in the non-existence of any deity is called explicit atheism as opposed to not thinking about whether a god exists or doesn't exist is typically called implicit atheism... but mostly in philosophical texts. If you ask the average Joe on the street, they'd use the word atheism to describe the active disbelief in any god, as opposed to using agnosticism to cover those who claim to any gods to be an unknown. The only bright line on the matter are just that agnosticism is defined by lack of knowledge since Huxley came up with the concept, but even that falls apart when you add in self-described agnostic theists which specify a lack of knowledge but some inherent belief, which might scuff said line.

The real issue is that what definition you're using can be all different, rather highly varying based on who or what diction or understanding of the terms you're dealing with.

Zephid: If it's any help (and I know it isn't), there's also antitheism, which I guess would be the word for a "strong atheist". If this term is included, atheists are just those who don't believe where the antitheist is the one who rejects completely the notion of gods.

Gregory Hayes: When I wrote the article, I tried to use as broad a definition of the term as possible, since I'm aware that atheism is a broad blanket category. I'm aware that I only described one form of atheism in depth, mind you. There's only one form of atheism I can describe in depth (i.e., the one I subscribe to) though I tried to give equal time to other varieties.

Theogrin: Hard to say what really constitutes an Atheist vs. an Agnostic - but there is some basis for it. In terms of thought, Atheists generally seem to fall under the belief that there is no God or Gods; Agnostics fall under the belief that whether there is a God is unknown. The problem is when one encounters the scientific method and/or principle, as stated on the page itself: the scientific method cannot pinpoint, prove, or disprove a fact which is by its very definition a matter of religious faith. Barring those listed on the Hollywood Atheist page, there are a number of Atheists who simply believe that no God exists; alternately, you have folks like Dawkins and Carroll, who drive their Atheism to the point of religion.

While I'm not one to argue that Atheism is wrong (which makes me a staunch Agnostic, despite that Discordianism itself seems to be a reasonable measure of my faith), there are folks who take various religious standpoints, subvert them, and counter any arguments with what seems like dogma. But, as mentioned above...that might actually be closer to Antitheism. Either way, hard to imagine the scientific method has ANYTHING to do with whether or not there is a deity. Thoughts?

Gattsuru: "# Contrary to the opinions of certain Christians, there are no atheists who worship Satan. That would be silly. Why worship something that you don't believe exists?" While I think it's still rather silly, there are lot of individuals who consider themselves both atheists and Satanists, and it's usually a defining trait of La Veyan Satanism. While these individuals don't believe in Lucifer, a Christian devil, or anything along those lines, they still describe themselves as worshiping The Adversary as some sort of conceptual entity. That said, such individuals are rather rare — I believe there are more people listing themselves as Jedi on the Canadian or Australian census than even claim to be Satanists of any denomination in America — and I'm not nearly familiar enough with the religion to really go in depth into the belief system. I'm really uncertain about a lot of other aspects of this page. I've encountered a lot of atheists that believe in a general purpose in life, simply because evolution makes it rather apparently clear what the average human is designed to do.

Duckluck: Most "satanists" are either atheists and iconoclasts trying to make a point (usually that even followers of an "evil" religion can be good people, or something similar), or teenagers trying to piss off their parents. I've never seen any compelling evidence that violent satanic cults exist anywhere but fundamentalists' nightmares.

Gattsuru: That seems to be the case, but I never said it was a logical or coherent group of beliefs or group of individuals. The various churches still estimate something on the order of ten thousand individuals, and that's still not nothing.

Maggoty Anne: I have rewritten: "Atheists do not believe in Satan. Unless one believes that Satan exists, God doesn't exist, and that Satan doesn't qualify as a deity. What set of definitions you could make up to make that even remotely rational are hard to imagine."

It is absolutely impossible to be an atheist and a satanist. I'm sure there are those who actually do worship satan, and they are called theists. And as for the "What set of definitions you could make up to make that even remotely rational are hard to imagine" line, again: they would surely be no more irrational to an atheist than the belief that a cracker could turn to someone's flesh in their stomach. It now says: "Atheists do not believe in Satan any more than they believe in God. Therefore, they cannot worship either." Not the best wording, but much better than what it was.

Adam850: This should not be in the first person. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd fix that.

Blork: I toned down the bit about non-existence after death being incredibly frightening because frankly, it's something that never bothered me or any of the other atheists I know in the slightest. Before I was born I spent 13.7 billion years not existing and it didn't hurt me at all.

The Defenestrator: I just want to say that this is an awesome page. There's almost nothing I would begin to argue with and I doubt I could write something better on this subject if I tried.

Sikon: As an atheist myself, I find this page surprisingly well-written, complete and insightful. It describes my own views almost to a T.

Noaqiyeum: The Morality section seems to imply moral relativism, which I think is an idea that could use some more explanation. (I ain't touchin' it, you don't my theistic, moral absolutist germs on your shiny new notes.)
Relatedly, I've always been a little unclear on two issues that are mentioned in said section: How does one set about "creating your own morality" in any meaningful way? (I mean, you make it, you change your mind if it gets in your way later, right?) And, if materialism has the implications for free will that I think it does, how is it in any way "liberating"?
Vielen dank...

The Defenestrator: Ignoring your system of morality is possible for theists and atheists, otherwise only psychopaths would ever do evil things. The idea is that you'll still know that you broke your moral code and feel guilty about it. That's how morality seems to work, anyway.

Gattsuru: There are a good number of different ways to set up a system of morality. Religions without a stated God or gods, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and dozens of other religions, tend to still have their own set of moral tenets. The one referenced here would be based on humanism, which primarily bases its morality on what benefits humankind as a whole (presumably either selflessly or from a 'make the pie bigger' viewpoint). Another stance would be rational egoism, or simple selfishness, in which the individual is most interested in what benefits them particularly — while this set up could result in a pretty good number of conflicts with other moral systems, worrying about law enforcement and the typical negative effects of such tends to keep practitioners from acting completely evil, and in some cases is argued to align well with humanism's ideal results over the long term. See some applications of Ayn Rand's philosophy for an example of such a belief that the best way to benefit yourself is to make the pie bigger. Sikhs, on the other hand, presume a deity so alien and vague as to be undecipherable, but derived their morality from a series of enlightened individual. The results of that do not align with a lot of other moral foundations, to the point of some tenets being virtually banned in Denmark and heavily contested in Canada and the United Kingdom, but result in a coherent set of moral tenets. (aside: the result is a rather compelling, if a bit like armed and unshaven humanists with strong anti-aggressive but not pacifist stance.)

That's just the more centered and 'normal' stuff. There are lots of other options : I know some therianthropes claim either atheism, agnosticism, or a form of religion with no major moral tenets of its own, and also claim a form of morality based on animal instincts compromised with human social requirements and mores. That one tends to either require a Disney-esque view of animal mentality or a rather cold-hearted stance on other people's lives, in my opinion, but generally remains too 'heavy' for its adherents to change on a whim. On the more consistently murderous side of things, more socialist (such as Mao's China) or statist groups do have their own moral code created and typically enshrined by law, making it difficult (albeit obviously not impossible ) to change the rules.

Note that most of this comes with the same options as religious individuals, even within one religion. Predominate Christian moral codes align well with the biggest tenets (about how to treat other people) of humanism. Despite Ayn Rand's opposition to religion, rational egoism still resonates well with Christian libertarians, at least well enough for groups like the Trinity Foundation to thrive.

While you'd expect agnostic or atheistic moral tenets to be difficult to maintain and hold, in practice there are several different reasons that not all atheists or agnostics fall to completely and totally situational ethics. The Western opposition to hypocrisy, for example. Another would be rational egoism, which remains both absolute and incredibly unlikely to be immediately beneficial to change. The concern of law enforcement would be yet another, as would the belief that a rationally founded set of moral tenets is simply seldom beneficial to violate.

As for materialism, it does not necessarily result in a deterministic universe. Modern quantum mechanics have demonstrated that the nature of reality is not perceivably deterministic, and in fact strongly resists such determinism due to several factors along the lines of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Even on larger scales, the very scientists that demonstrated the ability to 'force' people to feel that they had freely chosen to raise their hand, a group headed by Benjamin Libet, also noted that some individuals were still able to 'veto' that choice with regularity. Einstein was strong believer in determinism, but not all agnostic or atheistic individuals are, and for that matter Einstein's belief system held several non-materialistic viewpoints.

The Defenestrator: Wow, that's a lot of explanation. I tend to think that the only rational justification for morality is empathy, and that once you've decided to try to make things better for people, everything after that is a question of how to practically accomplish that. Also, I don't think Noaqiyeum's going to like your counter to determinism. "Don't worry, your mind isn't purely deterministic, there's also some pure random chance involved." :)

Gattsuru: I dunno about rational, but there are a lot of people who have little empathy or have different types of empathy, yet have strong systems of morality not far from the norm. As for choice/fatalism, there's at least random chance going on, and past that point figuring out whether the rest is just random chance or random chance and free will is neither possible to test nor really meaningful in practice.
Lale: "that they will be rewarded for their good deeds." = opposite of Christianity. Unless the article was saying that's what most atheists think Christianity is (?)

The Defenestrator: And I don't think my good deeds will be rewarded, except as far as "virtue is its own reward" or "what goes around comes around," and I can't imagine many other atheists do either.

Sukeban: Catholicism does say that good deeds increase merit for salvation, and last time I checked, it was still a part of Christianity.
Filby: To the user who inserted the long anti-atheist rant — Please, no Complaining About Ideologies You Don't Like. Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies.
Kenb215: I don't think we need examples:

  • This troper failed an exam because he said "God does not exist" in a bonus question, and no amount of going to Church without incident with the others or near flawless bible quote memorizing helped - atheists were failed on that test, period. (Did I mention the class was GYM and every bureaucrat told me to shut up because it was not enough to make me fail the class?)

—- RE: Duckluck and Chandagnac- I'm not saying that atheism is the only rational philosophy (NOT belief system), but you'd be hard pressed to find many atheists who would agree that it requires faith. It's a matter of not having any evidence to go by, so we don't believe. And to trust in the self-correcting, inductive and deductive methods of scientific reasoning doesn't require any kind of faith. I don't think this entry should allude at all to whether atheistm requires faith just because that's your opinion or even the popular opinion among non-atheists. Let us have our say on this entry. According to most atheists you will meet, atheism does not require faith as it is a negative position, a lack of belief.

—- Filby: I edited out the dig at Dawkins and Hitchens, since how bad you think they are varies widely depending on who you are, but kept it vague enough to include them if that's who the reader is thinking of. (And honestly, Madalyn O'Hair is a much better example of a contemptible atheist than ol' Dick Dawkins, but that's just me.)

Blork: Removed a similar rant:

  • It's also worth noting that atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris, activists who are explicitly out to destroy religion, are essentially the atheistic equivalent of the Church Militant, being Strawman Politicals that give atheism the same image as the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do for Christianity-that of a collection of radicals determined to impose their views on everyone else come hell or high water. Most atheists and Christians, of course, tend to be much more sane and moderate than the radicals on either side.

Nornagest: Something to note here —

Contrary to the opinions of some Christians, there are no atheists who worship Satan. No worship for things that they don't even believe exist. The exception, of course, would be someone who believed Satan exists, God doesn't exist, and that Satan doesn't qualify as a deity (though what set of definitions you could make up to make that even remotely rational I've never heard).

LaVeyan Satanism almost qualifies. It's been a while since I've exposed myself to it, but if I recall correctly it denies the existence of supernatural beings, yet believes to some degree in supernatural effects, and considers the big red dude worthy of veneration (though probably not full-blown worship) as some kind of archetypal rebel. Belief in Satan as an archetype + disbelief in Satan as supernatural power + disbelief in existence of God qua God = what?

Of course, the people following that philosophy are Satanists and identify as such. Although I expect many of them would identify as atheists as well, they shouldn't be considered representative of atheism in general.
Charred Knight: I will just point out that I loved the part where a company spent 100,000 pounds of Atheist money to make Atheist look bad.

Grimace: Huh? The bus campaign? How did that make atheists look bad? Not having a go Crispy, but I just don't get your logic.
Robin Zimm: Rewriting these bullet points for accuracy and clarity...

  • What leads leads many people to become atheists is skepticism, which is derived from the same basic principles as the scientific method. The argument is, essentially, that there is no good evidence for the existence of a god or gods, and therefore there is no reason to believe that they exist, and that the burden of proof lies on those claiming they do exist. This is why the Flat-Earth Atheist is largely unrealistic, as the tendency among skeptics is to require extraordinary proof for all extraordinary claims. A related school of thought, agnosticism, is often based on similar logic, though as mentioned above agnosticism does not completely dismiss the possibility that there is some kind of god, it just states there is currently no way of knowing. (It's worth noting that skepticism does not necessarily mean the atheist is a cynic; atheists' opinions range like everyone else's.)
    • Whilst there is a lot of overlap between atheism and agnosticism the division between them in regards to skepticism can be thought of like this: The atheist says "we don't know if god exists, but the question is in principle answerable and without any supporting evidence it's better to assume the negative." The agnostic says "we can't know if god exists, it's an unanswerable question."
  • Atheism actually covers a spectrum of positions ranging from agnosticism, through varying degrees of "gods probably do not exist", to the absolute declaration that "gods definitely do not exist". Individual atheists will generally inhabit a position between the two boundaries.

Terpsichoreus: Hey everybody, enjoying the page and discussion. Tried to add a little depth to the page here and there. Mentioned how some Atheists still attend church for social reasons, the relation of Scientific Theory to an idealized 'truth', that the 'harm' done by organized religion it comparable to any other pervasive political organization, a short explanation of how Atheists (and Christians) form their own personal moralities, and changed the representation of Hitchens/Dawkins as 'unlike clergy' instead of 'contrary to'.

I also wanted to address the point of Atheism as 'A belief in no god' as opposed to 'No belief in god'. If I mentioned that I 'lacked a belief in a Nazi machine gun bunker beneath my bed' (which I do), no one would suggest that mine is a faith-based belief system intent on denying the bunker.

My lack of belief comes from the fact that it is very unlikely to be true, and for it to be proven to me would require a very complex explanation (for example: of how an object larger than my bed could be concealed beneath it).

Many atheists make the same claim about god: that his existence requires a very complicated explanation, so without evidence for him, there is no reason to believe he is there. If I heard Nazis yelling in German under my bed, followed by rapid-fire bullets tearing through my walls, this would provide a reason to believe in the bunker.

The faithful often say god is necessary since all things need a beginning, except they then exempt god from that rule. They posit that the single most complex idea ever (an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent intelligence) came into existence on its own, or always existed. If one is willing to believe something so complex can simply 'be', then why not something as (comparatively) simple as the universe?

We cannot disprove anything, but only prove. We cannot disprove unicorns, because we cannot say they don't exist simply because we don't see them. However, if we did see them, then we could say they did exist. From this stance, Atheism is the only rational conclusion to take after observing the universe *under our current understanding*.

While god, telepathy, aliens, or any other (as of today) unproven idea *may* exist, there is not yet any overwhelming or convincing data to indicate that they *do* exist. Rationally, we cannot believe in them until they are proven. Plenty of things have moved from the realm of 'weird and unknown' to 'observed and proven' (the moons of other planets, electrons), god has not (yet) crossed that threshold.

Many believers state that this is precisely why they believe, and why they must believe, and that the definition of faith is a belief in something which cannot be proven. This is not a position that can be argued about, any more than any of you could prove me wrong if I told you that I have fully-functional, biological wings.

Another theological argument states that if god made us, he made us as skeptics, and with powerful brains, and with the ability to recognize evidence and likelihood, and that if we harness all of those gifts and see a world which doesn't support god, then it is our responsibility not to believe in him irrationally, and that, unless he is evil, he will reward us for this. Would god want us to waste the skepticism he provided us with and instead blindly follow a man-made church with a man-made book?

I'm not trying to convince anyone, I just thought that was a fun argument. It was written in response to Pascal's Wager, by-the-by.

P.S. Laveyan Satanism is a spiritualist philosophy, not a religion, per se. It argues that the representation of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost is the ideal representation of a rational thinker. It combines this with mystic traditions plucked from the likes of Aleister Crowley, such as Tarot (invented by Renaissance Christians from Italy). It's supposed to be sensationalist and radical, like Crowley, Byron, or 'Chaos Magick' (Grant Morrison, anyone?).
Dick Richardson - Wasn't there some sort of parody law regarding "calling an athiest just as bad as a fundamentalist makes your argument invalid" in the vein of Godwin's Law? I know it took off in Pharnygula, but the only other reason I've heard it's a fallacy is because "athiests aren't violent".

Robin Zimm - There's also the problem that - all joking aside - atheism is not dogmatic.

Eryk The Red - On the other hand, that doesn't make it impossible for an atheist to act that way. It's fallacious to make sweeping statements about the way all atheists are, because, like everyone else, they're not all the same. An atheist who belligerently pushes his views on someone isn't a nice guy simply because other atheists are nice guys. And a quiet, polite christian isn't an asshole simply because Pat Buchanan is.

Malchus - Yes, well, there's this teeny tiny problem of the fact that most people who call atheists fundamentalist typically do so in an attempt to make sweeping generalizations about atheism as a whole, and attempt to paint atheism as just another intolerant religion with "its own agenda." This doesn't invalidate the fact that some atheists are assholes, but it does make other atheists annoyeded about being accused of being "just another fanatic trying to push his views on everyone else" in the same way moderate religious get annoyed about being lumped in with the crazies.

DoomTay: Out of curiosity, which would a character be classified as if he frowns upon phrases of "God forbid" or "The Lord gave us X", yet yells "Oh God" out of habit when really panicked and believes there's a more abstract force, such as fate, or other people's actions weaving his life or a part of it?

  • Robin Zimm: A native speaker of English? "Oh God" and "Oh, Crap!" are essentially synonymous in modern English, just as "goodbye" (which derives from the expression "God be with you") is synonymous with "farewell". As for believing in fate, that's not a common trait of atheists, but if the "fate" believed to be acting in the world is not a god, then it doesn't count as believing in gods.

ledge: I'm taking this section out:
  • Some atheist are also fond of materialism, Epicureanism or Hedonism, thinking that if there's no afterlife, the only "life" that matter is this one, and you have to enjoy it.

I don't see how this has anything to do with atheism versus anyone else who wants to be fond of materialism, Epicureanism or Hedonism. I certainly can't think of anyone I know who sees "atheism" as an excuse to party before they die.

Robin Zimm: Link removed as redundant:
  • Here's an insightful look into some reasons why theists use this argument.