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Thread: The Atheism Thread

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    Many books, little time Flattop's Avatar
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    Default The Atheism Thread

    I have a friend who recently had a health scare, which has led to some soul searching. My friend is an atheist and we have had many chats about religion in the past. Btw, she is probably older than anyone here with -- the possible exception of byu71 -- and has probably been an atheist longer than anyone here.

    Anyway, she said something the other day about what she called the "new atheism." She said that "It doesn't seem quite so admirable to me now, merely aggressive, arrogant, self-satisfied."

    In our many conversations about religion she has defined atheism as a lack of belief in god(s) and nothing more. Nothing is required to lack a belief in something. It is neither positive or negative.

    Belief that there is no god = negative
    lacking belief in god = neutral
    belief in god = positive.

    However, some folks who lack belief in god(s), have very strong opinions about theistic religion, which confuses some people into thinking that they have a belief that there is no god(s). At least some atheists also appear to be "aggressive, arrogant, and self-satisfied."

    I respect the right of all people to believe or not believe as they wish.
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    I get confused by which terms mean what, when (if that makes sense), but my understanding was that agnosticism is closer to what you are describing than atheism. Do I have it wrong?

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    Quote Originally Posted by OhioBlue View Post
    I get confused by which terms mean what, when (if that makes sense), but my understanding was that agnosticism is closer to what you are describing than atheism. Do I have it wrong?
    That's what I thought.
    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    In our many conversations about religion she has defined atheism as a lack of belief in god(s) and nothing more. Nothing is required to lack a belief in something. It is neither positive or negative.

    Belief that there is no god = negative
    lacking belief in god = neutral
    belief in god = positive.

    However, some folks who lack belief in god(s), have very strong opinions about theistic religion, which confuses some people into thinking that they have a belief that there is no god(s). At least some atheists also appear to be "aggressive, arrogant, and self-satisfied."

    I respect the right of all people to believe or not believe as they wish.

    I don't see much difference between your neutral statement and your negative statement?

    1. I don't believe God exists. (neutral/lack of believe)

    2. I believe there is no God. (negative)

    Those are pretty much the same thing. I'd think the more neutral or agnostic approach would be:

    God may or may not exists...I don't really care.

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    Many books, little time Flattop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    That's what I thought.




    I don't see much difference between your neutral statement and your negative statement?

    1. I don't believe God exists. (neutral/lack of believe)

    2. I believe there is no God. (negative)

    Those are pretty much the same thing. I'd think the more neutral or agnostic approach would be:

    God may or may not exists...I don't really care.
    Two statements, seeming similar, but vastly different in meaning:

    I have no belief in god(s).
    I believe there are no god(s).

    There is absolutely nothing in the first statement that requires evidence, proof, or faith.

    There is a difference between lacking belief and actively disbelieving, or believing something does not exist.
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    I'm disappointed this thread wasn't started by AtheistCoug.
    So Russell...what do you love about music? To begin with, everything.

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    Resident Science Cop woot's Avatar
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    This post should be enlightening.

    Regardless of how anyone chooses to define the terms, none of the atheists anyone's heard of take the position of actively believing there are no gods, except for Penn Jillette, who recognizes that his position is not a strictly rational one.

    In practice, there is very little difference between the two, but in theory, lacking a positive belief is much more defensible than holding a positive belief that there are no gods. This only applies as a general principle, as many would argue that there is sufficient evidence against the existence of specific gods as described by specific believers. Even then, however, such beliefs would only be held to the degree that the evidence supports them, not as absolutes.

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    Many books, little time Flattop's Avatar
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    To quote my friend further:

    Most atheists favor this definition of their/our position: I have no belief in god(s). That is not the same as an assertion that there is no god, a position that would put the burden of proof on the atheist.

    The classical definition of agnostic is one who maintains that man cannot know whether there are gods. He therefore has no belief in gods and falls into the atheist category.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    At least some atheists also appear to be "aggressive, arrogant, and self-satisfied."
    I'm not sure there is anything more aggressive, arrogant and self-satisfied than someone telling me that not only do they know there is a God but that they also know what He wants me to do. I think this is just a human characteristic. If you are right now thinking "but sharing religious belief is not any of those things because......", whatever the "because" is also applies to assertion of an atheist world view.

    I actually don't think either are aggressive, arrogant or self satisfied. But if one is the other is too.

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    Faith crisis consultant SeattleUte's Avatar
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    Here is a review of a very good book about aetheism that I happen to be reading right now.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/09/20/140463...he-renaissance
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    Resident Science Cop woot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UtahDan View Post
    I'm not sure there is anything more aggressive, arrogant and self-satisfied than someone telling me that not only do they know there is a God but that they also know what He wants me to do. I think this is just a human characteristic. If you are right now thinking "but sharing religious belief is not any of those things because......", whatever the "because" is also applies to assertion of an atheist world view.

    I actually don't think either are aggressive, arrogant or self satisfied. But if one is the other is too.
    Good thoughts. It seems very common in the current environment for theists to simply paint the atheists as bad people rather than to try to engage any of their points. Even if atheists were uniformly terrible people, it wouldn't have any bearing on the correctness of their position. Since a great many arrogant theists could be named for every arrogant atheist, this argument isn't any more effective than one that actually addresses the issues.

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    Perhaps the real distinction between different types of atheists are:
    1. Those who respect and/or are not bothered by the religious belief of others.
    2. Those who actively preach against religious belief.

    Folks like Dawkins, Hitchens, Maher and others obviously fall into the second group. I think most atheists fall into the first, and SU even includes himself here. I'm not particularly bothered by people in either group in general (and there could be more division). It's the method that can be quite distasteful. I.e. Maher's methods are distasteful, but that is not limited to his diatribes against religion. Hitchens can be quite sharp tongued, but is generally respectful of a good counter argument and has always been willing to debate the matter. In other words, atheists pushing their views are similar to religious people pushing theirs. Some are jerks, but most are not.

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    Resident Science Cop woot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    Perhaps the real distinction between different types of atheists are:
    1. Those who respect and/or are not bothered by the religious belief of others.
    2. Those who actively preach against religious belief.

    Folks like Dawkins, Hitchens, Maher and others obviously fall into the second group. I think most atheists fall into the first, and SU even includes himself here. I'm not particularly bothered by people in either group in general (and there could be more division). It's the method that can be quite distasteful. I.e. Maher's methods are distasteful, but that is not limited to his diatribes against religion. Hitchens can be quite sharp tongued, but is generally respectful of a good counter argument and has always been willing to debate the matter. In other words, atheists pushing their views are similar to religious people pushing theirs. Some are jerks, but most are not.
    This is probably a fine distinction. I would only point out that Dawkins and Hitchens have repeatedly said, and in fact have made it a prominent component of their arguments, that they are absolutely fine with people believing whatever they want to. They only speak out because of the insidious influence of religion on public policy as believers continually attempt to force nonbelievers, or those who hold to other creeds, to live according to policies and laws based on religious beliefs they do not hold.

    I think I have demonstrated that I feel similarly. I was appalled by prop 8 and spoke out accordingly, and tend to not respond kindly to statements of faith used as evidence in a rational argument, but I try my hardest, and generally succeed, to avoid speaking out against sincere expression of personal faith. When I do, it is either due to policy implications of said belief, for the purpose of respectfully inviting discussion, or, very rarely, because I think it'd be fun to pester somebody with whom I've battled in the past.

    It's very easy to paint Dawkins, for example, as arrogant, or as trying to force his ideas onto others, but in reality he is generally a quiet and mild-mannered British gentlemen. If he were discussing politics in America he would probably fall toward the humble end of spectrum. But because his subject matter is so personal to so many, and because the social conventions regarding the discussion of religion and the discussion of politics are so very different, he is labeled a troublemaker. It's understandable, but it's not necessarily a fair characterization.

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    Many books, little time Flattop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UtahDan View Post
    I'm not sure there is anything more aggressive, arrogant and self-satisfied than someone telling me that not only do they know there is a God but that they also know what He wants me to do. I think this is just a human characteristic. If you are right now thinking "but sharing religious belief is not any of those things because......", whatever the "because" is also applies to assertion of an atheist world view.

    I actually don't think either are aggressive, arrogant or self satisfied. But if one is the other is too.
    In the interest of clarity, I was not suggesting that all atheists are aggressive, arrogant or self satisfied. Also, I agree that there are at least some theists who are, or at least appear to be, aggressive, arrogant and/or self satisfied.

    There are bad apples in every harvest. My atheist friend has previously complained about people who forward her chain emails with religious content despite her requests that they stop. Another complaint I have heard, not just from her, is that some folks quote the Bible as if that alone proves anything.

    I have never believed that forcing my beliefs on others is a good idea. If you're interested, we can talk; but if you are not, then we can agree to live and let live.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    In the interest of clarity, I was not suggesting that all atheists are aggressive, arrogant or self satisfied. Also, I agree that there are at least some theists who are, or at least appear to be, aggressive, arrogant and/or self satisfied.

    There are bad apples in every harvest. My atheist friend has previously complained about people who forward her chain emails with religious content despite her requests that they stop. Another complaint I have heard, not just from her, is that some folks quote the Bible as if that alone proves anything.

    I have never believed that forcing my beliefs on others is a good idea. If you're interested, we can talk; but if you are not, then we can agree to live and let live.
    But do you agree with woot that there are a great many arrogant theists for every one such atheist? (There is a case to be made that atheists are more humble by virtue of the very nature of unbelief.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeattleUte View Post
    But do you agree with woot that there are a great many arrogant theists for every one such atheist? (There is a case to be made that atheists are more humble by virtue of the very nature of unbelief.)
    On the one hand, sure, and they are probably the some of the same folks who think that I am not a Christian.

    On the other hand, while the nature of unbelief may or may not encourage humility, if your a Christian and not humble, then something has gone badly wrong. While I don't know about the humility aspect of atheism, I do know that Christianity teaches the need for humility.

    Edit: Btw, it seems to me that the only thing required for a person to be self righteous is that they believe they have a morally superior position. Thus, even an atheist could be self righteous.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    On the one hand, sure, and they are probably the some of the same folks who think that I am not a Christian.

    On the other hand, while the nature of unbelief may or may not encourage humility, if your a Christian and not humble, then something has gone badly wrong. While I don't know about the humility aspect of atheism, I do know that Christianity teaches the need for humility.

    Edit: Btw, it seems to me that the only thing required for a person to be self righteous is that they believe they have a morally superior position. Thus, even an atheist could be self righteous.
    And many atheists certainly are self-righteous. I don't know that the percentage of douche bags among atheists would be any lower than that among theists. I do think, however, that by definition, atheism/agnosticism is a more humble position to take. Being willing to say "I don't know" or perhaps "we're working on it" is a much more respectable position than "the creator of the universe told me..." or "a book delivered to us by god says..."

    Again, that's not to say that everyone can be characterized so neatly. Lots of atheists are irrational in their judgments, or lack understanding of the proper relationship between evidence and confidence, just as lots of religious folk are humble in their beliefs despite what could be termed the arrogant nature of the beliefs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by woot View Post
    And many atheists certainly are self-righteous. I don't know that the percentage of douche bags among atheists would be any lower than that among theists. I do think, however, that by definition, atheism/agnosticism is a more humble position to take. Being willing to say "I don't know" or perhaps "we're working on it" is a much more respectable position than "the creator of the universe told me..." or "a book delivered to us by god says..."

    Again, that's not to say that everyone can be characterized so neatly. Lots of atheists are irrational in their judgments, or lack understanding of the proper relationship between evidence and confidence, just as lots of religious folk are humble in their beliefs despite what could be termed the arrogant nature of the beliefs.
    Just because an individual lacks knowledge of something, that does not mean they are humble.

    Just because an individual has knowledge of something, that does not mean they lack humility.

    Rather, IMO, it is the attitude of the individual about what they do or do not know. Believing that one is superior because of what they know or do not know would seem to be a better indicator of whether they are or are not humble.

    An individual who believes that they are superior because they know probably lacks humility. Example, "Because God told me, I am superior."

    On the other hand, an individual calling themself a "free thinker" because they lack knowledge regarding god(s), is probably not an example of humility.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    Just because an individual lacks knowledge of something, that does not mean they are humble.

    Just because an individual has knowledge of something, that does not mean they lack humility.
    Nobody has "knowledge" of God. People who say they "know" God exists are either lying or confused.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CardiacCoug View Post
    Nobody has "knowledge" of God. People who say they "know" God exists are either lying or confused.
    As a teenager, I once had a conversation with my parents where I was expressing my frustration over how difficult it was for me to accept things on faith. Eventually my father said something close to what you wrote. It looked, at that point, like my mother was about to punch him.

    The only other time I saw her look at him like that was once during a birds and bees conversation as a requirement for some scout merit badge. After my mom went through the whole required abstinence thing my dad chimed in at the end "but if you do end up doing it, be sure and use protection".

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    Quote Originally Posted by CardiacCoug View Post
    Nobody has "knowledge" of God. People who say they "know" God exists are either lying or confused.
    Nothing arrogant about that at all.
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    вот так штука CardiacCoug's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    Nothing arrogant about that at all.
    Yep. I have a deep and abiding testimony that God's existence is unknowable -- I would even say that I know it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by woot View Post
    This is probably a fine distinction. I would only point out that Dawkins and Hitchens have repeatedly said, and in fact have made it a prominent component of their arguments, that they are absolutely fine with people believing whatever they want to. They only speak out because of the insidious influence of religion on public policy as believers continually attempt to force nonbelievers, or those who hold to other creeds, to live according to policies and laws based on religious beliefs they do not hold.

    I think I have demonstrated that I feel similarly. I was appalled by prop 8 and spoke out accordingly, and tend to not respond kindly to statements of faith used as evidence in a rational argument, but I try my hardest, and generally succeed, to avoid speaking out against sincere expression of personal faith. When I do, it is either due to policy implications of said belief, for the purpose of respectfully inviting discussion, or, very rarely, because I think it'd be fun to pester somebody with whom I've battled in the past.

    It's very easy to paint Dawkins, for example, as arrogant, or as trying to force his ideas onto others, but in reality he is generally a quiet and mild-mannered British gentlemen. If he were discussing politics in America he would probably fall toward the humble end of spectrum. But because his subject matter is so personal to so many, and because the social conventions regarding the discussion of religion and the discussion of politics are so very different, he is labeled a troublemaker. It's understandable, but it's not necessarily a fair characterization.
    Woot! Woot! Woot!

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    Quote Originally Posted by woot View Post
    And many atheists certainly are self-righteous. I don't know that the percentage of douche bags among atheists would be any lower than that among theists. I do think, however, that by definition, atheism/agnosticism is a more humble position to take. Being willing to say "I don't know" or perhaps "we're working on it" is a much more respectable position than "the creator of the universe told me..." or "a book delivered to us by god says..."

    Again, that's not to say that everyone can be characterized so neatly. Lots of atheists are irrational in their judgments, or lack understanding of the proper relationship between evidence and confidence, just as lots of religious folk are humble in their beliefs despite what could be termed the arrogant nature of the beliefs.
    Seriously, woot, your killing it. Some very fine work here today.

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    Many books, little time Flattop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CardiacCoug View Post
    Yep. I have a deep and abiding testimony that God's existence is unknowable -- I would even say that I know it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
    And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does exist.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CardiacCoug View Post
    Nobody has "knowledge" of God. People who say they "know" God exists are either lying or confused.
    That statement seems quite ridiculous. How could you have obtained such knowledge?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flattop View Post
    And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does exist.
    How do you know?
    That which may be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence. -C. Hitchens

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    That statement seems quite ridiculous. How could you have obtained such knowledge?
    Because it's not testable. No one can have knowledge of something that can't be tested or demonstrated. Saying you know that God exists is like saying you know there is a ghost in your attic.
    That which may be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence. -C. Hitchens

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    Quote Originally Posted by SoonerCoug View Post
    Because it's not testable. No one can have knowledge of something that can't be tested or demonstrated. Saying you know that God exists is like saying you know there is a ghost in your attic.
    I'm not sure you understood my point. I mostly agree with your statement.

    I'm humble enough to admit that someone else can know something that I don't believe. I don't believe in ghosts. But if they do exist, and if someone actually saw one, then he would know that they exist, even though the proposition remains untestable to you and me. But despite the many testimonies of such ghostly knowledge, I continue to believe that they don't exist. I also think the believers are foolish.
    Last edited by Jacob; 10-13-2011 at 09:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SoonerCoug View Post
    How do you know?
    Because I have real, practical experience with God.

    I can't prove to others that he exists, and I wouldn't even try. But I know what I have experienced and what it means.
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