Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Label

I've noticed in my reading that most everyone who blogs on atheism or something related at some point gives some time to defining atheism. Since so many people feel the need to offer their idea, it must mean that there is no universally accepted meaning for the term. Atheist don't have their 28 fundamental beliefs. I've seen dozens of versions of an atheist Ten Commandments, but nothing central that you can point to and say 'you're an atheist so I know this about your beliefs. Certainly no label can adequately describe someone's world view. At any rate I got to thinking that it would be a beneficial exercise for me to take my turn at trying to express what being an atheist means to me.

There is a down side to this exercise though. I run the risk someone looking at this post and this is all they need to know about what I believe. However, my sincere desire is that a week from now I will have learned something or experienced something that will require me to refine my world view. I hope for my way of thinking to alway be flexible adapting to new information. If I'm ever static in my approach to interpreting the world I have failed. With that in mind I will try to describe what I believe. At least for today.

I call myself an atheist. I don't know if there is a god, but I don't think so. I suppose give some amount of evidence I could believe in a god. Given that I don't actively deny the existence of a god, sometimes I'm asked why I insist on labeling myself an atheist since the term is viewed so pejoratively (especially considering my background). I choose to use such an aggressive term because it does come the closest to what I believe. With the social circles that I run in, I don't want to misrepresent myself and have to deal with people trying to reconvert me. I'm past that. Proof of god's existences is not possible, but I have yet to come across any evidence that there might be a god. If there were evidence I would believe.

I am, however, definitely post-Christian. There is too much of the 'they just made it up' stuff associated with the Bible for me to ever go back to that. Not to mention all the dogma, institutionalism, bureaucracy and procedural garbage that is tied up with religion.

To sum up: I don't deny that god could exist, but I doubt it. Never-the-less, I will continue to refine my views to adapt to new learning.


Tim said...

So "atheism," for you, means doubt that God exists plus being post-Christian plus a means of avoiding awkward conversations (you're starting to sound like a pragmatist, which is just one dangerous step away from post-modernism - careful, Jeff!)?

You do say that you think "proof of god's existence is not [im]possible" (is that the right interpretation?), so "agnostic" is not a perfect fit there as usually defined, but I didn't see anything that made me think that the strength of your doubt was of the level usually associated with "atheism." Do you doubt God like you doubt Bertrand Russell's teapot, or is it not quite like that?

What sort of experience would count as evidence for God's existence? Would it have to be intersubjective/public? Would some sort of more personal interaction (ie, a "religious experience") be acceptable?

Reverted said...

Hi, Tim.

I'll let Jeff answer for himself, but I think he stands in a very similar position to myself---which is to say that, yes, he doubts "god" analogously to how he doubts Russell's teapot.

However, you must understand that "god" is, in many ways, a completely meaningless term because everyone defines it differently and contradictively. So, when I say "god" above, what I mean is "every god so far described" (especially by organized religions, but not limited to them). I really think the Christian god (as if there's any consensus even there) has roughly the same chance at existence as Russell's teapot. And, the same goes for Allah and Vishnu and so forth.

That does not mean I exclude the possibility of existence of ALL imaginable gods. But, then, if we're not defining what "god" even is, it's not especially meaningful to continue discussion. For example, a Deist essentially makes no claims about "god" other than "god exists, or existed, and created the universe". That is an extremely fuzzy statement, and it is almost entirely devoid of meaning. There is no definition of what god is, what he/she/it is like, whether it's just some energy or if it's personal, and so forth. (And, they explicitly refuse to state much, if anything, more about this "god".) The word "god", in this context, is empty. To get a feel for what I mean, and to divorce yourself from all the conceptual "god"-baggage you carry over from other sources, try reading the statement like this: "thuopimz exists, or existed, and created the universe". You know literally nothing about what "thuopimz" actually IS.

There are a couple of major mistakes religions commonly commit. First, they pretend to certainty where there is none ("I KNOW God exists!"). Second, they go to truly insane lengths to describe that, "beyond my certainty, I furthermore know what God is like, how he expects us to behave, what he's going to do to us if we don't (and do) behave, who he wants us to make love to (and how and when), what foods are acceptable and unacceptable to eat, the proper way to speak to him, and so on." I'm sorry, but there exist no words to adequately describe the degree to which such assertions are monumentally asinine.

The bottom line is that religions are superlatively absurd---every bit as imagined as Russell's teapot.

And, even Deism, with its nebulous "non-god", doesn't actually solve any problem or answer any question. I'm sure you're well aware of the failure of Deism to supply any fundamental explanations. (It's actually worse than a simple failure; it expands the problem!) Deists think the universe is too intricate/complex/improbable to be explained by anything other than a creator-god. They don't seem to realize that this suggestion utterly fails to explain anything, and instead actually only compounds the problem by requiring a (presumably) even more complex thing to be explained: the creator-god itself. Who created god? And, god's god? etc. It enters an infinite regression.

Either their original excuse for positing a god is valid, or it is not. If it is, then it enters infinite regression; if it is not, then they simply believe in a god "because they want to", not because of any property of the universe or because it actually answers any questions. And, if they try to say that, "no, god is mysterious and somehow eternal and 'uncreated'", then not only is this a thoroughbred non-answer, but it also immediately presents them with yet another unavoidable problem: if they can accept the idea of an "uncreated being", then they should even more easily be able to accept the idea of an "uncreated universe"---which, again, would presumably be even simpler than such a being.

Positing a god solves no problems, provides no answers, explains nothing. There's no evidence for one, and plenty of reason to think there is none. The universe behaves in exactly the way we should expect if it were entirely indifferent to our existence.

Iron Soul said...


I really like Russell's teapot. Just because I can't prove god doesn't exist doesn't mean I have any reason to think he does. I certainly don't call myself an atheist to avoid awkward conversations. I'm not sure if my writing was unclear or if you are misreading me. I am more than to explain what I believe and why I think that way. What I don't want is to appear uncertain and unthoughtful about where I stand. I don't care if my Christian friends want to pray for me or rub crystals together or what ever makes them feel better. I don't really care to have them wanting to pray with me. I'm not sure what you mean by pragmatist. I'll have to look that up, but from somehow I don't think that is what I am.

As far as the evidence that it would take to convince me of a god, I'm not sure I can say. If I'm being rigorous I'd want something public and verifiable. But really I suppose it could be something else. I can't imagine what it might be though. I'm just saying it might be possible.

@ reverted: I think I do hold a very similar position to you. I'm a less aggressive, but I think that is more personality than philosophy.

Tim said...

Jeff. Sorry. I shouldn't have left that bit about pragmatism and post-modernism on. It probably made my questions seem aggressive, which they weren't. I really did want to know what your position is. Because I couldn't tell what the level and quality of your doubt was, it seemed to me that "agnostic" might be a better fit than "atheist," but that you chose "atheist" for practical reasons relating to your theist friends. Thus the question about awkward conversations.

Iron Soul said...

I could accept strong agnostic, non-theist, or weak atheist. They all sort of have some overlap and portions apply to how I think. Most of the time I feel like an atheist, but I want to be careful that I don't let a label define me or become dogmatic or lazy. That is why I leave an opening.