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June 30, 2009

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And in reality, it is hard to imagine that there could possibly be any evidence good enough for us to accept the resurrection as true. Christians may claim that this is unfair, or that we are closed minded, but the fact that you are unlikely to find extraordinary evidence for this event 2,000 years after the fact, is hardly the non-believer’s fault.

Although, given the limitations of the time in record-keeping, sufficient evidence might not have been possible, I find it easy to believe that there could be better evidence, if such a thing actually happened. People would certainly have taken notice of a ressurection of a man who was publicly executed, and we should have many historical records covering the event and the uproar surrounding it.

Now, given the possibility of forging historical evidence (as the church is suspected of having done with Josephus' records with regards to Jesus), even this wouldn't be solid proof, but it certainly would be compelling. It would be what we would expect to see if a miracle had taken place, even if it's also a possible product of record tampering. But in reality, we don't even have that. The fact that the evidence we have for Jesus' ressurection is so much poorer is in fact good evidence that the resurrection never occured. For that matter, we don't even have that much evidence for Jesus' existence outside of the Bible. However, as the existence of a claimed prophet named Jesus (well, Yeshua) is hardly extroadinary, the evidence supplied by the Bible is probably good enough.

For a bit of an intellectual exercise, do you suppose that if the human race survives another 2,000 years, would historians of that era be able to confirm a resurrection of today, if it actually happened? Imagine Michael Jackson came back from the dead, for instead. His death is well-documented and incontrovertible, and his rebirth would be no less so. People would be talking about his rebirth for decades to come if he doesn't play up a religious angle for it - millenia if he does. The era would be swamped with evidence for historians that it had actually happened, barring only the possibilities of a massive worldwide conspiracy to tamper with the evidence, or a smaller conspiracy to fake his death in the first place. Medical science would be turned on its head trying to explain it, and the results would have long-lasting repurcussions to the field whatever they may find.

In the end, I'd say we probably could prove it to our distant descendants. So even if Yahweh is such a lazy bastard that he hasn't done a resurrection in 2,000 years to prove his existence, all he really needs to do is do it once more and he's set for a life. A little work now to convince all of humanity for eons to come of your reality. Do it. Cast True Resurrection on Michael Jackson and you'll convert billions. (Just make sure you tell him first which religion is right. Worst thing would be to convince everybody it has to be something, but not tell them which.)

Great article, thanks. I really goes through all rhetorical traps that come up during this kind of discussion.

Infophile wrote in his comment:

Cast True Resurrection on Michael Jackson and you'll convert billions.

That would not work. As you pointed out yourself, a conspiracy between some doctors and Michael Jackson would be much more probable and thus an easier explanation. Even if it were true, it would be very difficult to "prove" such an event to billions without some rock-hard evidence.

If Michael Jackson came back from the dead, more than 4 people would know about it first hand. In addition, we would have autopsy reports (including photos of the dead and carved up Jackson) and sworn testimony from all the doctors, nurses, and family that he was actually dead. This is a tremendous amount of evidence.

What has Jesus got? 4 people telling a story - and even their accounts differ wildly in the details. Urgh - not much more believable than the stories of any other magical deity coming back to life.

Its funny I was having a similar argument with a theist recently. He asked if I would be impressed if someone claimed to be able to throw a football 1000 years. And then what if he showed me he could do it.

I told him I would be skeptical if he said he could throw it that far and then impressed if he could show me.

But then how could I prove that he did it? Even taking video, having 100 people there to see it, putting a beacon in the ball to track and record its path. If I showed all this data to you guys... the idea that I faked it would still be easier to accept.

Worse, lets say you guys tentatively accept my data but ask to see for yourselves. but the guy hurt himself and can't do it anymore.

I think this sort of (imagined) frustration that I would have, something I know to be true and did what I could to prove it, is something similar to what these theists feel about us. They know they are right. They think they have evidence ("Its all around you"). But you wont accept it.

My point is, for a single "miracle" there is no amount of evidence that will be sufficient, unless it can be repeated. Which btw, is how they define a miracle..something that can not be repeated.

Some theists have responded to the “if atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby” argument by pointing out that non stamp collectors (aphilatelists?) don’t write books or blogs about not collecting stamps, don’t post anti stamp collecting ads on buses, don't ridicule stamp collectors, etc.

Why does Dinesh dsouza (sp?)come to mind?

The whole idea of arguing by definition is deceptive. You use the dictionary definition to lump a bunch of things into one category, and then use the category to sneak in connotations that aren't listed in the dictionary definition.

If the only thing people were arguing is that atheism is a cause that people pursue with zeal, there's no controversy. But that's not all they're saying - they're saying that it's a cause people pursue with zeal, therefore it's a religion, therefore [it uses faith too / it's no more right than other religions / it's subject to the same criticisms as religion / etc.]. But the last step of that is omitted from the argument and just assumed to be valid (by both sides, usually - that's why atheists spend their time arguing that it's not a religion). If instead you talked about individual claims, then you just have to validate each claim - no definition necessary.

Here's an article that talks about arguing "by definition." Money quote:

You wouldn't feel the need to say, "Hinduism, by definition, is a religion!" because, well, of course Hinduism is a religion. It's not just a religion "by definition", it's, like, an actual religion. Atheism does not resemble the central members of the "religion" cluster, so if it wasn't for the fact that atheism is a religion by definition, you might go around thinking that atheism wasn't a religion.

Of course, the problem with any discussion with theists is that for them a god is axiomatic. When their argument begins with "Given that god exists..." they force themselves to perform death-defying mental gymnastics. And, since god exists, the athiest, in choosing not to believe, is denying reality, which must be a kind of religious act.

Or - since we are really all stamp collectors, not collecting stamps is not just a non-hobby, but an act of rebellion.

I think this sort of (imagined) frustration that I would have, something I know to be true and did what I could to prove it, is something similar to what these theists feel about us. They know they are right. They think they have evidence ("Its all around you"). But you wont accept it.
Good argument, TechSkeptic, but I think your analogy is flawed. Most believers aren't claiming to have seen a man throw a football 1000 yards - they're claiming that 2000 years ago someone saw a man do so. Big difference.

Techskeptic,
That was the theme of Carl Sagan's Contact. A scientist performs a one off, unrepeatable experiment. She witnesses the results, which are potentially world-changing, and very surprising, but the evidence is destroyed. Should she simply report what she saw, in the interests of future science (and truth), or should she lie and protect her credibility and her career.

As a nice counterpoint, this scientist has fallen in love with a born again Christian - an unusually rational one (ok, a uniquely rational one), who can understand her dilemma very well, having struggled with a similar one much of his life. The whole story is really aimed at providing a role model for Christians for how to deal with their faith.

Christians should watch it. The movie is better than the book, and I can't imagine any Christian being offended by- whoops, yes I can, of course I can.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence because they usually contradict claims that are backed by extraordinary evidence.
I think the problem here is that to many/most believers, the existence of God does not seem like an extraordinary claim. As TechSkeptic put it “The evidence is all around you.” On the contrary, many believers see atheism as the extraordinary claim, because it seems to fly in the face of everything they (think they) know.

Back when I was a believer, I certainly would not have said that faith was a central tenant of my belief. I felt that the existence of God, while admittedly unprovable, was nevertheless logical and reasonable. Back then, I think I would’ve said that religion – to me – was a philosophy or defined set of beliefs that determines how you see the world and guides how you live your life. It both explains the world, and acts as a guide for how you should act.

So by that definition, would atheism, or skepticism, or even science be considered a religion? I can see how in some people’s eyes it might be.

Of course, not all things that require faith are religions, but all religions must require faith.
Devil's advocate here: Not all thing with wheels are cars, but all cars require wheels. Therefore are cars defined by having wheels? Or are wheels simply a characteristic that also happens to be shared with trucks, bikes, trailers, etc. My point is that faith, to one degree or another, is a characteristic of lots of beliefs – belief in UFOs, belief that organic food is better for you, belief that your kids can do no wrong. Yet we wouldn’t call any of those religions. So I’m not sure I agree that faith is the central point of the definition of religions, tho I agree it’s pretty-much-always one feature, and one of the most troubling from a non-believer’s perspective.

(And sorry for the multiple posts, but the system barfed when I tried to post it all at once, so I thought I'd try cutting it up.)

Not all thing with wheels are cars, but all cars require wheels. Therefore are cars defined by having wheels?

No. All cars require wheels. Therefore, something that has no wheels is not a car.

I tend to agree with you here, however there is an existential argument that while atheism may not be a religion per se, it is still a "religious stance".

Also a few weeks ago I stumbled over a curious footnote in Husserl's Ideas (which is anything but a theistic treatise) and I've been mulling over this ever since: "...in epistemological reflexion the idea of God is a necessary limiting concept, or an indispensable pointer in the construction of certain limiting concepts, which even the philosophical atheist cannot dispense with."

Is God a necessary limiting concept even to the atheist?

How would we fit the Unitarian Universalist church into this model? As I understand it, they provide some kind of philosophical framework for discussion of moral and religious topics, but they don't seem to require a belief in god or the supernatural (although I do admit that my understanding of them may be limited).

Are they a religion?

I tend to agree with you here, however there is an existential argument that while atheism may not be a religion per se, it is still a "religious stance".

You could argue that atheism is a religious stance if you define gods as strictly religious entities. I tend to think that would change if scientific evidence for such beings turns up. So I guess that means that skepticism of religion is a religious stance until the evidence comes in and those validated "religions" cease to be religions.

Semantics usually aren't fun when I talk about them, but I was amused when typing this comment.

WScott, I don't think you go far enough.

Most believers aren't claiming to have seen a man throw a football 1000 yards - they're claiming that 2000 years ago someone saw a man do so.

Actually, they're claiming that 2000 years ago hundreds - perhaps thousands of people saw a man do so, but of those thousands, only four ever retold the story, and one of those four said he threw it 1000 yards, one of them said it was 1200 yards, one them called it 800 yards, and the fourth just said it was "a long, long way."

...and no one had a tape measure.

This is a good summary, and pretty close to my own views on the "atheism is/is not a religion" discussion.

I think it's fair to base it on definitions, because without definitions rational discussion becomes extremely slippery and likely to be derailed. (Although NonStampCollector's YouTube video, "The Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Known Maker" illustrates the dangers of thinking you have an answer when in actuality you have merely a definition of the question.)

Perhaps another reason why theists often make the "atheism is a religion" assertion is because they can't conceive of not having a religion, and therefore any atheist who claims they have no religion must be delusional. It may be simply a way for them to fit atheism into their world-view. The (transcendental) argument about absolute moral authority fits in here too - the idea that absolutes might not exist is just too strange for theists who base their ideas on dogma. But that's another discussion altogether....

No. All cars require wheels. Therefore, something that has no wheels is not a car.
Tell that to George Jetson. But seriously, I agree it's a characteristic. I'm just not sure it's a defining one. GDad's point about the Unitarians is a valid one.
WScott, I don't think you go far enough.
Point taken. I was trying to be generous. ;)

WScott

But seriously, I agree it's a characteristic. I'm just not sure it's a defining one.

I was just replying to your Devil’s advocate position. You wrote:

Not all thing with wheels are cars, but all cars require wheels. Therefore are cars defined by having wheels? Or are wheels simply a characteristic that also happens to be shared with trucks, bikes, trailers, etc.

Bold added. You can't now say “I'm just not sure [having wheels is] a defining [characteristic].” That’s how you defined it. I wrote that not everything that requires faith is a religion.

GDad

How would we fit the Unitarian Universalist church into this model? As I understand it, they provide some kind of philosophical framework for discussion of moral and religious topics, but they don't seem to require a belief in god or the supernatural (although I do admit that my understanding of them may be limited).

Are they a religion?


An interesting point. I don’t really know too much about it.

Eric:

The whole idea of arguing by definition is deceptive. You use the dictionary definition to lump a bunch of things into one category, and then use the category to sneak in connotations that aren't listed in the dictionary definition.

That’s why I argued that if it doesn’t have faith, it’s not a religion. I didn’t really define religion by what it has. (Not fully, anyway.) It was a minimum definition. In other words, I’m attempting to falsify things that aren’t religions. From your link:

"This plucked chicken has two legs and no feathers - therefore, by definition, it is a human!"

Wrong. All humans have two legs and no feathers. So things that have feathers are not human. But not all things that have two legs and no feathers are human.

You wouldn't feel the need to say, "Hinduism, by definition, is a religion!" because, well, of course Hinduism is a religion. It's not just a religion "by definition", it's, like, an actual religion.

I have no idea what that even means.

WScott

I think the problem here is that to many/most believers, the existence of God does not seem like an extraordinary claim. As TechSkeptic put it “The evidence is all around you.”

That is a tricky one to get over to many theists. Of course, most religions have more than just god belief. They also tell you what god thinks, what he said, what he expects you to do, what he’s going to do with you when you die etc etc. The evidence for all that is not around you.

Soil Creep:

"...in epistemological reflexion the idea of God is a necessary limiting concept, or an indispensable pointer in the construction of certain limiting concepts, which even the philosophical atheist cannot dispense with."

I’ve really got no idea what that means either.

As an atheist, I'm not worried about an angry mob of atheists from another sect coming to tie me to a stake and burn me if I say I think Richard Dawkins is a better atheist than James Randi.

But that would never arise anyway: I'm a) not aware of a way of grading the strength of an atheist's "unfaith" and b) it would matter to me somewhat less than the next winner of the World Shoelace-Tying Championship.

I'm ... not aware of a way of grading the strength of an atheist's "unfaith"

Beard length.

Skep, that was a truly great article and you put into words what I am too dumb to say.

Thanks for always being my "go to guy" Blogfatha.

P.S is your email still the same from like, 5 years ago?

P.P.S I suppose I could peruse a little more and find it...

When the topic comes up, I just say I'm non-religious. It's an efficient way to ward off proselytizing. It's like being at a BBQ and someone asks "What would you like on your burger" and I respond "No thanks - no burgers for me." Whereas, saying I'm an atheist is taken to mean "I hate burgers!" For now, there's no getting around the bad connotation associated with "atheist" or "atheism".

Ryan:

Thanks - glad you like the post. My email link is near the top of the middle column. The link says "Email Me".

What gets me about Jesus miracles isn't how far-fetched they sound, but how freaking pathetic they are. His old man created the whole freaking universe out of absolutely nothing, and continues for a while in biblical times pulling all kinds of crazy stunts. Then his son takes over and the whole show goes flat. A bit of changing water into wine, the old walk on water trick and getting a dead guy to wake up. How about having the entire city of Soddom disappear into a black hole? Quite possibly the story that he got crucified was just a metaphor for the reviews he got in the papers.

In converations with the religious in the past when this argument comes up I find that it is ususlly because they're effectivly defining religion as the answer to life the universe and everything.

So when you tell them that you're an athiest they assume (always a mistake) that not only do you not belive in god, but you have accepted an alternative, materalist, explanation for life the universe and everything based on science (the big bang, evolution and so on). And accepting any answer for life the universe and everything qualifies as religion in their veiw.

And thanks for the link to "The Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Known Maker" That just made my day.

I came across this article today. An excellent read. I have heard the argument "god is all around us" from theists in the past. My typical response is "ok, then what is NOT god? How do I recognize and verify non-god things from god things?" This thinking is very much in the scientific method mindset of falsifiable statements which generally confounds the theist.

Excellent article; thank you. As for the all too familiar and frequent "atheism is a religion" argument, I believe that its psychological genesis can be traced to the same place as that of a well-known childhood taunt: "I know you are but what am I?"

In other words, the rather intellectually (and perhaps otherwise) immature person using the "atheism is a religion" line is assuming that since an atheist rejects religion, and presumably thinks poorly of it, then the believer can "score points" against the atheist by pointing out (erroneously, but nevertheless) that he, too, has a religion.

This juvenile reaction to atheism is utterly illogical, based as it is on emotion rather than rational thought. On the other hand, when has any religious person ever used rational thought in regard to his religion?

Skeptico wrote (regarding theists) "They also tell you what god thinks, what he said, what he expects you to do, what he’s going to do with you when you die etc etc.".

Ironically, they also state that to attempt to know the mind of god is the ultimate in hubris and heresy. Hypocrisy may very well also be a requirement of theistic religion.

I recently had someone tell me it's better to pray than to give, as praying will do more help. Unbelievable.

I recently had someone tell me it's better to pray than to give, as praying will do more help. Unbelievable.
Buying her flowers didn't get you anywhere, huh? ;)

"They also tell you what god thinks, what he said, what he expects you to do, what he’s going to do with you when you die etc etc."

I love flipping it around on them when I get one that says "we can't know the mind of god".

But you know what god thinks, what he said, what he expects you to do, what he’s going to do with you when you die etc etc, right?

A very interesting article.

Would you include the Autism branch of Neurodiversity Ideology as a religion?

Doherty:

Would you consider the belief that vaccines can cause autism a religion?

Well JB, from the article:

Religion must include something you have to accept on faith – that is, without evidence commensurate with the extraordinary nature of the belief.

Not only is there no evidence commensurate with the extraordinary nature of the belief that vaccines can cause autism, there is evidence to the contrary.

Anti-vaxers share that with religion, don't they :)

Religion = belief is a very Christian-centered way of thinking about religion. As a part of Western tradition, we generally take for granted that belief is the essence of Christianity, but what about other religions? Here are some pretty important aspects of the other main traditions:

Judaism = the law
Islam = the five pillars
Buddism = right thinking and acting
Hinduism = tough one, but has been called "the eternal law" and "not a unified system of belief"

Wikipedia has the goods on what religion is, of which the key phrase for me is "a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices ... that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life." (BTW, a dictionary is not up to the task of defining religion)

The point is that religion is an action, a way of relating to the world. How you live, not what you think about certain non-material ideas. "Actual religion" means that it changes how you live, whereas "by definition" is an abstract concept, non-material.

But there is still a problem with how does atheism fit into this. My view is that to the extent that being an atheist changes how you act and relate to the world, then it's a religion to that extent. Thoughts?

I'm a Unitarian, and the above definition suits my tradition quite well. The Unitarian Universalist Association has seven principles that we use to define ourselves. Another great source of info is the UU World magazine.

I like to use the origin of the word religion, to bind together, to talk about what it means. I want religion to bind me together, connect me, with all other people and to the world around me. (Problems occur when "all other people" is changed to "those like me" and when "the world around me" is limited to "what is mine.") But again, there is a problem with fitting atheism in, and this is why I don't call myself an atheist. How does atheism connect you to others?

Finally, one more phrase: "I'm religious, but not spiritual." Does that help explain it?

My view is that to the extent that being an atheist changes how you act and relate to the world, then it's a religion to that extent. Thoughts?

I presume humans are born with a lack of belief in god(s). The change in how you act and relate to the world comes when you, at some point in your life, decide to believe in the invisible man.

How does atheism connect you to others?

See page 345 in The Book of Atheism. It's all there, with speed-dating tips and the whole lot. If all else fails, you could always try smiling, be friendly and all that crap. Good luck.

My view is that to the extent that being an atheist changes how you act and relate to the world, then it's a religion to that extent. Thoughts?

This has the problem of being such a wide definition that it encompasses almost anything. Is brain damage a religion? Is LSD a religion? All those things change your actions and the way you relate to the world significantly, and, though one of them at least may be part of some religions they can hardly be called religions in and of themselves, unless you wish to rvert humanity to an earlier time when words were sounds made with our mouths, rather than conveyors of meaning.

What any of us would call religions do indeed tend to contain beliefs, articles of faith, dogma, or whatever you may want to call it (though you may find similar concepts in other settings, just like you can find common attributes of religions).

How does atheism connect you to others?

In theory, not in the least, nor would we expect it to; as Martin says, we do our connecting in other ways. In practice, many atheists may feel alienated by a culture that rejects them, or scared of a culture that persecutes them, and find solace in each other, but, again, that is not so much a feature of atheism as it is a feature of the societies those atheists live in.

Skeptico:

Religion must include something you have to accept on faith – that is, without evidence commensurate with the extraordinary nature of the belief.

I'm not entirely convinced about this definition of religion. I could probably accept it as a necessary-but-not-sufficient component of religion, but I'm not entirely certain even of that. For instance, I think it would be reasonable to consider Objectivism a religion, at least in the way that many of its adherents practice it, but I'm not entirely sure what's taken on faith in that instance--that Ayn Rand was right? Granted, my definition below runs into the same problem. Maybe I'm just too harsh on the Objectivists.

I laid out my (descriptive) definition of religions way back in the God is Not Great post. I think it's perhaps a little more confining than yours, Skeptico, but serves basically the same purpose. Not that I necessarily think it's the one true definition, just figured it'd be worthwhile to add my two cents. Here's (more or less) what I had to say then:

1. All religions require magical thinking, usually in the form of beliefs for which there is no proof.
[...]
2. All religions provide an in-group and an out-group.
[...]
3. All religions have some doctrine, philosophy, or authority to which its believers are asked to adhere.

It's that final component, I think, which distinguishes "religion" from "faith" or "belief." One can believe some claim on faith, with no evidence, without actually being part of a religion. In my estimation, religion requires a system of beliefs, one or more of which is accepted on faith.

Which brings me to my next point. I often find myself explaining, when this meme of "atheism is just another religion" pops up, that atheism is not a religion, and neither is theism. Both atheism and theism are positions, alternate answers to the question "do you believe in god(s)?" Religions are (by definition, I'd say) belief systems, and one belief does not a system make.

Theism, obviously, is a component of many religions, but none of them stop at theism--at the simple belief that a god exists. Religion is what happens when they start attaching attributes and narratives to that god, believing in more than just the god's existence.

This is, incidentally, part of why there's such a humongous chasm between religious believers and apologetic arguments. The best arguments get up to theism or deism, but there's no logical way to justify all the other trappings that make up a particular religion. You might be able, with carefully chosen premises, to reason to a god's existence, but getting from "god exists" to "god exists and wears a toga and throws lightning bolts from Mt. Olympus" requires more leaps of faith than can be supported by valid logic--unless, I suppose, the logic is particularly twisted.

Well, all claims require exactly the same amount of evidence, it’s just that most "ordinary" claims are already backed by extraordinary evidence that you don’t think about.
Something else worth mentioning here is that the amount of evidence (and quality, too) is somewhat dependent on the situation. For instance, if you tell me "I had lunch with a friend at a Mexican restaurant," I'll probably believe you just on your word. Not only is the claim utterly mundane, but whether or not I believe it has no real effects on my life or anything else. I can take the risk of believing you on scant, low-quality evidence, because the consequences of believing or disbelieving would be insignificant. If you told me "I had lunch with a Martian at a Mexican restaurant," obviously I'd require more than just your word--as you explained, that claim is much less mundane, is contradicted by prior experience and other evidence, and is a more costly claim to believe. After all, I'd have to change a considerable part of how I view the world if I believed that Mars was inhabited by people who like chimichangas.

On the other hand, if I am a police officer investigating a murder, and you are acquainted with the victim, who was killed around lunchtime, chances are I would require more than just your word that you were dining with a friend. In that case, I am unwilling to accept your claim on scant evidence because the cost is much greater than it was when there was no murder involved. In this case, believing your claim on your word alone may cause me to prematurely rule out suspects, thus throwing me off the trail of the murderer. That would be a major consequence, making this a much riskier claim to believe, even though it is the same claim as before. Circumstances dictate what sorts of evidence we are willing to accept as reason to believe a given claim.

I think what they’re trying to say is this. Atheists think matter just appeared out of nowhere, that something came out of nothing. But where did the matter come from?
That's certainly part of it, but I think the follow up that follows most naturally from the "it takes more faith" gambit is the one which goes "in order to know that there is no God, you'd have to know everything, which would make you a god yourself! Since you don't know everything, then your belief that there is no God must be based on faith." The (obvious) problems with this are twofold. First, they confuse general atheism with strong atheism. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god or gods; it encompasses many different non-believers, from those who are simply ignorant of the concept of gods, to those who have considered the evidence and are unconvinced that gods exist, to those who think the evidence warrants belief that there are no gods, and even to those who accept the nonexistence of gods as a faith claim. The third of those is strong atheism--not just disbelieving in gods, but believing that gods do not exist. Unlike basic (or weak) atheism, strong atheism is a positive belief, but it needn't be based on faith. I could say, for instance, that I am a strong atheist with regard to the Young Earth Creationists' God, because the evidence we see is contrary to what we would expect from that God. I believe that the YEC-God does not exist. On the other hand, I might maintain weak atheism with regard to the Deist God, since (by definition) its existence is consistent with the observed evidence, but Occam's Razor rules it out as unnecessary. Neither of those positions requires any faith, and only one of them requires belief of any sort.

The other problem has to do with knowledge. It's a common apologist tactic to equate the word "know" with 100% certainty. In reality, if that were the definition of "knowledge," then there's very little we could say to "know"--basically just tautologies and Cartesian self-existence claims. In practice, we use the word "knowledge" to denote justified true belief, things we believe are true to a high-but-not-absolute degree of certainty. And especially scientists and skeptics will use that term with the caveat that such knowledge is contingent upon the current evidence. If we acquire new evidence, we may have to update our knowledge. So I can say that I know the tri-Omni God does not exist, with as much certainty as I can say that unicorns and leprechauns do not exist. I'm not 100% certain, but I'm sure enough.

One last thing. Some theists have responded to the “if atheism is a religion, not collecting stamps is a hobby” argument by pointing out that non stamp collectors (aphilatelists?) don’t write books or blogs about not collecting stamps, don’t post anti stamp collecting ads on buses, don't ridicule stamp collectors, etc.
Which I think kind of undermines their point, in the end. They're right, in that aphilatelists don't write blogs and books and such, but philatelists do, because philately is a hobby (and philately will get you nowhere). Atheists also write blogs and books and such, because atheism can also be a hobby. I say "atheism" here, but I really mean the whole gamut of activities that can, somehow, involve discussions (and such) of atheism and religion. After all, blog writing isn't exactly the defining mark of a religion. Their comparison flies off the rails by confusing the analogy.

Overall, though, I think this was a really good article that pulled together a lot of important ideas.

Infophile:

People would certainly have taken notice of a ressurection of a man who was publicly executed, and we should have many historical records covering the event and the uproar surrounding it.

Especially given the large number of people he supposedly appeared to post-resurrection, which at one point is given in the hundreds or thousands (I don't feel like looking it up at this point). I understand (better, I think, than most Christians) that the literacy rate was very, very low at the time, but was there really no literate person in the crowd who thought "I should probably write this down"?

ojdo:

As you pointed out yourself, a conspiracy between some doctors and Michael Jackson would be much more probable and thus an easier explanation.

Or better yet, a publicity stunt. When was the last time you heard about Michael Jackson before his death? Probably when they were talking about how broke he was, and what all he had to sell to pay his bills. Now, his records are selling like mad, getting his estate all sorts of royalties, and he's enjoyed over two weeks of almost non-stop television coverage. Not only that, but it's been fawning coverage, rather than the jokes and insinuations that surrounded his last fifteen years of life or so. He couldn't have asked for a better set-up to a comeback.

I'd say that someone else, someone whose death was not only a matter of widely-known public record, but who could prove it (as Jesus allegedly did) with intact fatal wounds might be a better option. For instance, if John F. Kennedy rose from the dead, with the bullet hole and gaping exit wound still present in his head, it might be pretty compelling evidence for resurrection.

Good post, Tom.

I believe a religion may be identified specifically by at least one of the following attributes:

A book, writ, scripture or spoken dogma which contains claims contrary to, or which contradicts, everyday experience, which is written in arcane, obscure or ancient language, and which does not evolve over time. Adherents who believe it without question are generally regarded as more worthy than those who express doubt.

A claim that this writ or scripture holds the answer to all questions and problems for those who possess specialised skills in reading the material.

A class of people who claim to have this talent, and to whose prognostications lesser members are expected to defer as a matter of principle.

Specific clothes or modes of appearance which all adherents are expected to adopt, perhaps dependent on sex (long beards, yarmulkes, Masonic aprons, devotional tattoos, etc). This may be limited to the "privileged divulgents".

Specified rituals, chants, mantras or other sayings intended to free the mind of extraneous thought.

Specific meeting-places (possibly bearing arcane or especially significant symbols) at which adherents are expected to be present on specific occasions, or else lose preferment.

These are not unique to religions. Extremist political movements such as Communism and Nazism share some of the same characteristics, but atheism does not.

I do not believe this list of characteristics is capricious; the religion of Christianity (with which I am most familiar) certainly has all these factors, as do most other religions of which I am aware (Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, etc).

Oh, and why can't Jesus reincarnate every Sunday in all the Christian churches in the world at the same time, complete with nail and spear wounds, and his crown of thorns?

Supposedly the disciples were treated to this phenomenon, and they are beloved in the sight of the LORD, including Thomas, who did not believe. They, who were granted the ultimate in proof, are lauded above other mortals.

However, we sinful, worthless, crawling, pathetic, unworthy worms today are expected to believe incredibly bizarre things that supposedly happened regularly a couple of thousand years ago, but which do not seem to happen these days - without any proof whatsoever. Or we burn in agony for eternity - so we're told.

My post focused on how this discussion takes for granted Christianity as the frame and the opponent. Another problem with debating whether atheism is a religion or not is that it is assumed that the entire category of religion is bad. Can you justify this?

Martin - yes, humans lack an innate religion, but belief in the invisible man is not the only way to create religion in your life. BTW, I checked out The Book of Atheism, but it only went to page 268. Which version are you reading?

Valhar2000 - Religion is a huge category and encompasses a large part of human action and thought because it deals with things so basic to being human (e.g. Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live?). Is that a problem?

Brain damage isn't a choice, so isn't a part of religion. LSD can be part of a religion, but it must have a not-currently-on-LSD component.

UU is a religion to me but has no supernatural belief requirements.

Atheism doesn't track with the religion category, no matter how you define it. That's not a good/bad issue with me, my thought is that atheists would do well to try to transcend the religion category completely.

I don't see why those issues (Identity, sense of purpose, and morality) are part of "religion" outside of the claims religious people make about them based on irrational faith.

In short, I think you'll need to better articulate what you're trying to say, probably starting with how you're defining "religion."

my thought is that atheists would do well to try to transcend the religion category completely

Wasn't what this entire post was about? It isn't the atheists who are trying to make atheism out to be a religion, its theists simply because they can't imagine a world without religion, no matter which one it is.

Who am I?

I am quite capable of honest introspection. I think I can answer that for myself, to myself. All humans shound be capable of this without invoking a supernatural explanation of any kind.

Why am I here?

I am here because my mummy and my daddy loved each other very much. Daddy planted a little seed...

How should I live?

I'm somewhat disturbed that an adult human being who is presumably old enough to vote cannot answer this basic question for him or herself. I don't need any help in this regard.

#3 is basically answer with three, potentially competing, forces. At least it is to me.

Norwegian Shooter

Judaism = the law
Islam = the five pillars


Buddism = right thinking and acting


Hinduism = tough one, but has been called "the eternal law" and "not a unified system of belief"


Are you saying that those things are not beliefs – things people think are true or necessary to do, without evidence? For example, isn’t the Judaic law based on the Bible? Aren’t the five pillars based on what god wants people to do?

Also, are you saying that these religions don’t include things you have to take on faith? Surely all but Buddhism require belief in god?

I'm a Unitarian, and the above definition suits my tradition quite well. The Unitarian Universalist Association has seven principles that we use to define ourselves. Another great source of info is the UU World magazine.

I admit I don’t know much about the Unitarian Universalist Association, and so I’m glad you have posted here. Perhaps you can help fill some of the gaps in my knowledge. Does UU require nothing to be taken on faith? The link you provided includes “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love…” – does UU require belief in god? It sounds, from your link, as though it is referring to a number of things I would regard as unsupported by evidence.

Tom Foss:

I'm not entirely convinced about this definition of religion. I could probably accept it as a necessary-but-not-sufficient component of religion

That was what I was aiming for. I think now that I phrased it badly - I would re-phrase my post now to say that not having faith falsifies a supposed religion – eg, no faith therefore not religion. That doesn’t mean anything with faith is a religion – if it did, astrology would be one. But if no faith falsifies the supposed religion, then it falsifies atheism as a religion.

I think your three points are good. Not sure about the in/out group – a lot of things have that. But your point three is a necessary addition to point 1.

Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator, this paper I presented at the 1st Int. Conf. on Revival of Traditional Yoga, held at The Lonavla Yoga Institute (India), Lonavla, Pune in 2006. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.

AND

‘In Scientific Terminology Source of Gravitational Wave is God’ I have presented this paper at the 2nd World Congress on Vedic Sciences held at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi on February 9-11, 2007. The Abstract of this paper is given below:

For Centuries, antagonism remained between science and religion. Science and spirituality require to be fused. An integrated philisophy is to be developed. It is written in the scriptures that entire creation is being maintained only through love or force of attraction. In Persian it is known as quvat-i-jaziba. It is on account of this force that the entire creation, which come into existence through the combination of small particles and atoms, is being maintained and sustained. The creation or universe includes everything that exists. In the universe there are billions and billions of stars. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of a galaxy, star and planet etc. and various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Gravitation force is the ultimate creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe. These are the three attributes of God. Providence has located within the human body a spiritual faculty. When this faculty is developed like physical and mental faculties we find that Truth-the goal of science and God-the goal of religion are one and the same thing.

Okay... I'm going to back away slowly from this guy... or girl, I have no idea what gender that name is...

?.
let me get this straight:
he/she is saying gravity has a conciousness and / or is god?.

I have one word for that post.


conflation


Deepak Chopra does it all the time.

Skeptico:

I think your three points are good. Not sure about the in/out group – a lot of things have that. But your point three is a necessary addition to point 1.

I think the second point is probably the least prescriptive of the three, since it arises as a result of the labeling process. Anything which involves the adoption of some voluntary label (and some things which are involuntary) carries the risk of creating some in-group and out-group identification.

But then, I think each of those traits is something that many things outside of religion have. There's plenty of woo-woo and "spiritual but not religious" beliefs that require faith, but I wouldn't call acupuncture a religion, per se. As you said, nearly every group causes the in-group thing, but they aren't all religions. And there are plenty of groups that require blind obedience to some doctrine, philosophy, or authority--dictatorships, some political affiliations, and so forth--that aren't necessarily religions. Each component (with the possible exception of the second, which follows naturally) is a necessary-but-not-sufficient component of religion.

Also, I like Anirudh's post, but it only rates like, 0.2 Timecubes. What, no random capitalization? No overuse of html? Look, if you're going to be a kook, you might as well do it right.

Why does gravity get to be the ultimate creator? It's the weakest of the four fundamental forces!

You better not let electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force know that you're talking up gravity and ignoring them. They'll beat him up again.

It's pretty simple, "Evolution is a religion" and "Atheism is a religion" are threats for the religious. They define themselves as religious and religion is good. From their perceptive anything that replaces that religion with something else can't be good.

Therefore they attack out of sheer malice and misunderstanding.

It's silly and illogical. Humans are silly and illogical.

For the record, I believe in God and evolution. Science, to me, is just the pursuit and understanding of God's natural world. I find that more important and interesting than sitting in a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque.

I would argue that religion is actually a group of people who believe in common grounds, it doesn't have to be a god it could be a flying spaghetti monster or just ethical standards.

Far, far too broad. Believing in gravity is a religion by that definition!

You better not let electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force know that you're talking up gravity and ignoring them. They'll beat him up again.

The nuclear forces might have mighty punches, but they have no reach worth speaking of. They could flail away all day at gravity and never connect.

Skeptico:

I’m saying that belief isn’t the end all and be all of religion. Religion if and only if belief = False. I like the Wiki definition because it listed beliefs in among (not even first!) other important aspects of religion: narratives, symbols and practices. The whole beginning of the article is worth quoting:

A religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power, God or gods, or ultimate truth. It may be expressed through prayer, ritual, meditation, music and art, among other things. It may focus on specific supernatural, metaphysical, and moral claims about reality (the cosmos and human nature) which may yield a set of religious laws, ethics, and a particular lifestyle. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience.

The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction. "Religion" is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system," but it is more socially defined than personal convictions, and it entails specific behaviors, respectively.


The practices I listed were meant as an example of how non-Christian religions view actions (even if based on beliefs) as fundamental to their religious practice. Christians can say “I believe that Jesus Christ is the only son of God” and be good Christians without doing anything else. In fact, if they do act contrary to any perceived requirement, they only say sorry to God, double down on the core belief above, and they are redeemed. (Do American Catholics even talk about penance anymore?) As this is getting dragged out, I’m just talking about stuff, rather than tying it back to whether atheism is a religion or not. But my original thought was that most atheists are so thoroughly enmeshed in the Christian mindset (belief is everything) that they over-play belief and under-play practice in talking about religion.

As far as UU, it is a non-creedal religion, so nothing is required to be taken on faith. It is a covenantal religion, so members of a congregation pledge to each other, not to a deity or any church hierarchy. Thus, Unitarian Universalism is the local congregation. They can be quite varied. Some would frown upon even saying the word god. Others have believing Christians as members. The median might be comfortable saying small “g” god, but do not mean anything close to a personal god. The point is that religion is something done with other people, not just having an internal belief.

I think all religious people do unusual, inconvenient, uncomfortable or even fatal things that do not directly benefit themselves or anybody else, believing that these acts will in and of themselves make such benefits available through the intervention of an intangible, invisible or non-corporeal entity.

You bring up the point about the Christian Bible being written decades after the death of Christ. Yes, and you must confess that its quite remarkable how all four gospels written by four different persons all coincide and support each other on every account they mention. There were also hundreds who witnessed the ascension. Christians, including the disciples were hiding in fear after the crucifixion. After the resurrection they came out with such boldness, gladly facing death in the most cruel ways imaginable. What warranted such a change and boldness in character? The witnessing the Son of Man, the resurrected Christ.
Just look around and see all the marvelous creation that exists. Surely you cannot believe this all was created from a giant explosion in outer space.
Read the bible in its entirely and you will see its more than just a book of fairy tells. Its an instruction manual for mankind to have a relationship with the creator and avoid eternal damnation.
Thank you for letting me reply to your post.

Ummm... no, if I remember correctly, they don't coincide and support each other. In fact, if I remember correctly, they occasionally contradict each other.

Why do people occasionally call Jesus the Son of Man? I thought his entire shtick was the whole son of God thing. I mean, he was supposed to have a human parent, but the human parent was a woman, so...

...eternal damnation...
Always with the threats of purposeless violence.
Just look around and see all the marvelous creation that exists. Surely you cannot believe this all was created from a giant explosion in outer space.

More like an explosion (rapid expansion) of space, not in space. Of course, Creationism's far worse than that. There's a reason why I can confidently call it the Random Theory of Randomness: Coincidence and the random whims of an inherently unpredictable magic man are invoked by Creationists to explain the things evolution, geology, cosmology do by combination of evidence and common sense.

It's an old argument between order (science) and chaos (Creationism). One says there is likely an explanation for our existence, and the other that says we're just the playthings of a random cosmic Joker who changes his mind at the drop of a hat.

You bring up the point about the Christian Bible being written decades after the death of Christ. Yes, and you must confess that its quite remarkable how all four gospels written by four different persons all coincide and support each other on every account they mention.

You have to be kidding. They disagree on all the crucial points. Read The Resurrection ! - Adapted For The Stage – it’s a joke how different they are.

Seems to me you haven’t read that bible as carefully as you think.

There were also hundreds who witnessed the ascension.

Correction: it is claimed that there were also hundreds who witnessed the ascension. But claims as extraordinary as this, written by people who were not there, decades after the event, are not valid evidence.

Christians, including the disciples were hiding in fear after the crucifixion. After the resurrection they came out with such boldness, gladly facing death in the most cruel ways imaginable. What warranted such a change and boldness in character? The witnessing the Son of Man, the resurrected Christ.

Again, just claims.

Just look around and see all the marvelous creation that exists. Surely you cannot believe this all was created from a giant explosion in outer space.

Well, there is evidence for the big bang, and what followed. Where is the evidence that god did it?

Read the bible in its entirely and you will see its more than just a book of fairy tells.

Yes, it’s a book of contradictory and frankly absurd made up stories about the invisible magic man who lives in the clouds, and his arbitrary and absurd rules he wants us to follow. I knew it was nonsense even at six years old.

Its an instruction manual for mankind to have a relationship with the creator and avoid eternal damnation.

Ah yes, that loving god of yours, who will graciously agree not to torment us in hell for eternity if we just accept his everlasting love. What a prince.

its quite remarkable how all four gospels written by four different persons all coincide and support each other on every account they mention.

Just check this out and say again how uncannily invariant they are.

There were also hundreds who witnessed the ascension.

Are these like the hundreds of people who saw the Martian Fighting Machine arising from the crashed cylinder on Horsell Common? Then I guess that must be true, too.

After the resurrection they came out with such boldness, gladly facing death in the most cruel ways imaginable. What warranted such a change and boldness in character?

I don't know. Suicide bombers apparently feel the same way.

The witnessing the Son of Man, the resurrected Christ.

I suspect the marvellous born-again suicide bombers might not cite the same reason, but their conviction would seem to be based on some words in an old book, of all things.

Just look around and see all the marvelous creation that exists. Surely you cannot believe this all was created from a giant explosion in outer space.

Er... yes, I can, actually. I am afraid this argument is a logical fallacy called an "Appeal to Incredulity" that's unlikely to persuade a non-believer.

Read the bible in its entirely and you will see its more than just a book of fairy tells.

Well, I can't pretend I've read the Good Book end to end. But I have read a lot of it. Much more, I would be willing to bet, than you have of a book such as The First Three Minutes

Have you actually studied how the " explanation.="explanation." plausible="plausible" a="a" as="as" it="it" dismiss="dismiss" to="to" happy="happy" are="are" you="you" since="since" so,="so," assume="assume" I="I" started?="started?" universe="universe" current="current" the="the" got="got" have="have" scientists="scientists" by="by" thought="thought" is="is" space?="space?" outer="outer" in="in" explosion="explosion" giant="giant">

Its an instruction manual for mankind to have a relationship with the creator and avoid eternal damnation.
Well in that case, I would expect you to have read Leviticus, the book of law. I'm afraid that if you comply with these">http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/lev/int_list.html">these holy laws I will a) have to despise you and b) report you to the police. So I would prefer to believe you're a nice person and don't do these things. Perhaps you can explain why these parts of the instruction manual don't count these days.

I'm afraid the Big Guy has caught me out and prononounced his judgement on my sacrilegious HTML. As ususl.

Big Al:

I fixed the html as best I could. It was really messed up, and although I was able to fix the links, I'm honestly not sure what that penultimate paragraph was supposed to say, or how it got to be that way.

Thanks, Skep.

Have you actually studied how the " explanation.="explanation." plausible="plausible" a="a" as="as" it="it" dismiss="dismiss" to="to" happy="happy" are="are" you="you" since="since" so,="so," assume="assume" I="I" started?="started?" universe="universe" current="current" the="the" got="got" have="have" scientists="scientists" by="by" thought="thought" is="is" space?="space?" outer="outer" in="in" explosion="explosion" giant="giant">

Wow! That's pretty messed up. I don't know how that happened... so I suppose God must have done it.

What I meant to type was something like,

Have you actually studied the "giant explosion in outer space" in detail, to understand why scientists find it such a plausible explanation for the origin of the current universe? I presume you must have, since you are so happy to dismiss it out of hand.

Under such circumstances, I would expect you to be able to marshal a pretty cogent argument against it.


Florida, all that eternal damnation stuff was exactly what turned me off Christianity for ever at age 13. Not especially because I thought it wasn't true, but because I found it to be the most abhorrent idea I had ever heard. It still is.

I value free speech, and I welcome your efforts at serious discussion, but I admit I am still shocked to hear such gruesome hateful fantasies splashed about on a public forum.

Am I just imagining it, or do you Christians rather like the idea of people burning? A bit of a torture fetish or something, isn't it?

I feel the same way you do, yakaru. That's one reason why I've decided to emphasize it every time someone brings it up. Hell is an idea that should get a Zero Percent Approval Rating. The fact that we've still got people in an allegedly developed nation who love the idea speaks of how savage and bestial people can remain when they take the luxuries of civilization for granted.

I've decided to emphasize it every time someone brings it up.

The more people who take this approach the better. I'm surprised people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins - both scientists who argue that Christianity has a valid place in scientific method - aren't confronted on the issue of hell more often.

Each Christian believes either that everyone else will burn in hell, or they come up with some way of skirting around the issue, as if it's a minor theological point.

They generally seem to be politely let off the hook: "Yes, maybe I'll suffer misery in the flames for ever and ever, and maybe not, but I respect your beliefs and won't push you to express your stance on the issue. Let's talk again about the Big Bang and the anthropic principle."

florida webdesign:

Yes, and you must confess that its quite remarkable how all four gospels written by four different persons all coincide and support each other on every account they mention.

You have read the Bible, haven't you? You are aware of Biblical textual criticism, aren't you?

It's just that anyone who had read the gospels would know that there are a large number of differences.

Synoptic Gospels

Synoptic problem

Gospel of John

Modern scholars believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source - hence the similarities. Yet the three still differ. John is different again.

Anyone who wasn't simply repeating some talking points they found on the web or heard from their pastor wouldn't have made such an easily disputed statement. For instance, in the gospel of John Jesus is said to carry his cross, in the Synoptics Simon of Cyrene does. See if you can figure out why three agree and one doesn't.

Of course, if your point was that the similarities between gospels prove divine guidance in the Bible you now run into some problems, don't you?

After the resurrection they came out with such boldness, gladly facing death in the most cruel ways imaginable. What warranted such a change and boldness in character? The witnessing the Son of Man, the resurrected Christ.

But they didn't all witness it. So they were going on hearsay, if that were indeed the reason for the change. This statement of yours proves nothing.

Just look around and see all the marvelous creation that exists. Surely you cannot believe this all was created from a giant explosion in outer space.

First, try and understand the Big Bang before commenting on it. Second, how is your explanation of an invisible, omnipotent, supernatural and unknowable fairy doing it more plausible?

Read the bible in its entirely and you will see its more than just a book of fairy tells. Its an instruction manual for mankind to have a relationship with the creator and avoid eternal damnation.

Absolute twaddle. And I am reading the Bible, it's bollocks.

I found an article that describes a religious practice that is not dependent on belief.

As this is such a late addition, I'll quickly summarize my point: Atheism is not a religion; but religion, in the sense of binding people together (and no belief component), is not a bad thing.

I see a few problems with those statements, Norwegian. One is that feeling gratitude in this sense is really just a normal feeling which can be turned into a formalised practice by anyone. It isn't a "religious practice" in the way that taking communion is. It's a minor point, but I would argue it's a sleight of hand to call it a "religious" practice. Just like claiming morality as being exclusively religious territory.

Same with religion as a social glue. Sport does it just as well, it's just that no one is really claiming that the mascot is anything more that just a man dressed up in a funny costume.

Religion: "A faith-based belief system that concerns the nature of the world and the believer's place in it, and that is used as a basis for behavior and life practice of the believer."
Problems with this definition -- it's probably overly broad, as it could include cultural conceptions as well.
But the reason why I like this definition is that it makes the important distinction between atheists for whom atheism is a simple fact, and atheists for whom atheism is a religion.
Evangelizing atheists, active members of atheists communities, those who attack other religions -- they, themselves, do form a religion. They have created a faith-based belief system ("non-belief" system?) that underlies their behavior on these matters. For them, atheism has become something beyond simple skepticism (true "weak atheism") and has become an affirmative belief, entering the religious realm.
This certainly isn't all atheists. But it seems to be all the really nasty ones.

I believe a cornerstone of religion is organisation - there is no centralised Church of Atheism to my knowledge.

And a really nasty atheist may insult someone and call them unpleasant names, but that's moderate for some religions that believe you should die in agony for the evil of not believing. I think that's really nasty.

I have never, ever heard of any atheist promulgating violence towards believers for their belief, or to claim that they can change them by praying to some unseen entity.

And I have never recoiled from someone because they said "I'm Catholic" or "I'm Muslim", whereas I know many religious people who have turned rampantly defensive as soon as I've said, "I'm an atheist". I've known others walk off angrily, somehow offended by my private beliefs. Many religions seem to require it.

There is definitely a difference between religion and atheism.

AvalonXQ

Religion: "A faith-based belief system that concerns the nature of the world and the believer's place in it, and that is used as a basis for behavior and life practice of the believer."
Problems with this definition -- it's probably overly broad, as it could include cultural conceptions as well.


But the reason why I like this definition is that it makes the important distinction between atheists for whom atheism is a simple fact, and atheists for whom atheism is a religion.


Evangelizing atheists, active members of atheists communities, those who attack other religions -- they, themselves, do form a religion.



Why does evangelizing, attacking religions etc – why does that make it faith based?

Skeptico: I think you're asking for my justification for this:

"They have created a faith-based belief system ("non-belief" system?) that underlies their behavior on these matters. For them, atheism has become something beyond simple skepticism (true "weak atheism") and has become an affirmative belief, entering the religious realm."

It's attributing motive to behavior -- always a dangerous proposition, I admit. But the claim is that their behavior implies that atheism for them has left the round of simple absence of faith and become, instead, faith in the absence, becoming something stronger than "weak" atheism.

Big Al: I don't think a central organization is a requirement for a religion. I know too many religions, including Christian groups, with no such central organization.

But the claim is that their behavior implies that atheism for them has left the round of simple absence of faith and become, instead, faith...

And your evidence for this is...?

... the zealous and evangelical rhetoric and behavior of these atheists.
Here's the quote from the controversial sign that the Freedom from Religion Foundation put up last Christmas season:
"There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world."
Again, this is not an absence of faith; it's faith in an absence.

"There are no Hobbits, no dragons, no six headed Haddocks with arses for faces. There is only our natural world."

Is this absence of faith or faith in an absence?

As I see it, behind all this "atheism is a religion" nonsense is the belief on the part of Christians that religion is built into humanity by the hand of God. Atheists are people who, in trying to deny this God-given part of their nature, only confirm its existence.

Atheists have no choice but to use those same God-given psychological tools (faith, etc) in their "foolish" struggle.

So atheists place their faith in science, evangelise their message, and devote a great deal of energy to struggling with a being they claim doesn't exist.

From a Christian's perspective that all makes perfect sense - atheism is simply the God-given religious impulse, in self-denial -a confused person struggling against almighty God.

When they say the words "atheism is a religion" they have shoe-horned all of that into the agument, without having to spell it out or defend it rationally.

Anyone wanting to rationally argue that atheism is some kind of religion needs to first clearly distance themselves from such motivations. I suspect after doing that, the proposition would show itself to be extremely difficult to argue, and a bit pointless.

... the zealous and evangelical rhetoric and behavior of these atheists.

How is their behavior evidence that their non-belief is based on faith? Please show your work. How zealous do you have to be before your beliefs are faith based rather than evidence based, and why?

Here's the quote from the controversial sign that the Freedom from Religion Foundation put up last Christmas season: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world."

You are generalizing from the specific. That’s a specific quote, not behavior in general, and you can evangelize and attack religions without making such statements and claiming they are fact. I agree that if they are stating that as a known fact, then that would be a faith statement, but most atheists, even evangelizing atheists (like me) who attack religions, don’t make statements like that as fact.

Evidence, please, that those who attack religion are relying on a faith based belief system.

"That’s a specific quote, not behavior in general, and you can evangelize and attack religions without making such statements and claiming they are fact."

I'm not familiar with this procedure. Can you provide examples of atheist zealots attacking and evangelizing without relying on "strong" atheism?

Avalon, you have, incidentally, used that quote only partially and out of context.

The whole quote is:

At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds

It was supposed to be making the point that if Christians can display their beliefs in public, then so too can atheists. This was not a logic-free expression of faith as you claim, but a politcal act.

Yakura: "It was supposed to be making the point that if Christians can display their beliefs in public, then so too can atheists."

And atheists should be free to make statements of their faith in public. How exactly is it that this statement, which sounds like a faith statement and was designed to contrast with other statements of faith (leaving aside the fact that no other actual "statements of faith" were posted in the building and that the atheist's statement was both offensive and inappropriate), is NOT to be considered to be faith-based because atheists said it, or because their motivation in saying it was in part political?

AvalonXQ:

Can you provide examples of atheist zealots attacking and evangelizing without relying on "strong" atheism?

Sure. Here.

Avalon:
How exactly is it that this statement, which sounds like a faith statement...is NOT to be considered to be faith-based because atheists said it, or because their motivation in saying it was in part political?

Leaving aside the success or offensiveness of the statement (on which I basically agree with you), the statement was obviously rhetorical and provocative. It's unfair to take it as representing their entire philosophical position. They have no doubt considered the matter, looked at the evidence and the lack of evidence, and reached their conclusion. Seeing as it's publically acceptable for Christians to make bold unsupported statements in public, then whey not they. The fact they don't include their lines of reasoning and argumantation on their sign is not evidence that they haven't reasoned it out privately.

To prove your point that this was a statement based on faith, you would need to find a statement from those people saying "we simply believe there is no God. We just know there isn't."

AvalonXQ:

"There are no Hobbits, no dragons, no six headed Haddocks with arses for faces. There is only our natural world."

Is this absence of faith or faith in an absence?

If evolution were a religion, would I be able to tax write-off all my survival and reproduction efforts as "worship"??

I'm going to throw my hat into this one.

Evangelizing atheists, active members of atheists communities, those who attack other religions -- they, themselves, do form a religion. They have created a faith-based belief system ("non-belief" system?) that underlies their behavior on these matters. For them, atheism has become something beyond simple skepticism (true "weak atheism") and has become an affirmative belief, entering the religious realm. This certainly isn't all atheists. But it seems to be all the really nasty ones.

You make a number of claims here, and I think a lot of it suffers from a lack of awareness about what many atheists think, a different perspective on knowledge claims, and a generally negative attitude toward a certain sort of atheist (hence the use of words like "nasty" and "zealot"). I'm going to see if I can unravel your points.

The first: there's certainly a difference between weak atheism ("I do not believe there are gods") and strong atheism ("I believe there are no gods"). The latter is certainly a subset of the former, but there is the distinction--weak atheism is merely the absence of belief, while strong atheism is a positive belief in itself. While I'd generally consider myself a strong atheist, and while I often listen to and read stuff written by other strong atheists, the vast majority of arguments I've read or heard are arguing from the weak atheist position: i.e., attacking the lack of evidence for and contradictions in the positive claims of theism, rather than providing evidence to support the positive belief of strong atheism.

However, those same strong atheists (myself included) would also admit quite freely that strong atheism is a position of positive belief and does require some support (otherwise, it would be as you say, a faith claim). In that case, most would probably cite the lack of evidence for gods (despite centuries of searching), the increasingly vague claims of believers, the way that most of the traditional domains of gods have been better explained through science, and the seeming impossibility of something like a god even existing in the universe as we know it, among other lines of evidence, as support for this belief. Just as most people would support their beliefs about the nonexistence of fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, and mermaids, with similar evidence.

Most strong atheists, if I may be so bold as to speak for the ones I'm familiar with, would also say that such a positive belief is tentative--as with any belief or lack thereof--and subject to being changed based on new evidence.

With that out of the way, I think I can address your other concerns.

First, even if your claim that strong atheists had formed a faith-based belief were true, it would not therefore indicate that they were a religion. If all it took was a faith-based belief, then believers in ghosts, bigfoot, and UFOs are all members of new religions of which they're totally unaware. And there's plenty of evangelism from UFOlogists and Cryptozoologists.

That being said, not all positive beliefs are necessarily faith-based. As I explained above, I think most strong atheists come to that position from examining the evidence. The evidence supporting the null hypothesis with respect to gods is staggering, and IU don't think it's any more unreasonable to be (tentatively) convinced by that then to be tentatively convinced that there are no sasquatches until one actually turns up.

The null hypothesis is important in another way here, because it justifies one of your other complaints. The statement "there are no gods" and the related ones can be made from either the weak or strong atheist positions. For the strong atheist, it represents a statement of positive belief, sure, one (again) based on consideration of the evidence. For the weak atheist, it represents a statement of the null hypothesis, the default position for any claim which has not been validated by evidence. As with any hypothesis, it does not imply certainty, only that there is no evidence to the contrary.

As far as atheist evangelism goes, I think you've cherry-picked the most harshly-worded example of it, and ignored the vast majority. For instance, take a look at the atheist signage--including the ones put up by the FFRF: "Beware of Dogma," "Don't believe in God? You are not alone," "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," "Imagine no religion," and "Why believe in God? Just be good for goodness' sake." All of those are prominent examples of atheist evangelism--more prominent surely than a sign that appeared in two town halls over the holidays--and yet, I don't see how any of them necessarily come from a strong atheist position.

And this brings me, I think, to the crux: how enthusiastic an atheist is about communicating his or her atheism, and how angry or "nasty" an atheist is in general says absolutely nothing about how weak or strong their atheism is.

There are many reasons for atheist evangelism--raising consciousness about religion's privileged place in society, letting other atheists know that they aren't alone, caring about what other people think and believe, or just because it can be fun to talk about this sort of thing. None of them are necessarily predicated on positive beliefs or lack thereof.

Similarly, it doesn't take a strong atheist to get upset about religion, or about what religious people do in their gods' names, or about how religion is treated in our society, or about how conversations with religious people often get down to condescension, arrogance, ignorance, abuse, or some combination of the above. There's a lot of things that can make an atheist angry, and none of them necessarily have anything to do with what beliefs they have.

Hopefully that answers some of your concerns, Avalon.

As a secularist I was very interested to hear Steve Jones, the renowned biologist describe certain atheists as being so fervent in their 'belief' (a small 'b') that they had turned atheism into something resembling a religion. Not in the true sense of religion i.e. a deity etc but in that its proponents seems to spend an inordinate amount of their time annoying other religions, which is something of a hallmark for religions in general.
Of course this is semantics but I think he's got a point.

On the other hand, mogs160, you can be a true atheist and not have to annoy religious people.

I consider any religious person who posts on an atheist forum, arguing that atheism is wrong, is fair game for debate, the same as anyone else. If they are rational, sensible people, I respond in a similar manner. If they persist on wilfully acting in a confrontational and belligerent manner, I reserve the right to respond likewise.

I do not charge into religious forums and try to convert them.

I don't wear special atheist clothes, I don't chant atheist mantras, and I don't consider Richard Dawkins or James Randi specially-sanctified priests of atheism to whose views I ought to acquiesce for no other reason.

I know of and preserve no atheist festivals or holidays.

Although I possess The God Delusion and God Is Not Great, I don't handle them with any kind of special reverence. Accidental curry or beer stains on the pages wouldn't overly bother me. If I accidentally dropped one in the bath, or the dog mauled it, I wouldn't feel a pang of horror, I would just buy a new copy. Maybe.

I don't know any atheist prayers, and I wouldn't know to whom to address them if I did.

I believe that when I die, that's it. I don't live in the hope of some eternal paradise or the fear of everlasting agony.

So if I can be considered religious, it's a pretty pathetic religion.

Mogs, what do you think is wrong in expressing your opinions clearly, and arguing clearly against opposing points of view? And why on earth should doing that count as "something resembling religion"?

And even if it did, for some reason, "resemble a religion", then what is wrong with that?

What you and Steve Jones are doing is using the "religion" as a pejorative term. I find that inaccurate, and disrespectful to religious people.

Also, if you are against arguing, as your posts on another thread seem to imply (never the twain, etc), then why are you yourself arguing?

Big Al - agree with all of that. Very eloquent.

Yakaru. Yikes - r u having a go at me? I certainly didn't mean to be argumentative, I was merely commenting on something that I heard Steve Jones say on the radio this morning. It struck a chord for me. I certainly don't mean to be "disrespectful to religious people". I come from a family that brims over at the edges with Anglican priests and whilst I may not agree with their beliefs (even though I was brought up surrounded by those who did) I certainly don't disrespect them. I simply don't hold those beliefs myself.


Mogs, didn't mean for it to sound like I was having a go at you. Just disagreeing a bit and sounding out where exactly you're coming from. It's a bit clearer now, with the extra details. Thanks.

What I wanted to point out is that describing atheism as a religion in the way Jones and others do only has a meaning if you imply that "religious" is something an atheist would no way want to be, ie, something inherently undesirable.

It seems a bit strange on the one hand to be trying to get people to be more respectful towards religion, while on the other hand saying "you wouldn't want to behave like religious people would you?"

I think the point that Jones, and maybe you are missing, is that there are times when it is perfectly reasonable, honest, and decent to express disagreement with religion, and times when it's in order to be personable and avoid conflict. If family or friends are religious, then respect and tolerance are perfectly in order, and occasional careful discussion of differences.

Confronting friends with the kind of argumentation in parts of The God Delusion would not be in order, but putting it in a book and offering it for public consumption and criticism is perfectly in order. I find Jones and his ilk patronising if they think religious people can't handle sincere and honest criticism.

Also, if you look at a video of a Dawkins lecture, the way he deals with religious questioners at the end is a model of respect and politeness. I don't think Steve Jones would bother listening so carefully to people he disagrees with, as does Dawkins.

Yakaru - agreed. However, "you wouldn't want to behave like religious people would you?" is, as you can see, in quotation marks. I didn't say that, and I'm not sure that Jones actually says that. I think he means that there are times when atheism, or rather, some atheists are a mirror image of all they dislike about religion, or at least some of it. . .

It just seems to me that this is very often the case. Call me a fence sitter but I'm not really taking a hard line on any of it.

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