A Conversation for Atheism


Post 1

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

I have been following the various threads here since this article was posted on the main page. Part of our problem seems to me that we define words for ourselves and then try to discuss concepts with others who use the same words, but with DIFFERENT definitions/connotations. Especially when discussing ideas, this can very quickly become muddy, and is probably why much of philosophy seems to be nit-picking about terms.
So, I submit definitions here. Dictionary definitions. I may not agree with these [some are quite simplistic and explain the current common meaning only]. But it is a place to begin. While the definitions may not give us the answer, at least they may give us common ground to start from.

The words we seem to be having trouble with are:
and, of course,:
god [or God]

a being of supernatural powers thought to control some part of nature, reality, force or activity
a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, onmiscient originator and ruler of the universe

mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or existence of something; especially a body of tenets accepted by a group of people

belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence

a personal or institutionalized system of beliefs or practices expressing belief in a superhuman power or powers regarded as creating or governing the universe

someone who doubts the existence or knowability of God but does not deny the possibility that God exists. Agnostics take the philosophical view that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not.

disbelief in or denial of the existence of God

My comments on the above may [or may not] follow. When I'm up to it. As often 'definitions' contain some of the same 'hidden assumptions' that DNA speaks of in one of the other threads. So even starting from here may not help.

smiley - smiley


Post 2

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

You have hit on the crux of the "leap of faith" controversy. The dictionary gives three definitions for "faith," and it is obvious to me that most people believe I meant to use the word in the way you describe. However, definition three of that word is:

"something that is believed especially with strong conviction"

It then says it is a synonym for "belief," and your definition of "belief" matches closely my definition of "faith." And that is how I meant it. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I have scientifically valid reasons for doing so. There is logic to back up that faith. Similarly, I have faith that there is no god, because I have logically valid reasons for believing so. However, nobody can absolutely prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no invisible man watching over us. If God existed in the way Christians say he does, then his very nature would hide him from us. However, as I said, there are valid reasons for disbelieving them, because so many of their logical arguments are circular, contradictory, or just plain invention. Given the vaccuum of good arguments from the side of God, atheists "believe with strong conviction" that there is no God, but proving he doesn't exist is just as impossible as proving he does not. I have yet to see anyone in these argument threads who lacks conviction in their beliefs. smiley - winkeye

'leap of faith'

Post 3

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Hi Gargleblaster!
I purposly left this alone for a while after writing the definitions-so I could 'have at it' with a fresh perspective. You have helped with that.
smiley - smiley
Discussing this, as DNA has said, is actually about 'the hidden assumptions that lie beneath what people actually say'.

The definitions I posted at the top of the thread contain an important difference among the meanings of 'belief/faith/religion', as you point out. Those with 'faith' think that those of us without faith 'believe' in atheism the same way they 'believe' in their religion.

*Religion* is a collection of ideas related to defining how an individual or a group thinks about the concept that there is a power governing the universe. [I purposly did NOT use the word 'belief or faith' in this sentence]

*Faith* is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence

*Beliefs* are strong convictions in the truth of something.
These MAY OR MAY NOT include logical proof or material evidence. A set of beliefs can be either a set of scientific proofs, or a set of religious beliefs that are based on 'divine pronouncements'.

The religious uses a definition of 'belief' which contains the 'hidden assumption' that it is not based on logical proof or material evidence. People use the term 'faith' and 'belief' interchangeably, when actually they can be completely different.

A religious person has a set of beliefs which comprises their religious faith. It contains a collection of precepts and rules for life which develop from how they perceive a 'governing power'. I have a belief about 'a governing power of the universe'. It is NOT a set of beliefs the same way that the religious person has a set of beliefs. It is ONE conclusion, based on material evidence and logical proof. I believe it strongly, so it is a belief, the same way I believe that the sun will come up. I operate on this assumption, not because of any 'faith', but simply based on past experience.

The religious person also has a 'hidden meaning' in 'faith' whith implies 'trust'. They trust in God to continue to run the universe in compliance with his 'natural laws' [whatever they think those are at the moment].

On the other hand, I do not have a 'faith' or trust in the functioning of the universe. I do not have a religious set of beliefs about the absence of God. I just dismiss the whole idea as silly. I deal with the reality of the sun coming up because it has done so every day that I know of. Period. When it ceases to do so, I will operate on the basis of that new reality. [I will not think that God has punished or abandoned me]

I think that one of the things that attracts me to DNA's outlook on 'life the universe and everything' is that I suspect he would not be very suprised if the sun did NOT come up tomorrow morning. Disappointed, maybe, but not too suprised. smiley - winkeye

[Why do some of us do SETI research? Maybe it's because we want to know if the plans for the interstellar highway are really going to result in the destruction of earth. Maybe they are broadcasting the construction schedule right now and we will miss it if we dont listen.]

Also, my system of ethics and morals do not derive from my belief or non-belief in a 'governing power'. I agree with DNA that my ethical system does not depend on 'a huge invisible spirit threatening us with torment in an afterlife'. This is another 'hidden assumption' that the 'religious' have about the atheist who 'rejects God'. We must not be ethical because we have rejected a religious ethical system. But, we have not rejected ethical systems. We discount the 'reward/punishment' basis for ethical behavior. It is not part of our 'religion', because our belief in a reality that does not have a 'governing power' is not a religion. Our ethical system is completely independent of our perception of the origin/purpose of life.

I also have some trouble with the definition of atheist that I provided. An atheist does not 'deny' anything. We simply dismiss the idea. I give no more credence to the concept of God than I do to the concept of the Easter Bunny, or the concept that the world is flat. I do not have to deny either of these ideas to have a strong conviction that they are false. I think DNA said something somewhere about the fact that some opinions were better than others. Some arguments or proofs can be rejected easily because they are obviously sloppy or without merit. Others are more thoughtful and deserve more attention. The 'Easter Bunny' is obviously an easy one, the 'earth is flat' created many problems for those who 'believed'.

So my final take on the whole 'proof of God's existence' is that the argument itself is useless. There is an inherent divergence of understanding because of the way the religious and the atheist use the words 'belief' and 'faith'. And this is why the religious person continues to consider atheism a 'religion'. It isn't. And neither is science.

Both the atheist and the scientist will operate with reality as it manifests itself, and their convictions will continue to evolve as new information presents itself. But their convictions are not based on 'faith' the same way the religious person's convictions are based on faith. Their 'faith' is simply assumptions based on past experience. Which may change. My belief will not be shaked by a new scientific discovery which changes our perception of the origins of the universe. [like evolution for example] It is not a belief based on 'faith' in a set of religious beliefs, but conviction based on the facts that I have at hand.

Ok, I am rambling way too much now, so I will stop...
smiley - smiley


'leap of faith'

Post 4

The Mummy, administrator of the [email protected] Project (A193231) and The Reluctant Dead on the FFFF (A254314)

Thanks for the definitions blu, you've made it much clearer for me: now at least I *know* that I am an atheist. To me the idea of the existence of a god is totally ridiculous.

'leap of faith'

Post 5

Alon (aka Mr.Cynic)

As this may turn out to be another long post, I've made a short version of it:

Exactly! smiley - smiley

Now, for the long-winded approach:

The definition of faith is just what I'm getting at! I take faith as the definition bluDragon kindly laid down. Faith is not belief. Faith is not simply strong conviction. GB - if you say you have faith in something but back it up logically, using the word 'faith' is not necessary. However zealous it may be, I see atheism as better than beliefs based entirely on faith. After all, who was it that organised that Freedom From Faith Foundation? smiley - smiley. By saying it takes a leap'O'faith to become atheist, you give the impression that atheists have faith - not belief, that's fine, but faith. Some atheists may have faith in things other than God but it's wrong to make the assumption (or should that be faith? smiley - winkeye) that ALL atheists have faith or make the leap'O'faith. And it does not matter that you (GB) have a different definition of faith. Unfortunately, it isn't standard. So maybe some people might get the correct impression of the phrase but others will get to think that Atheism is no better than any other organised religion. Some atheists might see that as true but unfortunately I don't.

'leap of faith'

Post 6


I think one thing that should be plain, but perhaps isn't, in this whole discussion is this: atheism in and of itself is NOT a belief system, really. The only thing that binds all atheists together is their lack of belief in a deity. So some of us may be wiccan, or Taoist, or humanists, or a combination of the above. Some of us may base our lives on what the natural world and experimentation can teach us. Others may look for a more spiritual meaning. (For example, it is possible to believe that humans have a soul without believing that God made us that way-- but science, at this point in history, can neither prove nor disprove this theory).

Although some, such as myself, went through a period where we defined ourselves by what we WEREN'T (i.e. "Not Christian) rather than by what we were.

I will disagree with you just a little bit on one point, bluDragon (and that is a rare thing indeed.) Science, for some, HAS become a faith. There are many, for example, who have faith that science (or rather technology) will solve the world's environmental problems, without having to resort to the common-sense ideas of family planning, conservation, recycling, reduced use of energy, etc. This is a blind faith, based on any lack of real evidence as of yet. For many (but not by any means for all), science has become the new religion. Although I think I discussed this in depth in a thread about evolution.

'leap of faith'

Post 7

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

you are entirely right, billypilgrim, about science becoming a religion for some.When I got to the point in my diatribe above where I mentioned atheism and science not being religions, I stopped short of making that point. Since I had been prattling on for quite some time as it was...
smiley - winkeye

Gotta agree that science doesnt have all the answers anymore than religion does. As much as we try to impose ourselves on the earth, eventually it will win. We gotta learn how to get along with it rather than 'mastering' it. [but thats a whole 'nother subject smiley - winkeye] I also agree with you [as you know] that there is allkinda stuff out there we dont begin to know anything about.

But just because we dont understand it doesnt mean it's conscious or in charge of anything. It's sorta like primitive man worshiping fire-or anything else. If they didnt understand it they attributed consciousness to it. There is a power in fire, but it isnt conscious or purposeful. There is power that is larger than us [whatever that means] and anyone can get a sense of it by lying on their back in a field and looking up at the stars. But to ascribe purpose and awareness to the 'whatever it is' is totally unnecessary. It is our 'fire'. We dont hafta worship it or make supplications to it, but we can learn bits about how it works and learn to use the part we understand.

There is also a discussion here and in the other thread about 'proving' the existence or non-existence of something called god/God. I must state again that for me it is a non-issue. The forces out there that surround us simply are not aware or purposful. This is the conclusion I came to without any leap of faith. I see no evidence that there is anything purposful that is responsible for managing all of this. I do not have to get into any syllogistic discussion about proving or disproving this.

I think our collective need to believe in 'something larger than ourselves that created us' is a natural evolution of the primitive worship of 'things-we-do-not-understand'. It is one thing to learn about how things work, it is quite another to ascribe intent to those things. The fire is not good or bad when it burns things. It has no intent. It was not created by something with intent. It just is. That's how I view the powers that I do understand as well as the ones I dont understand.

And here I go, on and on again...
smiley - smiley

'leap of faith'

Post 8


And to take your idea one step further, bluDragon, I think that people's idea of a deity comes, in part, from a NEED to define something as "good" or "evil." By giving haphazard events intent which they do not possess, we can tell ourselves that we can avoid the "bad" (that is, painful to us) events by behaving in a certain way. It is similar to the need for people so often to blame the victim in a rape rather than the rapist; by saying she dressed provocatively, or got drunk when she shouldn't have, or (heaven forbid) went walking by herself at night, we can say "but that would never happen to me." And so if we give, say, a drought, or a disease, "intent" we can then say "Well,it will never happen to me, because I am a good person." And if it DOES then happen anyway, we can try to gain some sense of control by saying "I must have done something to deserve it", in the same way that the abused child somehow finds a way to blame himself in a desperate effort to gain control over an uncontrollable situation.

On the other hand, I feel that we do have much more control over events in our lives than many people realize. There's that whole positive/negative energy thing that goes on, and we all know of people who seem to always have "good fortune" come their way, and others who seem to be burdened by nothing but problems. I think you and I touched on this many moons ago in a discussion of Tarot cards, but that is a longish conversation which I think I'll save for another day. smiley - winkeye

*steps off soapbox, bows, leaves the room....*

'leap of faith'

Post 9



As for the need to disprove the existence of God, that is something that I've gradually gotten away from. But it did take some time. Being raised Catholic (with all that Catholic guilt smiley - winkeye ) I felt the need to justify my beliefs to others for quite awhile. I can understand, though, why some still feel the need to do so. We are all, as I've mentioned, at different stages in our ideology.

'leap of faith'

Post 10

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Cynic: As I said, the word has more than one definition, but you can't see past the "blind faith" one. But that argument is going in a circle, now, so I'll let it go.

As far as disproving the existence of God, I no longer feel that need, because I came to realize that it is the believers who have the burden of proof. They've told a wild tale about an invisible man who talks out of the sky. If you told someone you saw a Boeing 747 in the sky, they'd believe you, because it's not an unusual occurance. But if you told them you saw a flying saucer, you'd be a laughing stock, unless you could provide incontrovertible evidence. The whole invisible man story is just like that, and, in the absence of anything vaguely approaching proof, I'm still laughing. smiley - winkeye

'leap of faith'

Post 11


GB, the simple fact that I've slowly come to realize (and it's a lesson I'm still learning) is that we all believe what we need to believe, to get us through.

To me, trying to rob someone of their faith without letting them go through whatever soul-searching they need to do is, indeed, a cruel thing. And so I will ask people questions, I will gently correct misconceptions they have about my own beliefs, and then leave it to them to sort out.

This is not to say I'm perfect in this!! I have occasionally said things which, perhaps, would have been best left unsaid.... smiley - winkeye

'leap of faith'

Post 12

Neugen Amoeba

Definition of terms should perhaps also extend defining the rules of engagement for arguements between the the concept in the rigt corner, faith; wearing the halo and a loin cloth, and the concept in the left corner, belief; wearing the black robe and wig (of a QC).

To match off one arguement based on logic against another whose basis is the rejection of logic seems pointless. So it's just as well we're only debating the definition of an Atheist, given that all participating have rejected the notion of God as defined by the Judeo-Christian religions.

The rejection and basic conflict, as suggested earlier, may be due to the attribution of human characteristics on out deity of choice. After all, if god by the given definition is supernatural and therefore beyond definition through our present understanding, then all current descriptions of god must be false?

'leap of faith'

Post 13

Alon (aka Mr.Cynic)

I've gone through this with adapted believers over and over again so here it goes smiley - smiley:

If someone has defined an object named Derik to be a big, round, pink ball and then you come along and say "Hang on! Derik is actually a small, orange box.", Derik as defined earlier has nothing to do with the new improved Derik.
Now, if God is shown as a vindictive, spiteful all-powerful being that lights fires and punishes people for hitting rocks and then you come along and say "Actually, they got it wrong. God is...", then they did not get it wrong. God is what they defined it. Use another name for you deity smiley - smiley. Otherwise your new improved God takes on all the characteristics of the Christian God. Don't redefine God, just choose a new name smiley - smiley.

'leap of faith'

Post 14


Ah, but let's not confuse defining something with describing it. I could say that a chair is a solid object with four legs, a seat, and a back, meant to hold a seated person (I'm quite sure this is not how the dictionary would define it, but I'm a bit lazy and don't feel like looking it up. smiley - winkeye ). But then I could show you a kitchen chair, a rocking chair, a lawn chair, a Lazy Boy, a throne. All chairs, all different.

Did you ever hear the story of the six blind men trying to describe the elephant, based on which part they were feeling?

Regardless, you do have a point. Jesus tried to redefine God, but unfortunately many modern-day Christians worship a very Old Testament sort of God.

Still, God by definition leaves lots of room for interpretation. The nature of God has been the focus of philisophical debate for thousands of years. Read the definition blu posted of "god" and you will see that there is no mention of heaven or judgement or commandments or the like. It is up to each religious group to sort that part out.

An afterthought

Post 15


Let me put it this way: if I (at 5'3") met a man named George and described him as "tall", and then Michael Jordan met the same George later and described him as "short", would that mean that George was no longer the same person, and we had to give him a different name? No; all that changed was the perception of the observer.

The God of major religions is much like that. The concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful creator has remained unchanged. It is the culture trying to describe this force which has changed its perception.

An afterthought

Post 16

Alon (aka Mr.Cynic)

Look, I am convinced that God does not exist. But if one uses the same name to describe two different things (not two perspectives) then the attributes of the old description applies to the new one. I don't think God exists (God as in an all-knowing being with its own consciousness). If someone comes along and says "No no no! God isn't sentient! God is actually just all of our thoughts combined" then I'd say that it is possible such a being existed but I'd stick to my view that it is NOT GOD! smiley - smiley

more definitions

Post 17

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

yeah, what he said...
smiley - winkeye

So now I think we gotta define more of what we think 'god' means.
smiley - smiley
Here's mine:
I dont think I would call god 'all of our thoughts combined' or the 'life force of the universe', or the 'powers that be' or anything else like that.

Here's why.
The word god has 'hidden meanings' just like alla other words we have discussed. Prob'ly more of 'em. The concept 'god' implies a conscious force, who created the universe, who sets down precepts for humans to be guided by, who 'cares' about humans, who has plans for them. People who believe in something they call 'god' usually include most of the above in the package.

Now if you want to acknowledge a 'prime mover' [a force that started it all in motion and then left] or some kind of Gestalt of 'all of our thought combined' I have to agree with Mr.Cynic ÅC€ that it might be possible that such a thing exists. But it ain't what is commonly thought of as 'god'. It's a different discussion. It might be about the origin of life, or the nature of consciousness, but it isnt a discussion of whether or not there is a 'god'.

To believe in 'god' implies a beilef in the existence of a being that
1. created sentient life
2. is conscious
3. has purpose

And I still return to my original premise that whatever accident of nature caused sentient life, it is without consciousness or purpose. And that is why I call myself an atheist.

PS you can also discuss the human 'soul' or the 'afterlife' or 'reincarnation' or a lotta other things, without believing in 'god'. It is possible to have alla these things without believing a 'god' created them.
PPS I didnt say I thought they DID exist, just that there could be a discussion about their existence without believing in 'god'.

more definitions

Post 18

The Mummy, administrator of the [email protected] Project (A193231) and The Reluctant Dead on the FFFF (A254314)

Your Majesty...

The former Skeleton is impressed once again! This is a very clear description and I agree completely.

more definitions

Post 19

Alon (aka Mr.Cynic)

First off, you don't have to go through the agony of getting those characters in my nickname each time smiley - winkeye.
Secondly, I never said (or at least did not mean to say) that I believe non-sentiant forces created life. I have not ruled out the concept but do not believe in it by any means! smiley - smiley
And that's the point. Dictionary definitions are over-simplified. The are over-analytical (if you can be smiley - winkeye) and can give the wrong idea. Not only that but GB doesn't agree with the dictionary definition of faith stated above. Therefore if one uses any word you might call up its cliche rather than its bare meaning or the meaning you intend it to have. So if 'faith' is the same as 'an assumption' or 'a strong conviction' (neither of which I agree with anyway), what people associate with faith is stuck on to it as well. Hence either one universal dictionary is made that all people must read or wording must be more detailed and/or careful.
I've argued about whether you can redefine a word and am adament (not faithful smiley - winkeye) that it is best to come up with a more accurate name for what you are defining else confusion arrises. smiley - smiley

more definitions

Post 20

The Mummy, administrator of the [email protected] Project (A193231) and The Reluctant Dead on the FFFF (A254314)

Hi Mr. Cynic,

You said:
>Secondly, I never said (or at least did not mean to say) that I believe non-sentiant forces created life. I have not ruled out the concept but do not believe in it by any means! smiley - smiley

What makes you think that blu accuses you of having said that? smiley - smiley
I think she was summing up things from all over this forum, and this one may very well have been something that *I* suggested. At least it sounds like you're describing my 'perpetual universal life-force', which causes all the occurences of apparently sentient life on this planet smiley - winkeye

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