Friday, November 24, 2006

Truth and reconciliation

These two posts do a pretty good job of elucidating the point I've been trying to make (badly apparently) about what is wrong with the confrontational style of atheism promulgated by Richard Dawkins et al.


Ross said...

I thought I understood where your distaste came from. Lynch's posting states the problem most clearly when he says that Dawkins, et. al. are behaving childishly. One of Dawkin's goals, preventing the adulteration of public education programs with religious pseudo-information, is a good one. His approach, however, needs a lot of work.

Yes, the religious right are currently waging a multi-front battle against reason, rationality, separation of church and state, (among all things secular). (freaky, scary, well-documented book. I highly recommend it) However, we should learn from the example of the religious right and let different people work on different parts of the problem.

Fundamentally, Dawkin's doesn't know how to choose his battles. Instead of taking a principled stand against silliness in public science classrooms, he goes all out against all things religious. Dawkins wants to be the ringleader of this larger fight, but simply doesn't have the charisma to carry the role. The worst part of it is that his tone gets strident when his attempt at leadership is ignored. He should take the hint and return to his areas of expertise, post-haste.


Semantically, both of the guys you link to are a mess. By the most useful definition of atheism, (lack of belief in any deity), if you claim you're not an atheist, then you're a theist. Both claim to not believe and also to not be atheists. Again using useful definitions: both are agnostic atheists (don't believe and don't care). As am I. As is Dawkins...

(As an aside: I really wish I could preview using this web ui. It's very annoying that I continue to get an error every time I try to preview a response to see how it will look.)

Ron said...

By the most useful definition of atheism, (lack of belief in any deity), if you claim you're not an atheist, then you're a theist.

You'd think. Unforunately, much like the word "liberal", the term "atheist" has acquired quite a load of baggage. I am not a theist, but I am not an atheist of the Dawkinsian stripe either. I would rather identify myself with e.g. Michael Lerner than with many self-proclaimed atheists just because those who self-proclaim themselves to be atheists tend in my experience to be a bunch of arrogant pricks.

I really wish I could preview using this web ui.

You'll have to take that up with Google.

Ross said...

Unforunately, much like the word "liberal", the term "atheist" has acquired quite a load of baggage.

Then it is up to us to take the back the definition. I do not think it makes any sense to let religious people define the words that I use to describe myself.

Given that theists constitute a huge category, with adherents to different religions and different stripes of very similar religions that are self-proclaimed "distinct", why can't atheists develop a similar richness of variety?

Behavioral modifiers: militant, strident, passive, argumentative, informative, introspective...

Goal modifiers: evangelical, enlightenment seeking, lifelong learner...

Rhetorical modifiers: emotional, rational, tactful, blunt, abrasive, abusive...

Origin modifiers: ex-christian, ex-muslim, ex-hindu, etc.

Strong/weak modifiers: denies that deities exist, lacks belief in any deity, others?

When asked, I label myself an "agnostic atheist". Part of my decision to use that label is to challenge the simplistic and hostile definition used by the religious and fulfilled by the likes of Dawkins Also, I've found it's more constructive to ask people to consider another definition of atheist than to try to argue directly against the more common definition. Once you get people to accept the possibility that atheist and agnostic can (and probably should) be orthogonal categories, most people lose their defensiveness when confronted by a self-proclaimed atheist. And then the conversation can really turn interesting. :)


Ron said...

Ross said...

Hysterical! And, point taken.

I'll drop the subject in this forum. In my defense, I mostly argue for how I prefer to label myself. How others want to label themselves... well, sure.


Ross said...

Hey... where'd you go?

Just because the dems won doesn't mean there's a moment to lose in the discussion department.

After all, it's not like the dems will actually roll back the destruction of civil liberties that the republicans wanted. Or will they?


Ron said...

Sorry I've been so quiet lately. I've gotten sucked into a new startup company which has been taking up a lot of my time. No excuse for not blogging though. I will try to get some more posts out soon.

I think the jury is out on the dems. I am cautiously optimistic, but I harbor no illusions that everything is now hunky dory. Still, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude, and looking forward to seeing if Henry Waxman really is going to start slinging subpoenas around. Fingers crossed.