PZ has decided he hasn’t peeved enough people, and made a list of atheist arguments he dislikes. And he’s right. For instance, he’s down on:
Dictionary Atheists. Boy, I really do hate these guys. You’ve got a discussion going, talking about why you’re an atheist, or what atheism should mean to the community, or some such topic that is dealing with our ideas and society, and some smug wanker comes along and announces that “Atheism means you lack a belief in gods. Nothing more. Quit trying to add meaning to the term.” As if atheism can only be some platonic ideal floating in virtual space with no connections to anything else; as if atheists are people who have attained a zen-like ideal, their minds a void, containing nothing but atheism, which itself is nothing. Dumbasses.
â¦there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it’s actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It’s a consequence, not a cause.
Now I don’t claim that my values are part of the definition of atheism â¦ nor do I consider them universal to atheism. â¦
nobody becomes an atheist because of an absence of values, and no one becomes an atheist because the dictionary tells them they are. I think we also do a disservice to the movement when we pretend it’s solely a mob of individuals who lack a belief, rather than an organization with positive goals and values.
I don’t disagree. Where this could get problematic is if atheism became a label for a movement uncoupled from the dictionary definition. Or if an atheist movement driven by a set of additional values excluded other people who share those additional values just because those other people didn’t agree about the god thing. To me, this raises questions about whether we need an atheist movement per se (beyond a movement to defend the rights and concerns specific to dictionary atheists, naturally), or atheists would be better served by joining or forming coalitions with non-atheists who share the same values and goals. But that’s a different discussion.
PZ’s other pet peeve arguments:
Babies are all atheists or I’m an atheist by default, because I was raised without religion. Nope. Uh-uh. Same problem as the Dictionary Atheist â it implies atheism is simply an intellectual vacuum. â¦ If babies are atheists, then so are trees and rocks â which is true by the dictionary definition, but also illustrates how ridiculously useless that definition is.
Babies might also have an in-built predisposition to accept the existence of caring intelligences greater than themselves, so they might all lean towards generic theism, anyway. Mommy is God, after all. â¦
The “I believe in no gods/I lack belief in gods” debate. I have heard this so often, the hair-splitting grammatical distinctions some atheists think so seriously important in defining themselves. All you’re doing is defining yourselves as anal retentive freaks, people! Get over it. â¦
I don’t care. Tell me what virtues you bring, what experiences brought you here, why your values matter to society. The fine-grained shuffling about to define yourself so precisely is simply narcissistic masturbation.
Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings. The second sentence is false. Religion does not turn you into a terrorist. The overwhelming majority of religious people have similar values to yours; my church-going grandmother would have been just as horrified at people using their faith to justify murdering people as the most hardened atheist, and there have been atheist individuals who also think they are justified in killing people for the cause. So stop saying this!â¦
“I just believe in one less god than you do”.
The theist you’re arguing with did not go through a process where he analyzed his beliefs logically, and excluded 99% of all gods by reason and their lack of evidence; in fact, he probably never in his life seriously considered any of those other faiths (he is 99% Dictionary Atheist, in other words). He came to his personal faith by way of a series of personal, positive (to him!) predispositions, not by progressive exclusion of other ideas, and he’s simply not going to see the relevance of your argument. Would you be swayed if someone pointed out that you disbelieve astrology, homeopathy, tarot, witchcraft, and palmistry, and he has simply gone one step further than you, and also disbelieves in evolution?
Similarly, you did not go through a list of religions, analysing each one, and ticking them off as unbelievable. I certainly didn’t. Instead, you come to the table with an implicit set of criteria, like evidence and plausibility and experimental support, and also a mistrust of unfounded authority or claims that are too good to be true, and they incline you to accept naturalism, for instance, as a better explanation of the world. Turning it into a quantitative debate about how many gods we accept, instead of a substantial debate about the actual philosophical underpinnings of our ideas, is kind of lame, I think.
This all makes sense to me, and it’s nice to see atheists critiquing their own bad arguments.